While many science fictions films in the past have confronted the idea of communication with alien species, as well as building a language with said species, no film like “Arrival” has accomplished the examination of the inherent importance of language with other species as a means of keeping peace and preventing disaster. Films like “Prometheus” have tried and failed to tackle the concept of galactic travel to learn about ideas. “Close Encounters” which is typically celebrated for being a film about communication never quite rises to the idea that interplay between species could hinge on peace and total war. When we meet the alien species we can never really be sure what their intent is. When the time comes to meet them face to face, “Arrival” is a world that side steps military interference in exchange for linguistic help.
The characters in the movie understand the idea of communication and understanding, and the meaning of language. I think Director Denis Villenueve’s film is going to be examined for decades to come, as it props itself as a film that doesn’t just discuss the idea of communication. It also examines how we as a species have reached a point where we’re incapable of valuable communication. When Louise Banks meets the pair of aliens in “Arrival” they’re an enigmatic extraterrestrial being that cherish the idea of giving us their form of communication. They even encourage us to decode their own form of speech, allowing us to perhaps reach a new dimension of connecting to one another. When Louise Banks and most of the core characters within “Arrival” comprehend the definition of communication through symbology and base recognition through the brain, they reach a higher form of understanding.
That’s what most audiences could and should take away when they finish “Arrival.” That the art of speaking, and learning, and communication has been lost in a world of quick sentences and easy sound bytes. We have endless tools for talking to one another, but somewhere we lost the idea of rendering valuable information and reaching new levels of understanding. In a year where Hollywood approached aliens and science fiction with a meat headed superficiality, it’s wonderful to see something like “Arrival,” an inarguable masterpiece with incredibly evocative ideas win over audiences. “Arrival” can best be described as something of an existential journey. Director Villenueve and writer Eric Heisserer equate the concept of communication with the fluidity of time, and how they work as a sense of symbiosis benefiting and hobbling each other.
It’s Louise’s higher state of communication that seals her fate in the finale, and it’s the lack thereof that also dictates how her future relationships will also fare. It’s also a clear indication how “Arrival” perceives the concept of language and communication. “Arrival” is a very calm though tense meeting of two species, all the while the rest of Earth is thrown in to a spiral of hysteria and panic thanks to lack of comprehension. Director Villenueve is never afraid to break the conventions of the traditional narrative, opting for a film that consistently challenges character development. “Arrival” keeps us guessing from the opening scene, to the stark arrival of the monolithic space ship on Earth, right until the very end. “Arrival” defies those that insist there is no room for thought provoking science fiction in modern cinema.
It’s a piece of art and entertainment that forces audiences to confront bold ideas and complicated dilemmas that we’ve likely asked ourselves time and time again. Denis Villeneuve’s drama is a masterful work that fearlessly tackles complex and very abstract ideas encouraging the meaning of communication and how it can save the world, or ultimately destroy it.