My thoughts on: Arrival (2016)

I have to give a big thank you to one of my awesome Patreon patrons, @AlienPizzareia for requesting a review of Arrival. I’ve wanted to see the film since it came out and this gave me the chance to finally see it. On to the review!

I knew from its reputation that Arrival had some mind-tripping elements in it, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. At first, Arrival appears to be a typical science fiction film: during a perfectly normal day, 12 alien spaceships suddenly appear out of nowhere on various points around the globe. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a noted linguist, is recruited, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to make contact with the aliens that have landed in Montana. So far, so straightforward. But once we reach the alien ship, things begin to get weird. There are clear homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the scene where the scientists approach the aliens for the first time. In particular I’m thinking of the scene where the scientists (in 2001) visit the monolith on the Moon.

The military (as in most science fiction films of this type) is incredibly anxious about why the aliens have come to Earth, with military tensions at an all time high. Louise is pressured from the start to discover why the aliens are there, but its not that simple. First they must learn how to communicate and this takes up the bulk of the story. The aliens (called “Heptapods” due to having seven tentacles) language is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They appear as circles with strange designs on and around them, but in each circle is a world of meaning. Arrival probably has one of the most realistic “learning to communicate with the aliens” montages that I’ve ever seen.


It’s during this time that more “weird” things begin to happen to Louise. She begins having visions of her daughter at various times in her life (actually the film even starts with a montage of life moments, culminating with a premature death due to an unknown illness). The more Louise studies the language, the more of these “visions” she has. They’re more than a little jarring and by the end of the film I was finding it difficult to keep track of when the story was actually in the present.

What really blew my mind though, came at the end of the film when Louise figures out what the aliens have been trying to tell them: they want to give the humans their language which, when properly understood, allows one to look ahead in time. Essentially, one could see the future and change their actions accordingly. It’s a mind-blowing revelation, especially when you realize that Louise is seeing visions of a daughter who hasn’t even been born yet. I’m still not sure how I feel about that part to be honest: if I knew I was going to have a daughter who would die young and there was nothing I could do about it, I honestly can’t say if I would be able to go through with it. But I think that’s partly what Arrival wants us to do: it wants us to think about time and our relation to it. While the pain of losing a child is horrendous, the happy memories remain forever.


There are some beautiful shots in this film: I particularly want to highlight the first full-body shot of the alien spacecraft in Montana. Seeing it in this huge field with a bank of fog next to it, it was simple and yet profound at the same time, just seeing it there. The climactic scene where Louise is face to face with one of the Heptapods is also wonderfully done. I deeply appreciated that the aliens language was given subtitles for this conversation.

I also need to talk about Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for this film. It’s simple but very effective and very strongly reminded me both of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Annihilation. It’s easily one of the best science fiction film scores I’ve heard in the last few years.

Final thoughts: I’m stunned that Arrival did not win Best Picture (no offense to Moonlight), it deserved to win so many more Oscars than it did. If you haven’t seen Arrival, I highly recommend it, it will be an experience you will not soon forget.

What did you think of Arrival? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day! Thanks again to @AlienPizzareia for requesting this film.

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