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Review: Arrival

The night before I want to see Arrival, I had a dream in which I learned that it was actually a sequel to The Departed. In my dream I was disappointed, because now I wouldn't be able to see it until I had watched the Scorsese movie. I'm pretty sure this doesn't actually mean anything; I just though it was funny.

After seeing Arrival, I was not disappointed. I will say this flat out: it was fantastic. I won't be able to say much more about it without spoiling things at least a little, but if you haven't seen it yet, go do so. It has my unequivocal vote of confidence.

Non-specific but still spoiler-y spoilers below

This is a review, so I'm still not going to spoil any specifics, but to cover my reaction to the movie, there are going to be some spoiler-like penumbras and emanations leaking out of it. You probably already have a pretty good idea of what Arrival is about, especially if you have seen any of the ads or trailers as I did. But it turns out not to be about that, or at least not mostly about that.

It was such a relief to see a movie about aliens (not a spoiler! It's in the name of the movie!) where the solution didn't involve uploading a virus to the alien mainframe or discovering the aliens are allergic to water or something. I loved the design of the alien technology, I loved the spare and haunting score, and I loved that a big chunk of the second act was spent on the struggle to communicate with creatures that are clearly intelligent, but with whom we have no common ground. I kept wondering how a movie like this ever got a wide release, but I was grateful.

So, the ending: I'd heard and read some comments from people who had seen it talking about a twist, and so while I very much enjoyed the way the film unfolded, in the back of my mind there was a little creeping doubt, a voice saying, "Sure, this seems great, but you have to wait and see if they stick the landing. Remember Signs? Remember Lost?"

I wish I had not known going in that there was any kind of reveal waiting at the end, so that voice would have shut up. But I did, and there was, and I found it thrilling. The end hit me in three distinct waves: one during the final scene, and then again as we stood up to leave during the credits, and then a final time as I threw away my empty popcorn bucket, as the meaning of lines from earlier in the movie thudded home in the center of my chest. And if it turns out I might have preferred to watch the story I thought I was seeing to the one I actually saw, it was delivered with such grace and confidence that I can't feel the least bit disappointed. See it, and stick with it even through the slow parts. Movies like this just don't come around very often, and you owe it to yourself not to miss it.


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