BEIRUT: As I wait for the upcoming Holiday Season at the box office, I decided to head over to Vox Cinemas and catch one of the recently released films and picked the sci-fi drama film: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies), and starring Oscar Nominated Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker,
Not knowing what to expect, I walked into the cozy Vox Gold screening room, settled into my reclining arm chair and enjoyed the trailers leading up to the night's feature.
Based on the novella by Ted Chiang, Arrival tells the story of Louise, a renowned linguist, who is picked up by the US military in order to assist them in communicating and translating alien communications during what seems to be an alien invasion.
"Dr. Louise Banks: Now that's a proper introduction."
Throwing the sci-fi genre on its head, Villeneuve allows the narrative (screenplay) and the cinematography to do all the work. He gives the narrative time to develop all the while giving the audience enough time to feast on his beautiful, breathtaking shots; this is further proof that all the elements in cinema must work together in order for a film to be concrete.
As the narrative slowly builds, many events occur off-screen, though diegetic. By doing this, Villeneuve pulls the audience in and forces them to engage with the events and look at the screen in wonder just as the characters within the screen look at the events in that very same way.
"Ian Donnelly: You know I've had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me the most, it wasn't meeting them. It was meeting you."
The sci-fi genre is known for showing its spectacle on-screen, and having a light-speed rhythm, but Arrival's auteur breaks these conventions and does so with class.
He limits all forms of CGI (computer generated images), relies on the performances of his stellar cast, and builds a world such an authentic aesthetic that it gave me chills. The more a film's subject requires its audience to extend their suspension of disbelief, the more pressure falls on the production team.
This film's believability factor and grounded feel is what makes it succeed.
The film is scored composed by Johann Johannsson and is quite minimalistic. The film's sound design is genius as it blurs the lines between what is score and what is ambient sound, much like the narrative blurs the lines between memory and reality.
Arrival tackles the manipulation of the media and how much of a player it is when it comes to political decisions. This along with mankind's constant fear of matters it doesn't understand and those it will never be able to understand, give the narrative motivation and allows for the characters' purposeful function.
Speaking of the characters, Amy Adams's performance is so captivating and believable that given to another actor, this film could have faltered. Adams's wide blue eyes, her soft-spoken nature, and her raw emotions give the film the heart it needs to aid in the reeling in of the audience.
"Dr. Louise Banks: If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?"
Thematically, the film covers messages of understanding, sacrifice, and the importance of unity among human beings. A theme that resonates with the current state of the world that seems to be moving away from globalization.
Eric Heisserer's screenplay is layered and complex, similar to the relationship between Louise and the Heptapods, the film's alien visitors.
Dealing with the communication barrier and the learning of a new language, the film parallels how cinema is also a language and not all who witness it will understand its many complexities.
It is a risk on the filmmaker's part to sometimes direct a film with the assumption that an audience in this day and age will be receptive enough to learn something new and not want the same old spectacle.
Garnering a well-deserved 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Arrival is surely a surprising film in the lead-up to the holiday season. It will be followed up by a few more sci-fi films that will no doubt overshadow it because of their commercial appeal.
For me, just as it was last year with Ex-Machina, another minimalistic sci-fi drama, I will be watching Arrival again and again to unravel all the mysteries that Villeneuve and his team placed within this cinematic wonder.
Alan Mehanna is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. He received his MFA in Screenwriting from Full Sail University. He is also a film instructor at the American University of Science and Technology and Antonine University.
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