The world girds its loins with the arrival of twelve giant pods that hover over the planet.



Sign language: Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner 


It is scientifically proven that the language we learn as a child physically moulds our brains as to how we perceive the world around us. Some cultures have no words for “west” or “east” or “earlier” or “later” and so are unable to comprehend the linear limitations that define our own universe. Thus, what happened yesterday is not a concept that makes any more sense to them than what is going to happen tomorrow. To put it crudely, stuff just happens. But all civilisations are still reliant on words to express their ideas, needs and feelings, even in the land of the blind and the deaf.


The question posed by Denis Villeneuve's Arrival is how do we communicate with an extraterrestrial intelligence whose very laws of physics are alien to our own? Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called on to help interpret the sounds of alien visitors. They, the aliens, arrive in twelve ‘heptapods’ that hover over various corners of the earth and prompt bellicose rumblings from China, Russia and Sudan. The US appears to be more cautionary in its approach, hence the recruitment of Dr Banks and the theoretical physicist Ian Connelly (Jeremy Renner). When Banks and Connelly do, eventually, encounter two representatives of the visitors, he dubs them Abbott and Costello, which alleviates some of his colleague’s inaugural jitters. But the really scary thing is not the aliens but the world’s response to their arrival.


As with many extraterrestrial movies at the high end of the market (cf. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, Interstellar), one really does have to enter into the metaphysical spirit of the thing. Mathematically it has been calculated that for some form of life not to exist in the multiverse is as far-fetched as the idea of an alien moving into the Oval Office. For as long as we are unable to determine the boundaries of our own universe, we have to allow for the probability of the improbable and give filmmakers free rein to make their own interpretation. Villeneuve, who previous credits include Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario, is one of the more formidable talents to embrace the sci-fi genre and he brings to it enormous intelligence and scientific know-how. All things being equal, it should blow your mind.




Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Julia Scarlett Dan, Abigail Pniowsky, Jadyn Malone.


Dir Denis Villeneuve, Pro Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde, Screenplay Eric Heisserer, from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Ph Bradford Young, Pro Des Patrice Vermette, Ed Joe Walker, Music Jóhann Jóhannsson, Costumes Renée April.


FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films/21 Laps Entertainment-Entertainment One.

115 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 10 November 2016. Cert. 12A.