Film Review: Arrival

Film Review- Arrival

Greater Than The Sum Of The Arts

There are so many things happening of late that represent the worst of humanity, it can be at times overwhelming when we see the deliberate constant onslaught of suffering, apparent chaos, indifference soundtracked to the angry screams of discontent, dejection, intolerance and mistrust. The mainstream media/tv have effectively and very successfully created internally mirrored buckets that we dutifully place over our heads in our worst and most insecure fragile (metaphorically) drunken moments, we scream at our projections/reflections, the cacophony of fear and our mortal vulnerability in our very own shiny iHate echo chambers.


Where blinkers are placed on animals to protect them from supposed threats, the fourth estate has lucratively created their own version, supplied and distributed to us like drug pushers, thus conditioning/addicting us to only see the fear, EVERYWHERE. That’s not to negate genuine concerns of a great many folk in regards hardships and merely wanting to exist peacefully, live full lives and raise families. But we are being deliberately steered, towards a psychological abattoir.

That corrupted perception is not true though, the beauty of life with all it’s infinite splendour surrounds us, ALWAYS, you just have to remove the funnel.

In Denis Villeneuve’s incredibly outstanding film ‘Sicario’ 2015 he explored the horrors of man, in particular drug trafficking across the Mexican border into the USA. It wasn’t created to be a horror movie, but it was absolutely horrific in it’s resonance. Beautiful in it’s intelligence, it’s cast, script, cinematography and it’s heart stopping ominous and incredibly unsettling soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson, the entire package packed a punch that never seemed to dissipate. Even listening to the score now can incite palpitations.

Villeneuve has not been afraid to deal with topics of darkness throughout his directing career and there is zero doubt that such reflection and mediation has enabled him, maybe even encouraged him to see the light.

‘Arrival’ (2016) is almost like his gift to humanity. Taking everything he has learned from previous creations and collaborations he explores the beauty of Man in all it’s capacities. Based on the short story ‘Story Of Your Life’ by science fiction writer Ted Chiang where the Earth is visited by beings from another world, Villeneuve has taken the core essence of the work and tenderly/lovingly enhanced/embellished it into a defining piece of cinema, sci-fi or not.

Contact has been made with the 12 alien visitors giant floating vessels that have pitched up across the globe. The ships look like works created by renowned artist Anish Kapoor, being both recognisable, familiar shapes whilst at the same time being, well alien. They have the structure and texture of prehistoric tools, while simultaneously looking like fossils from the future. Communication with the heptapods hasn’t being going so well and expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has been drafted in to explore other options.

In Man’s (slightly arrogant) belief that life itself can be explained via another language, maths, physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) has also been invited to study and interact with our new neighbours, immigrants from another world.

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It is all beautifully played in regards the current zeitgeist of mistrust of the unknown, of non locals, of strangers, of nations. Are these visitors peaceful, are they a threat, do they even think in these myopic simplicities? Is language or words the best way to communicate or even have the capacity to accurately confer meaning. And how do you interpret a written language that to us looks like a cross between a Ralph Steadman ink splash and a Rorschach test? The test being quite apt in regards that we more often than not see what we want to see.

The film is wonderfully paced in that we are on the same exploration and learning curve as the academics, and the military who are administrating the whole circus (quite tellingly across the globe). Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) is also a shrewdly placed representative both of the army on site, but also of us the viewer who may have these preconditioned muscle memories to batten down the hatches and fan mistrust. As Banks and Donnelly unearth meaning so too Weber (& us) via lay mans terms, but at no point is anything dumbed down for the viewer, it works on multiple layers of meaning and explanation.

As with any journey or adsorption of information/knowledge it changes us. An evolution and metamorphosis slowing emerges over the course of the movie for the characters and us. Our very understanding of existence is allowed to gently unfold. It is not dictated via the heptapods, if anything they are frustratingly ambiguous, though not deliberately, it astutely shows the restrictions we have self imposed via our means of communication and how we are affected by it, it clearly can’t truthfully represent our experiences, our loves, our loses, our hopes and our joys. The old adage ‘when the st

udent is ready, the teacher will appear’ is quite apt, though there’s still a bit of studying to do.


The compassionate schooling by the heptapods is conducted within their vessel from behind a wall that is reminiscent of artist Anthony Gormley’s trapped brume installation ‘Blind Light’ (2007), wonderfully mystifying in that we are never allowed to see the clear or big picture or them fully through the smokey white haze mist atmosphere that they inhabit. Shrewdly the more we believe we are studying the visitants, it is ourselves we are learning about. It’s a CSI on our very existence.

Leaps of faith take trust and belief, not everyone has it, nor has the capacity for it. Not everyone around the world has the same relationship with their respective guests and as often happens in negotiations, misunderstandings flower, insecurities explode, misplaced tensions rise and aggression grabs the reigns. Again as in happening within our present world isolationism is presented by bodies who have an agenda as the solution, you are right to not trust your fellow man or indeed alien.

From the initial awe of the visitation it has warped into anger, maybe even global war.


I can’t praise this movie enough. Working with some of the best writers, actors and creatives in the world today Villenuve has crafted a stunning emblem for the powers and capabilities of human collaboration (both in the story and in actually making the film) and the proven outcomes for the lack of such mutual support. It looks exquisite while at the same time looking wholly realistic. The cinematography by Bradford Young is stunning, echoing and embracing the talents of cinematic masters yet evolving it well beyond. The script is brain caressingly intelligent, balanced with the enrapturing humanity that glows from Adams in every scene. Tender, touching, sophisticated, simple and all wrapped up in the audible serenity of Jóhannsson’s hypnotic otherworldly score, the innate joy of life and this movie is that it can be the most complicated and lucid thing coexisting in that moment at that exact same time. Like the heptapods, we/you will learn more about us/yourself from the movie than it can ever teach you.

10/10 ‘Arrival’ is out now.

Read Steve’s review of Train to Busan here

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.