December, 2016, Drama


Epistemology: the theory of the nature of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validity

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) blends superb science fiction technology with the philosophical discipline of epistemology in this highly imaginative examination of the roots and ultimate meaning of language. Working from Eric Heisserer’s screenplay, (from Ted Chiang ‘s “Story of Your Life”), the peripatetic director’s efforts benefit from a compelling performance by Amy Adams and creative special effects from the film’s production team delivering a thoughtful meditation on how we know and the uses to which we put the products of our doing so. If the ultimate resolution of Arrival’s plot falls short of its lofty ambitions, the film nerveless manages to captivate and challenge the imagination in equal measure.  

Amy Adams (American Hustle, Junebug, Doubt) plays Dr. Louise Banks, a college professor grieving the loss of her only daughter who takes solace in her impressive contributions to the field of language studies. That expertise lands her on a team of government-appointed specialists dealing with the sudden arrival on earth of a dozen huge pods that hang suspended directly above apparently random locations around the globe. Yet these ominous vertical pods don’t disgorge alien monsters - - they simply remain where they first appeared, prompting the governments of the world to begin uncoordinated efforts to deal with their intrusion into our planet.

Working under the direction of Forrest Whitaker’s tough military command and with the assistance of crack scientist Jeremy Renner, Adams begins to communicate with the intelligence behind these intruders. Her efforts bring back repeated flashbacks related to the death of her teenage daughter, the pain and meaning of which aid in a successful breakthrough with the purpose behind the intruders’ mission.

Unfortunately, this coupling of memory ‘s role in human understanding and the meaning of the symbolic roots of language leads to a much less satisfactory conclusion to the storyline than what precedes it, but Adam’s lean yet compelling performance coupled with a dazzling display of special effects make this one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking movies of the year.

The Verdict? An imaginative rumination on the foundations of human knowledge dressed up as science fiction. This one’s definitely not for audiences expecting the latest in Hollywood’s seemingly endless stream of mindless exercises focused on the bloody extension of  alien threats.


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