Movie Review: Arrival

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: One of the best movies about language you will ever see.  Still a movie about language.

Fair warning to those of you expecting a movie about aliens and maybe some awesome alien action scenes or some hot alien on human sexy time.  This movie has none of that.  Oh, there are aliens, but all they do is arrive.  This is still a good movie, but the aliens are just a vehicle for a story, not the story itself.

The very first scene in “Arrival” showcases the life of Dr. Louise Banks’ daughter as she grows fro baby to young adult.  It then shifts immediately to the arrival of the alien ships.  Dr. Banks is a linguist and is recruited by the U.S. army to figure out what the aliens want.  Much of the rest of the movie is her trying to open up a line of communication with them.  Not exactly what you would expect from an alien movie.  It is quite well done if your idea of a good time is hearing a bunch of dialogue about language theory and how it shapes interactions between individuals.  I’m not selling this at all, am I?  Really, trust me, it’s good.

This is also one of those movies that is very difficult to talk about without giving away its secrets (Yes, a movie primarily about language can have secrets), so forgive me for being vague.  The language you speak can tell a surprising amount of information about you.  It actually shapes how you think and being able to tell how you think can go a long way in understanding you.  That is much of the premise of the movie.  It’s not important just to know what is being said, but also what is the implication of what is being said.  If I pointed to a gun and I said “weapon”, you’d likely interpret that as a tool used to fire a piece of metal at high velocity at another target for the purposes of destroying that target.  Someone not familiar with the concept of weapons might think you mean simply “tool”.  This is how miscommunications occur.  Even if you are using the exact same language, you may interpret many different things just because of how you say it.  Now imagine you are starting from scratch with an entirely alien race whose vocabulary and alphabet shares absolutely no root with any language that has ever been spoken or seen.  It is a non-insurmountable task made insurmountable mostly by our inability to think like anyone except ourselves.

If the above doesn’t sound like a conversation you’d like to have, you may not like this movie.  If it does sound like a conversation you’d consider having or would like to have, this is an interesting take on languages and how they shape our thought.  I don’t want to leave the impression that language is all the movie is about.  Its also about our choices and if we’d change them if given the chance, but language has to do with that as well.