Arrivée. That is how you would say it in French.
Except for the fact that one of these pod things lands in France that fact has absolutely no relevance to the film. It does, however, hold relevance to my experience and enjoyment of the film so hold on to your chapeaux as I parle au sujet des langues.
As you may have guessed; I’m learning french at the minute. I think that’s one of the reasons why I liked Arrival. It isn’t about alien invasions and star warring – it’s about language and how it affects the way we see the world.
There’s a point in the film where Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) says to Louise Banks (Amy Adams) “do you dream in their language”. As soon as I heard this I was all in because I’ve had two dreams in French.
If this has never happened to you then let me tell you: it’s really, REALLY fucking weird. I knew it was real french because I could understand it, but only parts of it, just like my waking self. Think about it; your subconscious is fully talking to you in a language that you don’t properly know. In a way it’s haunting and, in a way, that’s what this film tries to portray.
Imagine how hard and terrifying it must be to be forced to learn a language from scratch, especially with a backdrop of potential extinction level events. No Google translate. No bilingual guy at work to steal a few free lessons from.
Arrivals slow aesthetics and scenes of isolation echoes the feeling when you are trying to understand what you are seeing and hearing, at times switching realities without you realising.
Adams and Renner reflects the audience’s struggle for comprehension and, whilst it helps that they are both captivating in their roles, I wonder if this will be lost on those who have no interest in learning another language? Then again, perhaps I’m projecting too much of myself on the film?
In any case, lasers going pew pew because this is a deliberate film. It knows what and how it want’s to deliver it’s message. At points this works in its favour such as the moment that they all enter the pod because you are left in suspense but at others you wish it would pick up the pace just a little and get to the point.
Weirdly though the key concept to the film is only mentioned in passing, making it incredibly easy to miss. Maybe those who are more intelligent people got it instantly, maybe some knuckle-draggers were just thinking “show me da boobs ‘n’ explosion!”. For myself I was half way to the car before it finally clicked.
I didn’t need that long to identify my biggest dislike though. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). The urgency at which he speaks to Banks seems to be completely independent of the journey that Banks and Donnelly are on. We see too little of the global crisis to understand his motivation so he comes across as a one dimensional a-hole.
Regardless of whether languages interest you the alien heptapod’s language should. It looks as modern and radical like graffiti yet combines meaning and inference into a single word similar to how German combines a million words into a single one such as “Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften”. Yes, that’s an actual, single, word.
Unfortunately Arrival isn’t as refreshing as the language it portrays but I found it deeply fascinating, if a little confusing, because of exactly that: language.
The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:
+ If languages fascinate you
+ Cool graffiti looking circle language (technical term)
+ Deliberate and thoughtful
– At times, too slow
– Blink and you miss it reveal
– Forest Whitaker