Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien.
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Genuine Science-Fiction, is a genre that is almost completely lost on Hollywood, or for that matter, on any Wood in the world. And that is a sad reminder of the disservice we do to science in the large. All that most woods are intent on is producing inane space or monster operas in the name of science-fictions - be it "Independence Day" or "Aliens" or "Star Wars" or even spoofs such as "Ghostbusters". All of it simply a sad reflection of how seriously we take our Science.
And yet, there does come, once in a long while (a very long while), a true representative of the genre that tells a deeply-felt story which is grounded in hard-core science. Yes, it does not pump the turnstiles - which is the reason-d'etre for the big or small screens - but it does raise a toast to science, and indeed a well-deserved one. Amongst these I do consider to be genuinely worthy efforts are "Star Trek", the original TV Series conceived by Gene Roddenberry, and 2001-A-Space-Odyssey, and Contact, and Interstellar - but nothing much beyond that.
And now, to join this illustrious band, is Arrival directed by Denis Villeneuve. In the so-called Sci-Fi movies of Hollywood or any other wood - the first thing that gets thrown out is Science!!! But not in this one. Science is the main-stay on which the story unfolds.
It is the Thinking-Person's science fiction - far removed from inane space operas and action flicks - no action, no fights, and not based on the preposterous belief that all aliens (if the exist, and if the ever visit us, are here only to destroy us). It is a movie that thrives on scientific principles alone - not one but three - and does not believe in a show of skin or a verbiage of expletives. Thankfully, very thankfully so.
But be warned, it is a movie that unfolds slowly, very much slowly - and yet, despite all this seeming and apparent lethargy - turns out to be a tight and taut movie which conveys a story of deep paradox built on the science themes which underlie it.
It is a very dialogue-centric movie - and so it demands a keen sense of attention to all that goes around in the script - with other audio-visual clues - including the very unusual background score.
This movie conveys a very thought provoking and deep paradox based primarily on Albert Einstein's deeply felt speculation (but unproven as yet) that Past and Present and Future already exist - in a sort of predetermined manner - and the we simply flow through the locations - and that Time is an illusion. To quote Einstein "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
The other two principles on which the story is based are:
1) Universal (or Innate) Grammar Hypothesis primarily advanced by Noam Chomsky.
2) The Variational (Teleological) principles of Physics - though their tie-in to the story is not as explicit as one would have expected.
The story begins with "flashbacks" of the chief protagonist - an expert linguist played by Amy Adams - of times with her daughter from her birth to her death - and then flows into the Arrival of the Aliens in 12 locations on Earth. She is then called upon to help decipher their language and find out their purpose on Earth. She is aided by a theoretical physicist played by Jeremy Renner - a fine actor but perhaps wasted here.
And all this unfolds in the chaotic circumstances of preparations for an all-out attack on the aliens by the armed forces of the countries where they have landed.
Fortunately, and this is the major saving-grace of the movie, the attack does not happen - the aliens are not what Hollywood has perceived them to be (threats to us). But revealing any more would be a spoiler and is not my intention.
Instead, I would urge you to get the Blu-ray and watch it along with your kids - it just might get them (and you) interested in Science and the art of good movies once again - and help you to happily take a detour from the path of inane stuff that goes by the name of pot-boilers from any of the woods.
The Blu-Ray has special features that let you have a meaningful glimpse into the science and other stuff of importance in this movie. Hence, my advice is this: Watch this movie not once but twice. First watch the movie. Then the Special Features. And then the movie once again.
I have not seen any movie of Amy Adams as yet - but here she delivers a strong performance - given the limited context of drama in the wake of Science. But I stand impressed. Very much Impressed.
Go ahead. Get this. And watch it with your Kids - and have a whale of time exercising those grey cells which possibly may have gone numb in the barrage of the inanities of television and news and movies of late.
NOTE: The Blu-Ray has peculiar issue. The MenuBar - which allows you to choose Picture. Sound, Subtitles etc settings - does not close on some Blu-ray players and this menu obscures the sub-titles to a large extent. I have 2 Blu-ray players - the Sony-BDP-S490 (2013 issue) and LG-BX-580 (2011 issue). I could close the menu bar on the LG but not on the Sony.
Rating: 4 / 5
Rajendra (Raj) Chittar is based in Bengaluru. He is a retired theoretical Computer Scientist/Software professional. He now luxuriates in his modest but slowly growing collection of Hindustani & Western Classical, Jazz, Classic Rock, Bollywood (pre-1980) music and his books on Mathematics and Physics.
He can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on cell +91-8105977500.