“Now that’s a proper introduction.”
Arrival comes out of the gate threatening to be the kind of film that you are going to have to watch a second, or third time, maybe even Google “what the hell just happened.” However, as Denis Villeneuve’s latest film rolls on, all questions are answered – and not in a Lost kind of way, where the film lies to you, and denies that it even asked any questions in the first place.
This is not to say that Arrival will not start conversations, in fact, it is the opposite – as seen by my need to write an entire piece on the film. After watching Villeneuve’s latest, I had man conversations with other unREEL writers about it, and came to a very defined conclusion: Arrival is smart, and will make you think, but it will not burden you once you get home.
While you may very well still be talking about Arrival as you drive home, rest assured that you will not accidentally run a stop sign as you argue with your passengers about what the hell you just watched.
While it would be bullish to say that Arrival is not a thinker, and that it does not challenge you as you watch Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner try and figure out why 12 alien space crafts have landed in 12 random locations on Earth, it is safe to say that Villeneuve does not toy with false endings, tricks or open-ended “What do YOU think happened?” endings – I am looking at you Inception.
This means that while, at one point or another, audiences may be asking themselves “WTF is happening” during this film, by the time the credits roll, Villeneuve has given you all of the information, all of the answers (unlike Enemy … which still bothers me. Damn you Villeneuve!)
What makes Arrival feel so good is the fact that Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer are not trying to pull off a magic trick, which is to say, they are not trying to surprise the audience, at all. In fact, they set it up so that as we watch the events through the eyes of Louise Banks (Amy Adams,) we learn everything as she does. There are no moments where Louise sees something, or discovers something but it is hidden from us. In fact, there are a few moments where the audience may know a little more than Louise (because we know she is in a movie, and there HAS to be a twist coming.)
The beauty of this style (also done perfectly by Villeneuve in his 2015 film Sicario) is that we know he and the writer know all of the answers before hand, and are not making things up as they go. We know that any unanswered questions do have answers, they just are not part of the plot, so maybe are not on screen. It truly creates a a thinking film that doesn’t make you think all too much. Sure, you can sit there and guess what is going to happen at every turn, analyse every word or phrase, or you could just sit back and watch as everything unfolds in front of Louise, and ourselves.
Arrival is a very slow, very deliberate film, but one that is so utterly beautiful, if not draped with melancholy, both visually and story-wise. So much so, that I just had to write about it, rather than review it (it is reviewed here.)
Originally, I was going to try and come up with a list of other films that made you think, but gave you answers. But, after a discussion with some fellow unREEL writers about that turned into deep conversation just about Arrival, I thought this was best.
I had a good feeling I knew where Arrival was going right from the opening scene. I was wrong. But, when I gathered enough information that I was able to figure it out I was pleased with myself. However, when Louise gathers enough information and figures it out, I was filled with so much pleasure that I wasn’t going to have to turn to the person next to me and say, “So … ”
Arrival, from start to finish, gave me more pleasure watching a film than I have had since Take Shelter. And while it is easy to chalk it up as just another great film by Denis Villeneuve (that might be all he can do?), I think it has instead found itself in my favourite movies of all-time – well, maybe not, but at least 2016.