Note: Spoilers ahead!
Arrival is one of those films that captures your attention and holds it throughout the duration of its story, but it also wraps itself around your mind, confuses you and then lets you go with thoughts that aren’t entirely easy to comprehend. As a sci-fi film about aliens, I was impressed. It wasn’t your typical aliens come down to earth type of film, where the aliens are here to kill us and humanity manages to scare them off. It wasn’t cliché, it wasn’t overdramatic, it wasn’t stereotypical.
It was smart.
The opening scene is one that latches onto your heart, letting you know that this isn’t going to be a feel-good film with lots of laughter and cliché action scenes. No. It’s plays on your emotions, Louise (played by Amy Adams) was brilliant in this film. She goes through an awful heartbreak, losing her daughter and splitting up with her husband. Her backstory is told through flashbacks, the growth of her daughter and her sickness that gradually claims the young woman for its own. Louise is left alone and broken.
But she pushes on, strong as ever and teaches at a university as a linguistic professor. However, things start to crumble when the strange objects appear, floating over areas across the world. It is then that she is recruited by the American government to help them speak to the alien life within their ‘ships’. It is here that she meets Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), a military theoretical physicist. Together, they work on communicating with the alien life, within the pods.
It becomes clear that the aliens are not here to hurt humankind. Instead, they come, and please excuse the stereotypical choice of words here, in peace. They are strange shaped beings, called Heptapods (at least that’s what Ian calls them). They take a liking to Louise and Ian, communicating through a glasslike barrier, by pressing what seems to be their hands against it, for Louise to then press hers back. Through their ink they speak to Louise and Ian, in cyclical patterns, a language that at first, the humans cannot understand.
During the process of the film, the rest of the world is shown reacting in typical ways – war and violence. Humanity’s need to preserve life, blinds them, unable to accept that the aliens are here to help them, they believe that there is a war coming. However, despite their attacks or attempted attacks on the pods, the aliens are steadfast and insist on helping Louise. Ian names them after a comedy act, Abbott and Costello, due to their playful, helpful nature. After showing themselves to the aliens (without their suits), they begin, over the course of weeks, to understand the alien’s language. Throughout this time period, Louise has flashbacks of a young girl, one she doesn’t recognise but who we think, she must do because of their relationship in the visions.
It is then revealed that the aliens are here to give humanity a gift – the ability to view time as cyclical. Not linear. Thus, giving them a universal language to bring humanity together, instead of being against one another. We then realise that the reason the Chinese withdrew their impending attack, was because Louise was able to tell General Shang, his wife’s dying words. Something she couldn’t possibly know, until the future Louise asks Shang at a gathering of officials post alien contact, so that her past self could convince Shang to withdraw his attack.
The gift, it seems, that the aliens gave to Louise by entering their side of the barrier and touching their inky mist, having had a connection with the beings, is to see the future, not as linear but as a cycle. We then realise that the flashbacks are not the past, they are the future and throughout the film, she has been able to see what becomes of her life. Her daughter is in the future, as is her husband. The aliens have given her the ability to understand their language and hope she can teach others it too, for in 3, 000 years the aliens will need their help.
Pulling humanity together was their way of saying – we’ve helped you and now one day, you shall help us. A truly wonderful film ends on a hopeful note. That though she has seen the future, she decides to embrace it. Her husband turns out to be Ian, a caring, smart man and in the future now that she sees it fully, realises that instead of telling Ian what will happen to their daughter, she hopes to take it as it comes. Thus, leaving us to hope that he does not leave her (and it would go against his character as he is such a caring man in the duration of this film), and though she cannot save her daughter, she can make her life as happy as it can be, until that time comes.
If anything, this film teaches us that it is better to be together while we can. It’s shame it took other worldly beings to teach us that. Though, I suppose that’s typical of humanity.