Arrival is somewhat of anomaly in the modern market, that is as a sci-fi concept movie focused more on a fascinating question rather than space ships and explosions. I think Passengers made a similar effort but perhaps weakened the concept by enmeshing the questions within a mildly tacky love story.
What I’m getting at is on the surface Arrival is a tale about what happens in the world when aliens come to visit and we can’t communicate with them. Amy Adam (Louise) is the expert who is asked to help the US to work out their language. The plot is intriguing and all but the real brilliance is in the question raised at the end.
Just to backtrack a little the movie begins like the quintessential tearjerker ‘Up’. Louise is shown through a montage raising her daughter from infancy to her premature death presumably from cancer. Its a skillful sequence relying on visual communication to tug on heart strings.
Now as the time we assume this is a prologue of sorts, everything about Adam’s character from there seems to fit with this, she is distant and defensive, so much so she is actually oblivious to the ‘arrival’ trying to teach her class with 1-2 kids attending who eventually alert her to the fact aliens have arrived.
But sneaky sneaky, we eventually start to realize this isn’t the case. Through the plot of the film we assume Louisa is having flashbacks about her daughter, but through various hints and then finally Louise asking ‘who is this girl?’ we realize those scenes have not happened.
The twist is that the influence of the aliens allows Louise to see the future, and that her child is part of that future.
Question becomes – do you try and change the future, or go ahead with it even if tragedy awaits?
In the film Louise chooses yes, which I loved. It’s a powerful message of celebrating life in the face of mortality. In many respects the contextual plot was just window dressing to make a movie about the central question, its a tough movie to sell to modern audiences but one I’m thankful got made.