In a not very distant future 12 mysterious alien objects land on different parts of the Earth. Multiple governments try to understand the alien’s intentions.
The last movie of Denis Villeneuve (producer of various different but interesting films as Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario), nominated for the Venice Film Festival 2016 award, is a good example of Sci-Fi, that can put spectacularity and tension together with a non-common plot, that combines linguistics, mathematics, politics and physics, in order to tell a story about comprehension and acceptance of the unknown, but also about how our language plasma our thoughts (and vice versa) and about our conception of time.
After reading such a description it may seem as a weird and potentially moralistic mix, but the little miracle of Villeneuve’s movie is to transmit all of this in a way that is both respectful to the public’s intelligence and extraordinary engaging, using the stylistic elements of the sci-fi genre in its greatest manifestations (from Spielberg to Nolan, all the way til Star Trek).
Villeneuve builds up the tension through suggestive and unsettling images (those of the alien starships that look like monoliths levitating on the surface of our planet), the thorough use of the music and the sound but retreating as much as possible the splatter effect or the surprise in and of itself. There are tentacular aliens (that are never really scary), there are the paranoid governments and soldiers, the nuclear threat, the international tension, but non of that is the real center of the story. In order to communicate with the aliens, a group lead by a linguist, Louise Banks, and by a physicist, Ian Donnelly, is created.
The story revolves around time, our perception of it and the gift, that belongs solely to us humans, to organise it in history: with our languages, that are the main instrument for communication, for expression but also the strong and ambiguous instrument that describes and creates reality.
The scientific paradox is just around the corner but Arrival deals with it in a more existential and less metaphysic way than Interstellar (a more ambitious, though less successful movie, that it is similar to), with an intellectually and emotionally better created outcome. At the end of the day the human salvation depends more on relationships between people than between intergalactic forces; and in a climate where lack of knowledge often symbolises hostility, Arrival is both a stubborn and reasonable hymn to the human ability to tend heart, hands and mind towards the other in a perspective of mutual hospitality.
The protagonist, incarnated with energy and conviction by Amy Adams, deeply believes in the possibility (and the duty) of communication and its her tension towards the other (and maybe even the Other itself) that is the true engine of the story.
Jeremy Renner gives his charisma and talent to the minor part – although its till vital to the trama – of the scientist put beside Louise in the mission to create a bridge with the aliens. Here its possible to overcome the simple contraposition between faith and science, in order to explore the differences and the complementaries not only of the methods, but also of the different approaches between a man and a woman, to the point when its exactly the relationship between the two that holds the key to the whole story.
Laura Cotta Ramosino (Translation: Benedetta Volpe)