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Trivia / Goofs
Summary / Analysis
Times of India
12 mysterious UFOs touch down across the globe at seemingly random locations. A team headed by linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is brought together to investigate these UFOs and their intent, in a race against time as the world perceives them as a threat to humanity.
If the synopsis sounds like a typical bombastic sci-fi blockbuster, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Armed with an outstanding screenplay by Eric Heisserer, and based on a short story by Ted Chiang titled ‘Story of Your Life', director Denis Villeneuve creates an atmosphere of global dread with barely an explosion. The strength of Chiang’s story is so powerful that Villeneuve could probably replace the lead actors with most other Hollywood A-listers and still have the same impact.
Not to detract from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner though. Both deliver skilfully measured performances and Adams showcases a poignant range that provides the emotional backbone to the plot. Forest Whitaker however, is relegated to the generic army colonel tasked with figuring the objective of the aliens’ presence. He approaches Dr. Banks who previously helped him translate communication between insurgents. Along with Ian Donnelly, they approach one of the spaceships to contact the alien beings and establish a form of dialogue with them. Their interactions with the alien creatures are interspersed with flashes of Dr. Banks’ relationship with her daughter, which initially appear to be haphazard and irrelevant. But there’s an underlying connection between the intimacies of her life and the threat posed by a world at the brink of war, fearing hostile intent from the otherworldly visitors.
While the logic behind how the linguistics expert manages to decipher the alien language is fuzzy at best, the true purpose of these intelligent extra-terrestrial beings is a jaw-dropping reveal that warrants a repeat viewing to find all the breadcrumbs left in the lead up to the crescendo. Bradford Young’s soothing cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s hypnotic score lend more weight to all the emotional beats laid out by Villeneuve's mastery of the craft. Don't let the deliberate pacing dissuade you; ‘Arrival’ makes you ponder the implications of time, love, life, and death, and the co-relation between communication and the human experience long after the credits roll, making it one of the unmissable films to watch this year.
The film was originally named ‘Story of Your Life’ but the test audience did not like it so it was changed to ‘Arrival’.
The pod-like spaceship on the film’s poster resembles the Swedish candy ‘lakritsbåt’.
The helmets worn in the film are respiratory protection units manufactured by Sundstrom and are popularly in the industry.
Dr. Louise Banks is seen with her daughter at different stages of her life, and we witness their relationship blossom from the day of her birth, till the time sheâs diagnosed with a fatal illness, and eventually succumbs to it. Dr. Banks goes on to teach linguistics at a university. Sheâs taking a class when a fire alarm goes off leading to an emergency evacuation, which is the first sign of the arrival of the UFOs. Shortly, Dr. Banks is approached by US Army Colonel Weber who needs her expertise to decipher an alien language. Banks insists on meeting the extra-terrestrials as sheâs unaware of how they communicate.
Reluctantly, Dr. Banks is taken to one of the landing sites of the pod-shaped spaceships along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly. Clad in anti-radiation suits they proceed to make their first encounter with the aliens along with some soldiers for security, and to record the interactions for future analysis. The two aliens they meet across a thick transparent barrier are depicted with cephalopod-like features, who Donnelly names as Abbott and Costello. The beings communicate in the form of dark circles made of vapour, with intricate markings that act as syllables.
As the two of them begin to slowly interpret and decipher certain patterns, Dr. Banks eventually develops a rudimentary form of communication between the extra-terrestrials. However, the process isnât fast enough for the army, who is now facing pressure from the American president to understand why the aliens are on Earth. Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe, various nationalities have also made progress communicating with the aliens but are hesitant to share their own findings with other countries, with the intent of having an advantage in the case of an attack.
Following a series of communications, Dr. Banks manages to decipher that the aliens are present to âoffer weaponâ. She believes the word âweaponâ could also mean âtoolâ, but this exacerbates the already tense situation in the American army.
The world is also on edge â those who have managed to make similar interpretations are now threatening to strike before the aliens do. Each country chooses to operate in isolation. However, as Dr. Banks and Donnelly decode the alien language, they also begin to understand the complexities of their thought process. The aliens process time in a non-linear manner, and are hence able to see the future, present and past simultaneously. This ability is primarily due their complicated language, based on a theory that all thought is affected by linguistics.
Dr. Banks also seems to be disturbed by dreams of her daughter, and of the aliens. These seem to overlap with her exchanges with the beings. She believes the beings are non-violent, and ventures out with Donnelly into the pod in one last attempt at dialogue before the army evacuates the landing site. However, theyâre unaware that a few rogue soldiers have planted a timed explosive within the pod, which goes off just as the pair are about to gain more information from the aliens in the form of multiple circular patterns. The aliens manage to shield the pair using gravity. Following the explosion, the pods begin to rise above human reach.
Once Banks recovers from the shock of the explosion, she finds out that Donnelly has interpreted the information by the aliens, and that it is only one-twelfth in quantity, meaning that the rest of the data lies with the other 11 pods. The aliens were pushing humans to work with each other. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is prepared to attack the shell at their site. Dr. Banks rushes back to the pod, who sends a small shuttle to ferry her back inside. She discovers that Abbott is gravely injured by the explosion, and Costello reveals that her dreams and visions have been flashes from her future. Her daughter is yet to be born. The very nature of the alien language had changed her ability to perceive time. She was now equipped with the ability to change the present as she knew the outcome in the future. This gift was the offer from the aliens â they had come to equip humans with this tool, and they would need human help in return, 3000 years in the future.
This explains the conversations Dr. Banks is seen having with her daughter, particularly the discussion about the name âHannahâ which is a palindrome, and can be spelled both ways. The nature of a palindrome can also be used to understand the events of Dr. Banksâ life and how theyâve played out in the film in reverse. Her husbandâs decision to leave her and Hannah is because she proceeded to conceive the child even though she knew of her fatal illness â a fact he could not come to terms with. Equipped with this knowledge, Dr. Banks has a new vision of being at a United Nations party where she meets the Chinese General Shang who thanks her for all her efforts and for a phone call she made to his personal number which made him change his mind about the aliens. She appears surprised in her vision, as the General proceeds to give her his number along with personal information about his dying wife to verify her authenticity. In the present, Dr. Banks manages to steal a satellite phone from the army camp who is about to evacuate. She proceeds to call General Shang and give him the personal information which then proves to be successful in changing his mind, as the vision predicted. This leads to the attack being called off and remaining nations follow suit.
As the pods begin to leave the planet, Dr. Banks has further visions where she discovers that Donnelly is the father of her unborn child. In the present, he confesses his love for her and they both contemplate the possibility of starting a life together, thus closing the loop on her premonitions.