Arrival, as advertised, is an intelligent first contact sci fi movie. I loved it until the end. They had me at hello and then it said goodbye and I was left very underwhelmed.
The film is an account a linguist, Louise Banks, contracted by the government to help communicate with aliens who have arrived in 12 different semi-ovoid ships. Each one in a different area around the world. She helps develop a way to understand their language but is under pressure by the military to answer the big question, "why are you here?" Part of the pressure comes from the fact that China and Russia, to some degree, have adopted a belligerent stance toward the aliens. Which means that an attack on one of the alien ships is a declaration of war between the aliens and humanity.
On a personal level, Louise is having "memories" about her daughter who died of an incurable disease and the fact that her husband left her because of their daughter's illness. We later find out that these are not memories but visions and that her husband is the physicist who she works with on this alien project. And I think the big lesson here is that even knowing the future pain, she choosing to marry him.
So, what's my issue? I was very much into her personal story as defining who she is and it looked like she was searching her mind for clues to crack the alien linguistic, cultural and behavioral code. I really loved the sci fi with the linguistics lessons and the political layer was a good touch. The problem was that it never all came together for me. The aliens reveal that language is a powerful weapon that will save us? I think that was it. And they gave us the glossary or text book for their language which captures their unique sense of time. That is such a let down. We already know this from Harry Potter! Words are powerful.
Further still, we know this from Doctor Who, that words are powerful because they are timeless--the episode in which Shakespeare crafts the perfect words to expel and an evil force from the world.
So back to Arrival. Just when the movie called for a very interesting spin on the power of language, they pack up and depart!
Then, to make matters worse, the film pivots exclusively to her realization that her visions of a child and husband are her future with the physicist guy. There is no resolution of anything for me. We don't see how language is powerful nor do we see how her personal story is an analogy or metaphor of the larger issue.
So here's my brilliant Director hat going on.
First, go with a different approach in the music. I was very underwhelmed by the music the first time she saw the ships from the helicopter. The music went downhill for me from there.
Next. Dr. Banks has this convenient ability of being the special person who can dream the future. She happens to call the Chinese General's cell phone at the very last second and repeat his wife's words to him which leads to China standing down. 18 months later, we get world unity.
Rather, have China open fire at the ships, which triggers the same reaction from everyone else, so that they damage the alien ships. Then have ships list and appear defunct but clearly somewhat functional. and the aliens likely alive. At this point, Dr. Banks can lead a worldwide movement to recognize the power of our words and the gift of the alien language as well as the gift of a new perception of time. This perception of time, being non linear, means that you can restore the ships to perfect health and this restoration would be done using the power of words--we all sing kumbaya or something.
So picture all humans singing and these ships reconstructing themselves off the power of the human song. Then in an twist, the aliens still want to continue meeting with us knowing that our attack on them is a fixture of time and cannot be evaded since time is non-linear. Thus, the past will always occur. Here, then, you can get the same lesson Louise teaches us--chose the beauty of the moment of over the fear of future pain because it is the present that matters.
Arrival--it's strengths are the beginning, great acting from Amy Adams, loved the linguistics, loved the bigness of the moment, loved the squid-like aliens, loved Forest Whitaker . . . did not love the end, was not impressed by the music, too much teasing and not enough fulfilling.
All in all, definitely a must watch.