I sat down and watched Denis Villeneuve’s powerful and glorious looking sci-fi drama Arrival with a sense of expectation. I had heard from friends and fellow writers that it was the best science-fiction thinker for some time. About five minutes in I was hooked and thinking about how I would review it as I like to try and mix up the review format a little and do something different. As I dried the tears from eyes as the closing credits scrawled up the screen I pondered how I would approach it. Then it struck me that put in its most basic terms Arrival is about the power of communication.
For me there was a link between the themes of the movie and a book I’d recently finished reading by James Saunders. This book is far from a science fiction novel though, it is a book about dementia and pastoral care within the church setting. In his book Saunders asserts that community is essential if the church is to truly represent the body of Christ during communion. He states that a simple touch of the hand in greeting to a dementia sufferer is to literally embody the healing touch of Christ.
In Arrival the character Louise Banks, portrayed by Amy Adams, makes a breakthrough with the alien visitors by holding out her naked hand in trust, greeting and faith. The aliens instinctively respond to this non-verbal show of humanity. And this is what Saunder’s book said to me about people with dementia. They are still human and can still respond, in fact thrive on, contact from their fellow humans, showing them love and compassion with simple gestures that are familiar to them can trigger other positive memories. There is something recognisably human in these acts that do not need articulating verbally.
Our society excludes so many people but Adams transcends this by displaying compassion and curiosity. The aliens could represent dementia sufferers, refugees or any group that falls on the fringes of life and it is only by accepting and including everyone, from giant space squid to tiny human baby, that we can survive as a species. Regardless of how you communicate sometimes all it takes is a smile, a touch, an open mind and the possibilities are endless.
So what about the film itself? What did I think?
Well it is majestic. It shows rather than tells, it is quiet but sometimes menacing and it is has a naturalistic quality that reminded me of the scenes around the dinner table in ET. Jeremy Renner is self-deprecating and charming, a dialled down version of Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, even sharing the same first name, Ian. But the star of the show is undoubtedly not the space craft or the space squids, although both are brilliantly rendered, but Adams. Her performance is mesmeric and full of haunting nuances. I forgot I was watching a film and was totally captivated by her understated performance. The camera often lingers close up on her facial expressions and the range of emotions she displayed without ever raising her voice, was fascinating.
A thought provoking, intelligent science-fiction mystery that is making me increasingly optimistic about the Blade Runner sequel, as it seems in good hands with Villeneuve at the helm.
I award it a blockbusting, never before seen 5 window panes out of 5.
You can buy James Saunders book “Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care” on Amazon.