4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

In a world of celebrating diversity, can the very thing that defines different societies be the very thing that could bring them together?

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) seems to be living two different lives. She is a leading voice within her field even as she is suffering through the trauma of loss within her family. Then the landing occurs. Aliens come to earth in 12 locations across the globe and within days, Louise is abruptly awakened from the trauma that she has experienced in her life. She is sought after to assist with communicating with this alien race. With the assistance of the armed forces, leading scientists and fellow scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she is in a race against time to communicate with this new species. Their work has implications that will impact world peace, the sustaining of life on earth and ultimately it will affect her own personal life.

Arrival proves to be an unexpected journey into the realm of the human experience, our identities and the things that cause the most connection and division within our species. This is a massive statement to make about an apparent alien invasion film, but the invasion from outer space is merely the vehicle to deliver much deeper ideas.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) provides a unique view of humanity and how we respond to things that cannot be defined by our current paradigms. Without taking away any of the potential twists of this psychological and philosophical journey, Villeneuve manages to portray the ramifications of these events and how they change the players internally and existentially. This is an odyssey that will have a long-lasting and profound effect on audiences through the multi-dimensional way the films central conceit unfolds.

To Villeneuve’s credit, the element that makes his film travel so well between these multiple levels are his main performers.

Amy Adams sits beautifully in amongst this jumbled array of philosophy and interstellar communication. She continues to prove to be one of the leading actors in Hollywood and it could be said that this is one of her best performances to date. Her ability to convey emotion and intellect within the same scene without issue makes this web of thought accessible to the viewer. Jeremy Renner provides the measured intensity, quiet confidence and comedic element that supports Adams in her vulnerable and empathetic performance. The development of their relationship remains believable, even as the story journeys outside the realms of reality. Forest Whitaker does give the film the steely military element, but he always makes you want more of his character in the end. This could be a positive or negative for his fans in leaving them wanting more.

Arrival is unprecedented and genre bending. It is not an alien invasion film or psychological thriller as much as it provides a philosophical journey that entertains. It is a great film, but it may take time to determine exactly why and it will be different for each person watching the film. Like a work of art, viewers will most likely derive something different from the film. It is worth watching with a friend, as it will provide loads of discussion for days.

Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

The topics that are open for discussion are boundless with Arrival, but the one that stands out is the discussion of language and how it defines us. At the heart of this film is the frustration and solution that language can provide and bring unity throughout humanity. It is hard to imagine that the Bible could have an answer to the perplexing notion of languages, but it does. At the very beginning of the human experience, language is a key issue for unity and pride. At the Tower of Babel, God’s solution to the problem of pride was to introduce many languages. So, is the film’s premise a true solution or merely a re-introduction to the problem?

Passages on the value of words and the use of the tongue:  Genesis 11:1-9, Proverbs 21:23, James 3:2-10

For further discussion:

  1. What did you think of the film and its concepts and themes?
  2. What did you think of the way Amy Adams portrayed the lead Louise Banks?
  3. What did you think of the way Jeremy Renner portrayed the character of Ian Donnelly?
  4. Do you agree with Ian Donnelly’s (Jeremy Renner) comment that science can explain everything?
  5. Have you ever studied or immersed yourself in a foreign language? Did you dream or think in that language?
  6. Do you agree with The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?
  7. What did you think of the alien language, did it recall anything for you?
  8. Why are we afraid of things we don’t understand? How does this often make us act? Think of some real world examples of people rushing to judgement without considering the consequences and what was the outcome?