Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, rates at a solid 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered favorable reviews from your common movie goer to movie critics (such as Brian Tallerico) alike.
Arrival revolves around Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a talented linguist who struggles with the loss of her daughter. The premise is unassuming, cliched even. We find out that an advanced alien species lands on earth, international chaos breaks out, and the US army summons Louise to decipher the alien language. In her journey, Louise struggles with two things–the death of her daughter and the invasion, the two tensions sharpening one another.
What Arrival does drastically different, though, is in the second half. There is a surprising lack of violence, and instead, a call for communication. The aliens never wanted to harm us–we assumed that they will. Dr. Banks is given a language which she’s meant to share with the world in order to stop global destruction.
Arrival’s emphasis on language, the difficulties of communication, the gap between people so wide it seems alien, is heartfelt and down to earth. Despite problematic portrayals of Russia and China as hawkish, it served to at least emphasize the fences between civilizations and people groups. Instead of a superhero who fights the aliens with an above-the-law attitude, we see a world brought to peace through diplomacy. And all this is realized by one woman realistically stressed out by the ordeal yet manages to, quite simply, do her job.
At the end of the movie, we are left with the question “What exactly arrived?” The love for a family? The acceptance of loss? Humanity’s cooperation? Or perhaps it is all of the above.
At one point in the movie, Louise finds herself dreaming in the alien’s language. This harkens back to an earlier conversation she has with their team’s main scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They talked about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the theory that the language we know influences or determines our cognition (check out quick an intro here).
By Arrival’s end, language has shaped not only humanity’s cognition, but the entire world’s future. With this hopeful ending, I exited the theater hoping that our Internet age can too learn to speak to each other. How wonderful would it be if our language can bypass barriers and penetrate our consciousness so deeply that we began dreaming in each other’s words?