“Arrival” avoids cliches

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By: Matt McDonald, Columnist 

For anyone planning to see “Arrival” and expecting another generic guns blazing, clocks ticking, ship exploding alien movie, be prepared to be surprised. This movie does none of the above, and yet it is one of the best science fiction movies made in the last decade.

Starring Amy Adams, “Arrival” is a psychological and abstract film that keeps you guessing until the very end. When 12 extra-terrestrial pods land in different areas of the world, professional linguist Louis Banks is called upon to communicate with the aliens and discover the meaning of their trek to earth. Through multiple visits with the aliens, and with the help of mathematician Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, Banks is able to deconstruct the aliens’ language and use it to find out their purpose.

This movie absolutely blew me away. I did not expect it to be as good, not to mention deep, as it was. It brilliantly avoids all the stereotypical space movie clichés and instead presents a slow-paced, but contemplative story — not mindlessly blasting aliens, but using them as a bridge to larger themes, such as love, time, life and obviously language and communication — all while sustaining a grounded element. Without giving too much away, it makes you think in great detail about the parts and uses of language and almost presents it as a puzzle. Adams gives an incredible performance that balances her character’s troubled backstory of losing her daughter while coping with the ever-growing connection she seems to have with the aliens.

I do have a few problems with the movie. First, while Donnelly is a quirky and lovable character, I did not see him do that much to further the story other than one scene, and he isn’t given too much time for himself. In addition, Colonel Weber, played by Forest Whitaker, does not have much to contribute to the plot other than get Banks to the camp and tell her “no” to everything she does. There is also a moment towards the end that feels very convenient for the plot and just doesn’t make sense how it would play out. One last nitpicky issue I had with the movie is that, while most of it is directed masterfully, director Denis Villeneuve seems to have a love for extreme close-ups and shots where the background is blurred. I found the constant use of this really claustrophobic at times.  

“Arrival,” except for the character flaws, is an incredibly moving story with gorgeous scenery and a message to the world: we should work together on a global scale towards peace and communication rather than war. Complete with the most shocking plot twist that Shyamalan himself would praise, this movie deserves some Oscar-worthy recognition. 4/4

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