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Arrival's Impact is More Cerebral Than Emotional

<i>Arrival</i>'s Impact is More Cerebral Than Emotional


This thinking person's alien movie is less about creatures from space and more about how humans communicate. Arrival cleverly and unexpectedly takes what you think you know and turns it on its head. It may not touch your heart, but it will provide plenty of material for after-movie conversations. 3 out of 5.


How can an alien say "take me to your leader" if we can’t communicate with them? When a horde of alien craft actually show up around the globe, expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brought in to find a way to talk to the visitors before it's too late.

What Works?

Adams and Renner are well-matched; they're both fun to watch even in this slow, almost ponderous, story. The concept of what it takes to teach someone (or something) to communicate for the first time is something that may change the way you look at language. The story as a whole seems simple enough at first, but just when you think you know what's going on, think again. There are subtle visual clues hidden throughout but they only add to the complexity of it all. There are layers and layers to this clever film that offers an alternative to the typical shoot-'em-up humans vs. aliens action story.

What Doesn't?

Arrival boasts a fascinating story but it doesn't have much of an emotional impact. For all the importance of establishing communication with the aliens before they arbitrarily decide to destroy the earth—or another country does something stupid and causes interplanetary war—it just doesn't feel that urgent. With Louise's everyday life oozing in and out via flashbacks and memories, it's hard to stay focused. There's a reason for that, but to say more might be a spoiler.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Louise and Ian's—and for the most part, the U.S. government's—determination to communicate peacefully with the aliens is an extreme example of Romans 12:18, "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone"... assuming that "everyone" includes those from other planets, of course. They do make a valiant attempt at peace; whether or not they succeed is something you'll have to see the movie to discover.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language 
  • Language/Profanity: The brief strong language mentioned in the rating is an F-bomb, but the mention really is brief.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: A man asks a women if she wants to "make a baby."
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: There are several moments of peril, both individually and globally. Some are briefly intense but probably not as intense as the filmmakers hoped.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Characters shown drinking wine and a reference is made to "that bottle you've been hiding."

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Viewers who enjoy smart, sophisticated sci-fi with a touch of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey issues thrown in. Fans of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its ilk (it's that brand of movie). People who enjoy watching strong female characters who are good at their jobs.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Moviegoers who prefer action-oriented alien movies that are more of the "blow 'em out of the sky" variety. People who don't like to pay attention to the story or think too hard.

Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, opened in theaters November 10, 2016; available for home viewing February 14, 2017. It runs 116 minutes and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Watch the trailer for Arrival here.

Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).

Publication date: November 10, 2016