What annoyed me most about Interstellar, apart from it being sickeningly sentimental, was that it arrogantly implied that humans matter. Assuming we have the right to migrate anywhere we want in the universe and having us create a fifth dimensional tesseract? Calm down. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival does something similarly self-fellating, focusing on humanity rather than the ominous-looking spaceships that could potentially turn Earth into pâté just for shits and giggles. But it’s far more emotionally satisfying. It uses ink-ejaculating aliens merely as a vehicle to tell an extremely normal story about communication and togetherness. It’s so carefully orchestrated, Christopher Nolan won’t be able to watch it without aggressively masturbating.
When 12 segments of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange suddenly appear at random locations on Earth, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to try and communicate with interdimensional squids. Assisted by scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she attempts to decipher their complex calligraphy, which looks like the end result of a shitting hamster spinning on a Catherine wheel. There’s no beginning or end to their written language; they just splurt out a black mess that supposedly conveys an abstract idea.
Despite this act of excremental indecency, the aliens appear to pose no threat to humanity. In fact, they want to help us. That doesn’t stop stalwart James Bond villains China and Russia wanting to blow them up and find out if they have a delicious gooey centre. And that’s more or less where the sci-fi elements of Arrival start to take a backseat, as it becomes a race against time for Louise to break down language barriers and get the planet working together for once. I mean really, China, be a team player for fuck’s sake.
I could now go on about how that message of global cooperation is extremely relevant and important in a time where there’s political division and a nutter playing with nuclear missiles like they’re fucking bottle rockets, but I’m not going to. It may be conveyed through some clever structuring, but the subsequent side effect is a stale period during the middle of the film, where neither the dialogue nor visuals could arouse the geek in me. Arrival starts off with a refreshing salmon ceviche, and the dessert is a delicious salted caramel chocolate tart, but the main course is a Ryvita cracker.
And if it weren’t for the aforementioned clever structuring – nonlinear scenes depicting Louise’s daughter suffering a terminal illness eventually become spectacularly relevant – the Interstellar-style twist at the end would have irked me more than Chris Nolan’s quiff. But the story is far too human to hold that against it, mainly thanks to Adams, who makes getting sucked up into an alien spacecraft and writing stuff on a whiteboard look incredibly emotional. Director Villeneuve is certainly building an impressive CV: Prisoners, Sicario and now Arrival. I hope he names his next one-word title something equally ominous – like "Sodomy".
EXTRAS: Just five featurettes – Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival (30:03); Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design (13:59); Eternal Recurrence: The Score (11:24); Nonlinear Thinking: The Editing Process (11:20); Principles of Time, Memory, & Language (15:24).