I have a theory that most smart movies are R. This one is PG-13. Yay?
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
Dr. Ryan and I were discussing the merits of plot. In high school and college, I defended to the death that plot was king. What is a movie without plot? I ended up being wrong, but still placing plot as a piece to a larger gesamkunstwerk. (I applaud my reserve for waiting this long to throw the word "gesamkunstwerk" into a review. You're welcome.) Yes, this movie is about character, but it really is second to the plot. Plot is king in this story. On top of that, it is one of those movies that dangerously depends on the twist in the story to stick the landing. Luckily, the twist totally works because it causes the viewer to question everything that he or she has seen.
I think I misread the movie based on the trailers, so I was surprised by what direction this movie took. Being the huge dork that I am, I was super excited to watch a movie about the importance of language in a science fiction setting. Let's be honest, if I had to be pidgeonholed into a very specific subcategory, that seems to define me the most. That really is the superficial premise to a much deeper idea. I think I'm going to avoid spoilers as a whole considering that the movie depends on the ignorance of the audience going into it. What I have to applaud while keeping this review as vague as possible is the importance of every shot. Before I knew what the true premise of the movie is, I often found myself bored. Part of that was my fault because maybe I was just in a weird mood, but I kept wondering why all these superfluous scenes cluttered up what should be a fairly paced movie. The only thing I can promise is that the scenes make sense once the twist is revealed. I'm trying to think if what I wrote gives too much away, but I could say the same thing about The Sixth Sense.
There is a tonal parallel to a specific style of movie. The one that sticks out in my head is Contact. I'm referring to the very forgettable Jodie Foster movie that was meant to be an existential headscratcher in the pursuit of alien life. I think this movie does it better, but I am concerned that if the Academy doesn't pay attention to this movie, it very well could be forgotten, only preserved by the nerdy and elitist die hards who swear by the movie. It is really good, but I wonder if it could hold up under multiple viewings. I know that some of the websites I peruse swear by the movie, but they are the nerdy and elitist die hards like myself.
A common motif I see with this kind of movie is the fact that humanity is terrible. Science fiction is meant to give a state of the union on the human condition. It's why we get such extremes when we discuss science fiction. The future is either bright and inspirational or the end of the world. However, science fiction in the present is often bleak, saying that mankind is full of violent fearmongers who would shoot first and ask questions later. The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my all time favorite classics and Arrival plays many of the same notes. Perhaps Arrival may have a more complex view of the same concern, commenting on our hypocritical warlike nature, but I don't know if it will have the same impact as The Day the Earth Stood Still.
I don't know if I have a strong opinion about Amy Adams. I always get excited to see her in movies because she chooses strong roles. I just don't ever get blown away by her performance. It always does the job, but I always want levels and she is always reserved. Similar things can be seen about Jeremy Renner. I like him and get excited to see him in things, but there's not much to blow my mind often. He does the job here as well, perhaps a bit more charming than I've seen him in other films. But nothing is memorable about the performances. Again, plot is king and that's all I really feel comfortable analyzing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.