Film Review: Arrival


I don’t review movies here all that much, and the honest reason is it isn’t often that I see a relevant movie when it’s relevant. Movie theaters are too expensive, and by the time a movie gets to Netflix, it’s old news and has to contend with my desire to catch up on Supernatural.

But so many people close to me told me to go see Arrival that it got me out of my apartment on a Friday night with my wife for a romantic evening of food court dining and aliens. And it turned out to be special.

Arrival is a film that works on a simple premise: aliens arrive and park their space ships over 12 seemingly random locations on Earth, and then they just sit there. The tagline poses the question, “why are they here?”

Beyond that, Arrival is a film that works on extremely complex premises. It’s clear that this film was lovingly crafted and resided in the minds of brilliant story-tellers for such a time for them to get it all right. It is thoughtful and thought provoking. It feels authentic. It is, by many metrics, a perfect film, nailing the basics and knocking the most high-level concepts out of the park.

The film doesn’t begin with aliens. It begins with our main character, Louise, played by Amy Adams (and she better win buckets of awards, by the way). In so many ways it could be considered meta (and therein lies some of the film’s brilliance), Louise is the story’s anchor and focal point. Everything rides on her. The audience’s emotional investment depends on her. The film’s ability to compel and pull the audience through the film’s deliberately slow moments hinges on her. Even the very narrative even can’t work without her.

Because, you see, Arrival isn’t so much a film about the aliens as it is about us, and that is specifically what a film like this needs to be more than a spectacle of entertainment.

But it doesn’t ignore the aliens either. Much of their appeal is their mystique, but you do get to see them and learn about them, and it’s such a fascinating vision of an intelligent alien race.

I really can’t stress enough that, on every level, Arrival is a creative victory that should be celebrated by filmmakers, storytellers, and science-fiction enthusiasts. It is a film that is dynamic on every level, and every piece of it works exceedingly well. Okay, there are a couple of stumbles, a plot hole or two maybe, but compared to the achievement of the film, they are utterly forgivable.

That is about all I can write about. Here are about 500 words that can be compressed to “Go see Arrival because it’s amazing.” If I write anymore, it could encroach on spoiler territory, and while Arrival isn’t a film I’d call “twisty,” there are elements that rely on you going in blind to understand the film’s meaning through experience.

Whatever you do, don’t rob yourself of that. Just go see it.

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