Arrival: A Mystery Grounded In Language and Human Emotions

Man is condemned to be free, Sartre once said. We are free to make choices. Our choices decide our destiny. But if we already knew the destiny, would we still make the same choice?

Arrival is a story about the choice made by a woman, a choice that would decide her future. It would also decide the future of mankind. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist who is called to decipher the language of Heptapods, the seven-limbed aliens, who’ve landed on the Earth in twelve spacecrafts at twelve different locations. The arrival of the aliens is a mystery, and their language an enigma. What is their motive – peace or war? The aliens write in circular symbols. Louise starts having vivid dreams about her daughter and herself and she begins to learn the symbols. The aliens answer “offer weapon” in reply to Louise’s question of what do they want. The word weapon makes the humans restive. Some of the nations want to attack the alien spacecrafts. Is Louise able to stave off the attack? Does the arrival of the aliens bring salvation for the human race or do they bring chaos and mayhem? Arrival asks a number of questions. In the present times when the world is becoming more intolerant and the leaders are building walls between communities, Arrival gives a message of peace and sharing.

Denis Villeneuve has an enviable filmography. Incendies(2010), Prisoners(2013), Sicario(2015) are those gems which any filmmaker would be proud of. All these movies are tense, stylish, violent and inherently dark. Arrival borrows the elements of mystery and excitement from his previous films, yet is a different beast than his earlier work. Arrival is based on “Story of Your Life”, the science fiction novella by Ted Chiang. It is a mystery grounded in language and human emotions. With its roots embedded in the soil of language and philosophy, Arrival is a sci-fi movie for the thinking audiences. It owes its existence to some worthy predecessors like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Interstellar”. The only thing about Arrival which might alienate the average cinegoer, corrupted by the spectacle and frenzy of today’s sci-fi movies, is the languid pace of the movie. It isn’t a sci-fi in the mould of Transformers or the other sci-fi films made for the juveniles. It isn’t a universal crowd-pleaser like Spielberg’s E.T. It isn’t even Villeneuve’s best work; that glory goes to “Incendies”.

Yet, it is a movie that acts as a harbinger of hope for today’s fractured world. Let’s not turn our world into an echo chamber; let’s communicate with the other people. What we must avoid absolutely, is a complete collapse of communication, between different communities, different nations. The movie has some top stars plying their wares. Everyone from Jeremy Renner to Forest Whitaker deliver fine performances. Amy Adams shines and how! She delivers performance of a lifetime. It’s undeniable that she deserved an Oscar nomination for this role where her face conveys the whole gamut of human emotions. She plays a distraught mother of a dying daughter, and a linguist who holds the whole future of human race in her palm. One mistranslation and the world ends, that’s the power her character holds.

The movie deserves a dekko, for its blend of science and philosophy, language and emotions. Its pace might be languid, but it’s a movie that would set you to ponder on the some big questions, that have troubled philosophers and mystics for ages.

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