“Now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings.”
Moonlight is the Best Picture of 2016 and I’m fairly certain I knew that as soon as I saw it. I didn’t believe it would win, not even after the mixup showed that it did win. I am so very happy that Moonlight won because it should have even when it wasn’t supposed to. However, Moonlight won’t be the movie that I think of whenever I remember that 2016. Without a single shadow of a doubt, my mind will always go straight to Arrival.
Arrival had a lot of things going for it without me even needing to see it. I’ve always been drawn to science fiction, space, and aliens. Denis Villeneuve has been on a real hot streak in my book (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario). Amy Adams has to be one of my top five favorite working actresses. The odds of not liking this film were miniscule, but I entirely underestimated the impact it would have.
I normally sit through the credits of most films just to appreciate the grandeur of the production and the hard work of so many dedicated people. With Arrival, I felt physically incapable of moving out of my chair. The credits washed over me, the lights came on, the screen turned off, and I remained in my seat. I can’t recall the last time that a film made me feel this way, new or old. I needed to see it a second time on that big screen.
It has taken me until this third viewing at home to really zero in on my thoughts and nail down my love for Arrival. The first thing is obvious; this film is smart sci-fi. This is decidedly not Independence Day. The answer to alien contact isn’t in war, its in conversation. The fact that all of the power and knowledge gained is through linguistics is something of a revelation for film, and I love that as a concept.
I’m going to try my best to paint with broad strokes here. If at all possible, you deserve to see this film without knowing exactly where the film goes, so I’ll try to help with that.
Amy Adams puts in a performance that any actor would love to top off their career with, and I find it to be criminally underrated. There’s no legitimate reason that Meryl Streep got her nomination spot for Florence Foster Jenkins, last year’s okay-est movie. The amount of emotion delivered through her facial reactions alone is astonishing; she can deliver an entire soliloquy without making a sound or moving the rest of her body. She is portraying ideas that don’t even make sense until the film is over, and rewatches are necessary. She’s one of the strongest characters in film from the entire year, without needing to be as overt as an action star. Adams is clearly distraught for much of the film for reasons we don’t know for a while. Her hands shake, her breathing is erratic, she can’t sleep, and even when she does, her dreams are tormenting her.
Nevertheless, she persists. She’s strong because she fights through everything she’s dealing with because she must. Her character needs to succeed not just for her own sake, but for that of her country and perhaps her planet. That’s why she is such a remarkable character.
The rest of the supporting cast is great, but they just pale in comparison to the film’s three true stars, including the aforementioned Adams and Villeneuve. Rounding out that trio is cinematographer Bradford Young, who’s other prominent credits include Selma and A Most Violent Year. The camerawork in Arrival is absolutely stunning. The famous helicopter shot as they approach the first “pod” while the fog rolls over the hills is breathtaking, and the way Young shoots the inside of the alien craft is magnificent as well. The beginning montage is reminiscent of The Tree Of Life, and I couldn’t help but picture the beautiful work of Interstellar during the closing moments. His next big project is the upcoming “young Han Solo” film, which is great news for that spinoff.
It has been nearly impossible to keep the secrets of Arrival wrapped up. Even though the film was released approximately half a year ago, I just desperately want everyone to be able to experience it for the first time. It isn’t any fun to know precisely where things go when you’re looking for a surprise. Please, do us both a favor, and watch this sci-fi masterpiece before you come to regret having missed it.
“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”