Until I watched The Arrival, I thought I had experienced almost every emotion. Yet the film was a series of subtle movements toward a final destination: an indescribable combination of awe, exaltation, joy, and relief. I’m sure a culture that focuses on meditation has a word for it. It left me feeling as if my problems were small and far away, and I slept that night better than I had in a long time. The following days found me productive and inspired.
Somehow the director Denis Villeneuve wove together a story that expressed the complexity of the human condition without beating the audience over the head with a preachy message. Throughout the film, we get the impression that something is misaligned. For example, during Louise’s interactions with her daughter, she seemed troubled during what should have been happy moments. We are unsure if her “flashbacks” are a mental condition or something being transmitted by the aliens. And, spoiler alert, they are neither.
Normally I find numerous jumps in chronology to be purposefully misleading and a cheap trick to throw the viewer off the plot. Odd camera angles are often used in cinema for the sake of showing off skill and disorienting the viewer, rather than expressing something the characters are experiencing. In this movie, these techniques to manipulate time and perception are tools to gently lead you to the larger picture. In the same way the visitors are trying to impart a gift upon the humans, so the filmmaker is gradually revealing a mind-blowing realization that awakens something deep in your soul.
What we end up with is a movie that causes you to question reality and unexpectedly introduces you to quantum physics. Although I know the outcome, I look forward to re-watching the film, once again transported to that hazy place in the Universe that knows no time. It is worth enjoying every minute of the journey even though you know the destination.