I’ve seen Arrival twice now. It’s the kind of movie I wanted to share. After seeing it myself, I had to take two of my favorite folks so they too could delight in this incredibly intriguing, suspenseful, atmospheric movie about thinking. It’s a subject that couldn’t be timelier, seeing as how our country has just about split down the middle over issues to do with our culture’s unfortunate devaluation of thoughtfulness.
The name says it all. To arrive is “to come to a place after traveling to reach; attain the objective in a course or process; to arrive at a conclusion.”
I looked up the etymology of arrival and found that it derives from the French, arriver, meaning to come to land, originally beginning to be used in the 11th century but deriving from the old Latin ad (from or to)+ ripa (shore) meaning “ to touch the shore” or, less literally, “to reach the land after a long journey.” In the movie the septapods arrive on the shores of Earth after an extremely long journey. Humanity symbolized in the person of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) must make a social and personal journey to the other side of their changed reality before it can come ashore into new equilibrium. Before that happens, the characters themselves must leave their familiar places to journey to the remote sites where the alien ships have landed. Everyone in the movie is arriving.
Being a poet I know words are tricky things. Poems like dreams deal with metaphors, puns and slanted rhymes. Digging a bit deeper I found that rive, which means “bank ” or “shore” in French is also an English word derived from Old Norse which means “to split asunder” or “tear apart”). From rive we also get rivet which means “to clinch” or “to focus on intently.” In the movie we find the heroine, along with the rest of her world, sundered from all previous conceptions about the human place in the universe. The idea of aliens does not begin to address the shock and horror evoked by their actual arrival. As fears progress among humans, nations and families, alliances and contracts or also ripped apart. To solve the linguistic riddle the protagonist must focus intently o the problem. Finally, the word “arrival” sounds like ” a rival.” The aliens are generally perceived as rivals, rivalry is rampant between nations and implied in the juxtaposition between science and the humanities.
I applaud about this film is the casting of Amy Adams as the linguist Louise Banks. I’ve recently been reading Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s about the nature of introverts and their overall importance in the greater scheme of things. Louise Banks epitomizes all the traits Susan Cain extols. In short, to quote the author, “Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments.” Amy Adams has a sweet, very young-looking face, unwrinkled, pleasant, pretty, but fairly nondescript. She makes an excellent Everywoman. It’s a puppy face and a trait we might well share with aliens is the ability to recognize and respond favorably to the young of any species, even those we might find abhorrent as adults. This makes her a perfect non-threatening liaison.
Arrival is the dramatization of a concept. It is about thinking and the process of being thoughtful. Amy Adams never makes it about personality. Suspense doesn’t depend on the outcome of a personal drama. Denis Villeneuve, the director, makes brilliant use of the alien’s otherness, manipulative music, ominous lighting and the urgency of deadline to build suspense and keep the audience emotionally engaged without distracting them from the ideas of the movie which center around the benefits of contemplation, thinking innovatively and making connections while keeping the bigger picture always in mind and retaining compassionate understanding of one’s fellow beings. Louse’s most prominent quality is the basic respect she exhibits for everyone she encounters. Respect supersedes judgement; it demands flexibility of thought and the ability to set aside opinion. Her ethic not only underwrites her success at communicating with the septapods, it also allows her to work cooperatively with the military man and scientist who do not understand her or her work. Ultimately, it is the quality that allows her to change.
The movie ends with departure and underscores the idea that departure is as much a beginning place as arrival. Therein lies the twist that makes this film such a joy. Both nights I sat in the audience people laughed aloud with delight as the twist was revealed. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.