Film: Arrival; Director: Denis Villeneuve; Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner; Rating: ***1/2
Somewhere, buried deep down in the compelling crevices of this remarkable but slight treatise on outerspace invasion, is a true classic.
I saw it in Amy Adams’ eyes. Filled with fear and determination, they reflect a reality about the illusion of spatial invasion that this film sadly, cannot represent.
It isn’t the fault of the actors or technicians who are faultless, almost.
Not one incondite moment occurs in the storytelling. That’s the beauty of crypticism. The creator can camouflage all the frailties in ambiguities and code language, and in fact transform those frailties into a kind of feral strength.
This is exactly what “Arrival” does. It’s a supremely slight story — based on a short story, actually — purported to be turned into a saga of epic proportions. Regrettably the director’s vision doesn’t quite match up to the execution.
Not that the film lacks in splendor. There are visuals of the the extra-terrestial aircrafts looming over the nervous anxious space scientists. In such scenes it isn’t so much the difference between the scale of Man and Space(and by extension, outerspace creatures) that gets to us. It is just the enormity of the thought behind the theme of invasion.
We are constantly endangered by the unknown.
The film’s heroine Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is lucky to be decoding the thought processes of outerspace creatures who eventually turn out to be benign and peace-loving. But what if they were the opposite’ The sense of imminent peril runs through the film, coursing through its throbbing veins with impunity and certainty.
Yet, what we get at the end of it all is not what we bargain for. “Arrival” promises an omnipotent experience. It delivers much less. Indeed the film is more remarkable for what it suggests and signifies than what it delivers. In execution, the fine line between imagination and its manifestation is crossed with an infuriating consistency of tone.
No one raises his or voice even in moments of tremendous emotional anguish. There is a crucial plot turn where Louise must convince the Chinese Premiere to avert global catastrophe. Here too, the narrative seeks strength in languor rather than anxiety. The high-points’ are sublimated into a disquieting stillness, the fear of the unknown superbly reified in Amy Adams’ eyes. She plays a language decoder given the task of connecting with the aliens. Of course Louise has a past tragedy haunting her present in unexpected ways.
The scenes from the past portraying a mother-daughter idyll remain hanging outside the crisp framework of the rest of the taut but slender film. Perhaps this is deliberate. Director Denis Villeneuve employs silences and stillness to accentuate the churning that lies beneath. He punctuates the scenes where Dr Banks and her associate (Jeremy Renner, struggling silently with an underwritten role) interact with aliens with a hemmed-in soundtrack that sounds like a shrill siren ringing in the distance ominously.
It’s all in the distance, and in the past. And the time-twist that occurs in the plot to jolt us only accentuates the lack of actual drama in the proceedings. “Arrival” is a film that leaves us distantly dissatisfied. But it’s a mollifying kind of dissatisfaction. It’s what we feel when a beloved child leaves home to pursue his or her dreams.
By Subhash K. Jha