Stepping away from writing about my recent reading, I’m going to talk about some recent viewing.
Arrival. Based on a short story by Ted Chiang (“The Story of Your Life”), this is a film built around the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – which I’ll summarise as the idea that languages you learn shape the way you think and perceive the world.
The film focuses on a first-contact situation in which a number of alien vessels arrive on earth, and the efforts made by both us and the aliens to both understand and be understood.
Those efforts are made more complex by some differences in perception which are not apparent at the start of the film, but gradually become so as things progress.
Amy Adams does a fantastic job of portraying somebody who is struggling to understand and come to terms with grief, whilst also working to understand a literally alien language… a written language which is changing her perception as she learns to understand it and use it to interact with those who use it as their sole meaningful medium of communication.
It’s a slow paced, cerebral science fiction film. Whilst is has aliens (two onscreen), gunfire and explosions (well… explosion), it’s about as far from Independence Day as it’s possible to get. If you go in expecting an action-fest, you’re not going to come out with that expectation fulfilled.
This film has a small but strong core cast (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker) who all do a fantastic job of being who they’re meant to be, but it’s Adams who really shines in a role that needs to display a more complex emotional state than is immediately apparent at the start of the film.
It also has some well thought out production design. The alien-ness interior of the extraterrestrial vessel is cleverly portrayed, and the way that the story moves between the vessel and the research camp built up around it helps keep things tight and a little claustrophobic whilst also injecting a bit of comprehension and decompression time into the film.
If you like smart, earth-based, first-contact SF then you should absolutely go and see this at your first opportunity. Avoid plot summaries. Hopefully my description above is vague enough to avoid being too spoiler heavy.
If I had to give a rating, I’d give this a full-on 10/10, with a note that I want to see it again to see how my perception changes. I suspect I may find it rewarding.