While you can always see the Denis Villeneuve movie “Arrival” by yourself, I warmly recommend that you watch it with a friend. It will help you to discuss what you have seen and try to figure out what happened to you, and to the characters in the film. It is an alien first contact movie, which is about as helpful as saying Beethoven’s Ninth is a piece of symphonic music with chorus.
Amy Adams plays the heroine, the linguist who figures out what the aliens are saying. There are several schools of linguistics. One of them holds that one’s interpretation of reality is conditioned by what one’s language allows one to perceive. The film maintains the strongest branch of that school of thought, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, if you want to know. That is the key which, pushed to its extreme, truly makes this film science fiction, not that it concerns aliens showing up in gigantic ships. The result of understanding their way of thinking is that human experience of time changes, and the first person to be so affected is the Amy Adams character.
Mrs. Dalwhinnie and I spent a pleasant twenty minutes at dinner last night parsing out what had happened, in what order, and what the film meant to us. It is beautifully made. It is not about what it you expect it will be about, and has more the effect of listening to a symphony than being engaged in a linear narrative. As you come to realize after you have seen the movie, that experience akin to a symphony is consistent with the movie’s fundamental idea. I was surprized to find myself profoundly moved by it.
Denis Villeneuve first came to my conscious attention through his film Sicario. I watched his earlier (2010) and impressive film Incendies, about the repercussions of the Lebanese civil war, without knowing his authorship. Likewise I was impressed by his interesting film Prisoners without knowing Villeneuve had been the director. It is pleasing to see that he is co-directing Blade Runner, 2049, with Ridley Scott. Clearly, Villeneuve is a director who has entered into the highest reaches of his profession, and deservedly.