What would happen if an alien race visited Earth? Artists and authors have been answering this question for over a century, bringing different perspectives to the issue. While the portrayal of hostile extraterrestrials attacking the earth is certainly popular, there is a place in science fiction for stories of diplomatic visits, exploring how other civilizations may interact with ours and how humanity deals with changes on this level.
When large spacecrafts land around the world, Colonel GT Weller (Forest Whitaker) brings in linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to assist in translating the aliens’ words and writing. Together with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise works to communicate with the “heptapod” aliens, while at the same time, she is haunted by flashes of her daughter’s life and early death. As tensions build and the threat of global war grows, Louise must find out why the aliens have come and what their visit means for humanity.
I find that one of the film’s strengths is its portrayal of how people around the globe react to the heptapods’ arrival. We see people rioting, a radio personality calling for violence against the aliens, governments reacting through paranoia, and more. In its purest sense, Arrival is a movie about people that also features aliens. It uses their arrival as a backdrop for a story about people, in more ways than you could ever expect when walking into it.
Arrival is a rare film that can balance ideas and emotions in such a way that neither overpowers the other and both can be integral to the film’s character. This is without a doubt one of the finest science fiction films of the last few years, if not the past decade, and I have personally recommended it to just about anyone who will listen to me.