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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Arrival Review: We need to talk.

Humanist science fiction, when done right, are some of my most favorite films. Joints like Close Encounters, Silent Runner, and even Contact for the most part celebrate my favorite parts of humanity. They say we're at our best when we solve our problems instead of punching them. That our ingenuity and empathy are what slowly makes this world better.

That is the thesis of this linguistic thriller. Yeah, there's a linguistic thriller out there right now and it's wonderful. It may not last the test of time and it may not win best picture but this movie just made me feel better. That's rare enough as it is.

Amy Adams plays a linguist drawn in by the military to learn the language written by pilots of several alien disks scattered in random places on earth. Each country has their own team with their own disc. Cooperation is easy at first but when progress is slow the super powers begin to think everyone else is holding out on them. Replace giant aliens with a rogue nation and it shows you an agonizingly believable portrait of how the world will most likely end. In silence followed closely by bombs.

The most impressive thing I noticed about the film is it's sense of mood. Every scene whether it's a quiet cottage by a lake or a cramped plastic MASH hospital carries a solemn sense of... well.... doom. This world isn't ending in a loud and fiery war but in a withdrawn, caffeine addled, depression. The fact the first person to speak to the aliens winds up being institutionalized is a nice, almost cthulian, touch.

This entire film is a puzzle and in retrospect there were tons of clues towards the twist 2/3's of the way through that I thought was earned. But your experience may very. I've already had one fight with a friend who thought it was tripe. I liked it! Though whether you buy it or not you can't deny the actual aliens are worth the ticket price. The secrets of their language and motives make for a good story but it's most artful in how answers get doled out. I mean, I thought the whole show was wrapping up only to glance at the time (my phone was on the lowest brightness, I swear!) and realize there was an hour to go.

And don't get me wrong, those 2 hours flew. I was just concerned it was ending too soon. Which I say is a high compliment when a film ends and you're sad it's over. But not Arrival. No, Arrival ends exactly when it has to. Leaving me with a firmer confidence in the best of us. The idea that in the end... maybe we really can "all get along."

He has a line at the end that will be the cheesiest damn thing you've ever heard. Just know that.

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