WARNING – contains spoilers
I don’t normally include spoilers in my reviews, but with this movie I wanted to elaborate more on why certain parts of it worked or didn’t work for me, and that’s impossible to do without revealing the film’s key moments. So don’t read this if you plan on seeing the movie.
The title refers to the arrival of strange extraterrestrial vessels over twelve seemingly random spots on the globe (including Australia, which left me feeling childishly pleased about it – we might be a relatively insignificant country of 25 million, but we’re included woooo). To find out the intentions of the aliens, the U.S. military recruits linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), along with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who they hope can break through the colossal language barrier and communicate with these mysterious beings. They are allowed entry into the spacecraft at regular intervals, where they attempt to establish a common language with their hosts. Their efforts are mirrored by the other nations around the world, but as the fear of the unknown grows and the lines of communications shut down, it’s a matter of time before someone opens the fire.
The good stuff first I guess. Visually the movie is rather marvellous, shot mostly with elegant muted tones that create an atmosphere of unease and suspense, helped along by the moody score. The alien ships, which resemble a gigantic coffee bean sliced in half, are wonderfully strange and the sight of them hovering closely above the earth is eerie and awe-inspiring, bringing to mind the black monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The aliens themselves, squid-like creatures who communicate by spraying jets of black smoky substance which arranges itself into fluid circular patterns, are likewise truly otherworldly. It’s hard to portray a squid-like alien without inviting some degree of B-movie cheese, but this film manages it. I also liked the reliance on brain over brawn and the CGI-laden third act, and as someone fascinated by the languages I enjoyed watching Louise and Ian’s breakthroughs in deciphering the language that makes the Egyptian hieroglyphs look like piece of cake to solve. This process, as demonstrated by the scene where Louise takes off her space suit and attempts a more human, tactile way of introducing herself, is not just about cold data – it’s about real connection and understanding.
This is where I go into real spoiler territory. Read more →