*Spoiler Alert! If you are avoiding spoilers, do not read further. You’ve been warned.*
When Arrival begins, Louise cares for her daughter who eventually is diagnosed with cancer and passes. Afterward, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist professor, is asked by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to assist the military with communication after the arrival of aliens on an oval shaped spacecraft. Eleven other spacecraft around the world have landed as well. While on her way to the spacecraft site in Montana, Louise meets the physicist she will be working with, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).
On their first contact with the aliens, Ian and Louise are raised up into the spacecraft. Louise seems to be having flashbacks about her daughter as she is headed toward the ship. The mood and tone are set especially well through ambient music and interesting cinematography. A low gravity tunnel leads to the main room with a transparent barrier where the first contact with the aliens is made.
The aliens are large seven legged creatures referred to as heptapods and eventually they are given the names Abbott and Costello by Ian. Louise and Ian’s work must begin with communication with the heptapods in order to determine what their purpose is on earth while other countries such as China try to establish communication as well.
Louise determines the creatures have a written language which appears to be circular and complex, not unlike a random inkblot. As more is learned about the creature’s language and communication begins to take hold between the humans and the aliens, fear among some of the soldiers begins to take shape. A bomb is set on the spacecraft while Louise and Ian are on the ship and the heptapod saves them both, forfeiting its own life as we find when Louise returns to the ship after the blast.
After the blast, Louise learns China is ready to attack the ship in their country and she is determined to find the information she needs to stop it. She is brought up into the ship by a pod and discovers the reason for the aliens’ visit and learns her flashbacks are of her future.
The language the heptapods use is circular, connected, and it affects the way they think. It affects Louise’s thinking as well. It’s a scientific hypothesis of language relativity and this is used to explain how the alien language is affecting Louise. I’m not particularly satisfied with this explanation but I will get into that later. With the knowledge Louise gains, she is able to stop an attack on the heptapods from China.
The concept of first contact is portrayed excellently in this film. The tone and mood in Arrival are spot on for this sci-fi movie. The camera work and the ambient music and sounds created a surreal impression. The cinematography in Arrival is gorgeous. Like the music and the actors, it also had a role in creating a moody and other-worldly atmosphere. The lead up to the main characters’ first contact is awe inspiring with a touch of fear of the unknown. I found myself growing nervous as Ian and Louise were lifted into the spacecraft and saw the aliens behind the barrier for the first time.
The acting is excellent. The protagonist, played by Amy Adams, did a spectacular job for the mood of the movie. She is believable in her worries and fears and is still able to show compassion and concern towards the unknown. She definitely did a good job portraying a quiet type of explorer and heroine in Arrival. Jeremy Renner did an excellent job playing a physicist who learns from Louise’s lead in the movie. While Forest Whitaker skillfully portrays a seasoned military man as a support role.
I enjoyed how Arrival took a closer look at communication, how it works, and how it would work in a first contact scenario. Language was given just as much importance to the first contact as the science. It also looked at how language can be similar to science. Louise and Ian worked their way through learning to communicate with the heptapods, not unlike how a scientist would work their way through a scientific problem or experiment. Also, language and science can overlap, as we saw Ian having to learn a language with the help of Louise and Louise working with Ian to decode the meaning of the language after the blast.
Communication takes a lot of work and we don’t always get it right. Louise demonstrates patience and a willingness to learn in order to bring other countries and heptapods to a closer form of understanding. Arrival introduces a theory about how language can shape the way we think and it begins to shape Louise’s thought, as we begin to learn her daughter was not from Louise’s past but from her future.
The heptapods’ language is non-linear, having no beginning or end. This is why Louise can see the future as we learn later in the movie. It’s based off an actual theory called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I am not a huge fan of Arrival taking this direction if truth be told, but it’s a creative idea to run with.
I was hoping for more hard science and less of a run into the distance of fiction with the language hypothesis. Having said that, it is science fiction and sometimes the impossible is fun to play with. So perhaps it can be forgiven since overall Arrival is still an excellent piece of science fiction.
Have you seen Arrival yet? The film is definitely worth a viewing. If you have seen it, what did you think? What do you think about the language relativity hypothesis used in the movie? You can read more about it in the linked references below. Let us know what you thought and put your Geeky Talk in the comments below.