People of Earth: fear not. They come in peace. Those colossal strangers on the horizon mean no harm. In fact they bear great, intelligence and, quite often, pure delight. Please make them welcome. For the next 90 days they'll fill many of your days and nights with great satisfaction; and, before any wack-job militia members grab their muskets, I should clarify that I speak not of a foreign invasion. Rather, get ready for a steady march of fabulous films coming in multitudes that we have not seen in quite a while.
The first is Arrival, a big, thrilling sci-fi drama that is equal parts hair-raising and poignant. While preparing for this review, I dug out my notebook, filled with initial reactions to the film gleaned from viewing its North American premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Among the words I scribbled in the dark were: "poetic," "grand," "deeply emotional," "often somber" and, after pages and pages of musings, I finally wrote, "I love, love, love this film."
By now, there's a good chance you have seen the trailers for Arrival. In anticipation of its Friday, Nov. 11 debut in theaters across the planet, its producers have decided to go all out with a big push to Oscar season. For the record, I think they're spot-on. Amy Adams, its star, will most certainly make the Best Actress short list (it's stunning to think this young lady has already racked up five Academy Award nominations). Additionally, you can fully expect Arrival to corral a roundup of Oscar nods for its technical achievements.
The source material of Arrival is a lovely, little-known short story, "Story of Your Life," by Ted Chiang, which tells the story of Dr. Louise Banks, who leads a semi-secluded life as a Montana linguist. It takes the audience a while to understand Banks' solitude and how it is framed by a personal loss. Soon enough, she becomes the most important person on the planet—literally. And by "literally," I truly mean "literally." She's an expert communicator; and, while she uses few words, she's able to drill into something called a "free word order." What that means is a massive jumble of words or phrases that are precise but only a genius such as Banks can stack them in their proper order.
Oh yes, there are also aliens. A lot of aliens in Arrival. They are the source of the "free word order" and, as you can imagine, our planet does not take too kindly to giant orbs landing in strategic locations across the globe. While the world goes nuts with fear, it is up to the gentle soul that is Louise Banks to solve the ultimate puzzle of our existence.
Critics have been initially kind to Arrival and they have been quick to compare it to other sci-fi films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. True, Arrival has Close Encounters' wonder and rare moments of levity, but I found Arrival to have much more in common with Contact, starring Jodie Foster. Contact did not do particularly well at the box office when it opened in 1997, but it has slowly built a fanbase in its multiple airings on cable television over the past two decades. It's whip-smart science fiction, challenging us to think that our own place in the universe is a bit smaller than our ego had previously led us to believe.
Arrival is the first of two movies starring Adams that will land at your local cineplex this fall. The other, Nocturnal Animals, is certain to become one of the more controversial films of the year. We'll tackle that challenge in the weeks to come. For now, I urge you to embrace this magnificent drama. If you're averse to sci-fi films, don't worry: Arrival is as much an intricate tale of love and loss. If you're a fan of sci-fi, brace yourself. You haven't yet seen anything quite like Arrival.