This week I review ARRIVAL. The movie stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist who is recruited to help communicate with aliens who arrive in 12 cities around the world. She’s joined by scientist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner. Forest Whitaker also stars. Denis Villeneuve directs this Oscar-contender.
ARRIVAL is a fairly quiet film without a lot of fanfare that’s more reflective than action-packed. The screenplay was written by Eric Heisserer who is known for movies such as FINAL DESTINATION 5 and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. ARRIVAL is a different type of movie entirely, though. It’s mind-bending and self-reflective and contemplative in its themes and storyline. The screenplay is well-written in that it doesn’t get in its own way with too much unnecessary dialogue.
The big theme here is time and the motif to represent it is the circle. If you look at traditional interpretations of them, they represent wholeness, eternity and timelessness. Louise tells us herself that the movie is about time and that these circles are no coincidence. In the opening lines of the movie she says “I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings”. Circles are everywhere in this movie. One of the first shots in the movie is of Louise’s hand with her gold wedding ring on it. It’s a simple, unbroken band of continuity and time. Circles are everywhere—the hallway in the hospital is curved like the side of a circle, the student tables in the hall where Louise lectures are curved facing her like a circle, the quilting on her jacket later in the movie looks like waves up close but from further away looks like giant embroidered circles. Ian, the scientist Louise works with at the alien site in Montana, wears a watch with a large circular face. The circular face stands out in particular during a scene when he looks at the alien transport vehicle with binoculars, themselves a set of circles. The door to the alien ship opens every 18 hours—even the choice of 18 involves two stacked circles.
For more about the themes and symbolism in ARRIVAL, take a look below:
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