Arrival Review

**This contains spoilers**

I’m a little late to the party, but nevertheless, I watched Arrival just earlier today;I’ve been waiting for so long to see it! It is based on Ted Chiang’s brilliant novella, Story of Your Life, that won the Nebula Award for best Novella in 2000.

The movie follows Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, as she is called on to decipher, and translate the language spoken by an alien race that mysteriously appeared in 12 different locations on Earth.

The movie opens to Louise’s daughter dying from cancer, where Louise, very subtly, gives away a major bit of the movie, but one wouldn’t know unless they had previously read the novella. Nonetheless, it opens to the daughter dying. From the get go, the movie has marked itself different from the source material.

From there it moves to the arrival of the Aliens, the so-called Heptapods. Dr. Louise Banks, a distinguished linguist, who has previously worked for the government, is called to help translate the language of the Heptapods, and then, subsequently, communicating with them.

When she is brought to the space ship, she enters a sort of cavern, that is within the space ship that takes them to the “looking-glass,” the device that helps them communicate with these aliens, there is an interesting effect that it has on gravity. She jumps, and lands flat on the sides, and that becomes the down as far as she is concerned (that is, her ‘upright’ is parallel to the plane of the ground. This bit wasn’t in the book, but it was an interesting addition, and I loved it a lot.

She teams up with Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist, who is tasked with deciphering their physics and mathematics.

She very quickly figures out that the spoken language is completely useless to the humans, for it is completely unpronounceable by us. She then moves on to their written language, and that seems to be an easier way for the two to communicate. She is building up to asking them the most important question as far as the Military is concerned: “What is your purpose here on Earth?”

A random fun fact: while they are analysing the written script, I caught a glimpse of Mathematica software as their tool. I find this really exciting because I have to use it for my work as well.

When she gets around to asking that question, the answer scares them, and confounds them: “Offer weapon.”

Upon receiving this answer, the Chinese government plans an attack against them. And back at the military base, an explosive is hidden within the ship, and goes off while Louise and Ian are still inside trying to get more information out of them.

Due to this blast, and a couple other things, things escalate very quickly and a bad situation turns far worse. And while they are supposed to evacuate, Louise tries to communicate with them once more, and when she returns, she finally manages to decipher their final message.

While all of this is happening, while she is learning the Heptapod script, she starts experiencing some sort of visions, that is later revealed to be her future. She is remembering the future, and that is because of this neat trick that when you immerse yourself in a language you also start thinking in that language. Since the Heptapod script is non-linear, this leads them to the conclusion that they experience time non-linearly and because of that, Louise, too, has started to do the same.

First off, I absolutely loved the toned down performances by the cast, and, though it’s been said enough already, especially Amy Adams’ performance. She portrayed Louise Banks brilliantly, and I thought it was wonderful.

The script expanded on the universe that Ted Chiang created, and it did so really well. Though, the script did leave out some of the interesting bits of the novella, mainly the physics bit; when the physics bit is happening in the novella, they figure out that the Heptapods find complex mathematics, like Fermat’s principle of least time, more fundamental than they the things we find fundamental. I liked that speculation on physics, the book took care of it really well, and I’m sure they could’ve spent five minutes talking about it; I’m just a bit upset about it.

They changed a lot of the final act of the book; the book’s end game is very different from the movie’s endgame. The movie’s themes are also far more complex than the book’s. I really liked the way they depicted the Heptapod script in the movie, it looked a lot like squid ink writing. The Heptapods, themselves, looked a lot different than I imagined them. Finally, the way the memories of the future, the way it was depicted, I thought it was done really well, a good way to adapt that bit from the source material.

I think the movie is a brilliant adaptation of the novella, and it stays true to the source material, and manages to maintain the concept and the feel, without making it an exact, word-for-word copy of the novella.

I honestly believe that this is one of the best, most innovative, science fiction movie of this past decade. Far superior to Interstellar, or The Martian, or Gravity. (I don’t particularly like the first and the last in that list.)

 

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