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Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Cinematography

MOVIE REVIEW

Arrival also known as “A Chegada,” “Dolazak,” “La llegada,” “Nowy poczatek,” “O Primeiro Encontro,” “Premier contact,” “Érkezés”

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for brief strong language.

Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Sci-Fi Mystery Drama
Length:
1 hr. 56 min.
Year of Release:
2016
USA Release:
November 11, 2016 (wide—2,317 theaters)
DVD: February 14, 2017
Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Pictures Corporation
Aliens (extraterrestrials)

What does the Bible say about intelligent life on other planets? Answer

Are we alone in the universe? Answer

Does Scripture refer to life in space? Answer

questions and answers about the origin of life


the false view that time is not inherently linear for humans and the universe / Only God is not bound by time and space.

Issue of pain and suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

Featuring: Amy AdamsDr. Louise Banks, a linguist
Jeremy RennerIan Donnelly, a mathematician
Forest WhitakerColonel Weber, a senior US military colonel
Michael Stuhlbarg … Agent Halpern
Mark O'Brien … Captain Marks
Tzi Ma … General Shang
Abigail Pniowsky … Hannah (8 yrs. old)
Sangita Patel … Newscaster 1
Nathaly Thibault … Gala Guest
Ruth Chiang … Chinese Scientist
Joe Cobden … Cryptographer #1
See all »
Director: Denis Villeneuve—“Sicario” (2015), “Prisoners” (2013)
Producer: 21 Laps Entertainment
FilmNation Entertainment
See all »
Distributor: Paramount Pictures Corporation

“What is your purpose on Earth?” This is the urgent question which must be answered in the film “Arrival.” When 12 huge otherworldly objects appear in locations around the world, tensions rise as various governments scramble to understand the intentions of the mysterious beings within. How will the world respond to the arrival of these creatures? How will it change those who encounter them?

In this review, I will not be directly addressing the existence or nonexistence of alien life. This Web site delves into that question very thoroughly HERE. Instead, for the sake of this review, I will just present the premise of the movie, as it is, without further discussing the plausibility of an alien encounter.

“Arrival” is a thoughtful science fiction drama from the director Denis Villeneuve. There is much buzz about this film, as it has a different pacing and flavor than most modern movies in the “alien encounter” genre. In many ways, it is far less about the creatures themselves than it is about the human characters. This will result in some viewers being pleasantly surprised, but may leave others with a feeling of having been cheated out of the “typical” alien movie experience they expected. That is not to say that the movie is dull, for it is filled with tension and a taut feeling of urgency throughout. There is also much in this movie that is tinged with melancholy, starting in the opening scene, which is beautifully scored with one of the most moving orchestral songs I have heard. While some could call this opening sequence “depressing,” I found it to be very real, as most of us can relate to profound grief and loss.

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

“Arrival” is wonderfully scored and beautifully filmed, often in subdued tones and lighting and without the usual false gloss of CGI. This made the visuals appear very authentic and allows the viewer to believe the setting. To my untrained eye and ear, the protocols and methods used at the military base camp seemed believable. These aspects combined so that with such a believable setting, I had no problem simply immersing myself in the story.

It was likewise with the characters. I found them and their motivations to be very believable. The acting, especially from Amy Adams as linguist Dr. Louise Banks, is quite good. I’m glad that it was outstanding, for the great brunt of this movie revolves around Dr. Banks and her efforts at understanding the language of the alien visitors, and also on her relationship with her translating partner Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner). Although he and other actors do a fine job, the story is really not about their characters… it is about Dr. Banks and what she knows (and learns) about language.

It is strange that I found the setting and the characters so believable, when there is so much of this movie that is simply beyond belief. I just allowed myself to accept the implausibility of the very questionable science for the sake of watching the story unfold, and I recommend that you do this as well, if you choose to watch “Arrival.” Picking this film apart will just leave one feeling cheated or tricked. Remember always that it is science FICTION unfolding on the screen, and you will enjoy this film much more. There will be many who will leave the movie immediately wanting to watch it again, so they can better understand it. And there will be some who were so confounded by the last act of the story that they will utterly dismiss the whole thing. That is the way it often is with this genre.

The science of language figures heavily in the story. Various quotes in the movie indicate that language is considered to be “the cornerstone of civilization.” I felt a check in my spirit as I heard this, for I know that the Chief Cornerstone is Jesus the Christ (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6). In “Arrival,” language seems to be elevated and lifted up to almost god-like status, even to the point that the movie indicates that if we could completely understand another’s language, it could actually change the way a person experiences the world… even to the point of breaking natural law.

There is also the supposition that if we could all just understand one another, everything would be peaceful and well in humanity. There was already a time in the past when everyone did understand each other, and it did not lead to peace, but to pridefulness (Genesis 11:1-9). God has chosen to divide us into different people groups and diverse languages for a reason, and the very fact that He has done so shows that a universal language is not the answer. God has used the ability to speak another’s language as a sign and testimony for the furtherance of the Gospel, such as the various “tongues” or languages of foreign visitors spoken by the believers in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), but take note that God did not choose to re-unify people into one common language at that time or now. The hope of peace will not come from humankind’s ability to understand one another, but can only come from a relationship with the Prince of Peace.

The film’s characters have placed their hopes in the wrong things. Although God is not attacked or disputed blatantly in spoken word, as in many science fiction films, several elements of this movie show that the characters have placed their hopes in the false god of language, the flawed hope of peace through human effort, and the feeble ability of humans (and aliens) to manipulate natural law and do things that only God can do. These characters have placed their hopes in these fruitless things and do not acknowledged the living hope that can be found in Jesus.

However, I was surprised to find a powerful positive message in this movie. Human life is shown as being important and worthwhile, even if flawed or short-lived. The ramifications of divorce are seen as a child misses her father. A character chooses to embrace life’s difficulties, despite pain, accepting the bad for the sake of the good. This story deeply explores grief and loss, eventually leading to the question, “Was it worth it?” In narration, the lead character says, “It is our days that define our story.” In many ways, this is true. How will we choose to live out each day of our lives? If we had a chance to know the outcome, would we change anything?

It is unfortunate for the characters in “Arrival” that the day by day trials and joys of their Earthly lives are all they have. No wonder people cling so much to this world and its temporary pleasures. No wonder there is such fear when something disrupts or threatens that life. But we can have so much more! We can have not only a Helper in the griefs of this Earthly life, and a Friend with which to rejoice in the small or great joys of each day, but we can have the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We do not have to place our hope in questionable science, or in sinful humanity, or in fantastical abilities, but in the One who died for us.

The characters in “Arrival” urgently seek the answer to the question, “What is your purpose on Earth?” They go to great lengths in an attempt to understand the aliens’ intentions upon their arrival. If only there were the same efforts made by people today to address the much more urgent question about Jesus. “What was His purpose on Earth?”

God’s Story Online homeDo you understand God’s Story? Take a multimedia journey through the Bible, from Creation to eternity. Hear and read an exciting summary of the Bible’s most important records, in chronological order.

This is a well-made and entertaining movie with little of moral concern for mature believers, but like most science fiction movies, it has a false humanistic worldview of reality and misplaced faith which could confuse some viewers.

Content of concern

Language: The movie is rated PG-13 for “brief strong language,” but as the descriptor says it is quite brief, being one instance of “holy f***.” There are two careless uses of God’s name, one use of “bastard” and one of “hell.”

Violence: There is the looming threat of war and retaliation throughout the film, especially from the Chinese. Brief scenes on television portray looting and violence in the streets. There is an explosion and an implied gun battle (seen, but not heard).

Sexual content: The film is blissfully free of sexual content. The only matters of even mild concern in this area are a relatively low shirt worn by the female lead in several scenes and her bare shoulders which are seen briefly. Despite being an attractive woman, the female lead is never sexualized in this movie.

Other: Alcohol (wine) is consumed in a few scenes, and in one of these it appears the drinker may be slightly intoxicated. An emotional scene takes place at a hospital death bed. There is a close-up of a physician drawing a test tube of blood. Strange alien creatures are shown. The news reports that “a Pentecostal religious sect” has set fire to their compound because they believe a prophecy has been fulfilled. A right-leaning video blogger is shown briefly and negatively in an frustrated anti-government rant.

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Though I’m an avid movie fan, I am very critical, and often unhappy, about current movies. The reviewer did a good job with this review. This film held my attention every single minute. I never figured out what would happen next. The special effects are very very good. The Dr. Banks character is quite likable. I found very little that was objectionable here. If you don’t like science fiction, I don’t think this is the movie for you. If you DO like science fiction, I think you will enjoy this. Little kids may find the aliens appearance scary. People who just want to see car chase scenes and lots of fighting and explosions might not appreciate the cerebral beauty of this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Maggie, age 69 (USA)
Positive—The best science fiction is something that can show us a side of ourselves and make us think. This movie does that—it is not “Independence Day” (in fact, everyone in the movie, including those who may be thought of as the villains, behave in a well thought out way). Just a word of warning: the aliens are more of plot device, appearing—intentionally—almost generic, with no defining traits. They exist so that the movie can present us with an “Unknown, with unknown intentions,” which makes the focus on language unavoidable. The movie itself actually revolves around a very human question—the choices that people make, and relationship between mother and daughter.

I am generally not a fan of science fiction movies asking the Big Question (God), because it usually comes across as shallow. This movie does not address faith, one way or another, but rather explores a very human question—our choices. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those that want a thoughtful movie and are fine with suspense, instead of “Star Wars” type fight scenes, I would recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Pat Coburn, age 62 (USA)
Positive—Science fiction movies are often a great venue to explore bigger questions, and “The Arrival” is enjoyable because it relishes this task, all the while also making for an entertaining story. While none of the reviewers seemed interested to discuss this, I felt a key question undertaken in the film (besides the importance of language) is: what is the nature of time? Is time linear (i.e., each event happening in sequence with no overlap or return, as in moving along points in a line) or is time circular, with events coming full circle, repeating themselves? Eastern cultures have explored the circular nature of time, whereas Western culture has a more linear view, and I believe the Bible also supports the linear view (for example, the Son of God came in human flesh once, “in the fullness of time” as the book of Galatians points out. And Jesus” clear teaching is that He will return one time, in the future, and bring in the new heavens and new earth, and this present time will never repeat itself).

“The Arrival” actually tackles this rather foundational time question, and that placed a great smile on my face, giving me things to think about afterward, such as the A theory of time, the B theory of time, the Circular view of time, etc. I had just been listening to some teaching podcasts by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig a few weeks before viewing the film, and he had been discussing the nature of time. So I was all prepped and ready! I recommend this film on many levels, but other reviewers are right that those just wanting a “good alien or bad alien?” movie will be disappointed in “The Arrival.” They should go watch a rerun of “Independence Day” instead…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Scott, age 62 (USA)
Positive—I forgive this film’s clever attempt at promoting globalism… And I do so, because the film is a stunning sci-fi movie. I can’t recall for a long while being so captivated and enthralled by the sustained wonder, as well as the tension, that this movie is able to not only create but maintain. Rare. This is no lame, snap edit, MTV type, see it and forget it, flick. It’s quite possible that many viewers do not even understand the surprise ending as related to her (Amy Adams) flashbacks.

This movie won’t appeal to anyone who needs lots of things blowing up and lots of blood being spilled and 30 or 40 vulgar profanities being committed per 20 mins. This movie is not made by an American Director, which explains the way the scenes are left to run and evolve. Beautifully crafted movie. Dreamy,… reminds me a bit of how I felt the first time I watched “House of Flying Daggers” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”… Excellent soundtrack, the music uniquely underpinning the visuals with emotional and suspense.

This movie is not about the actors… It’s about the reaction of the actors within their experience, and you experiencing it through them. When this is done well, then the movie is a success, as that is the idea. Well done. 5-Star.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Larry, age 55 (USA)
Positive—How can I describe it? It is a story about… everything. It left me awed by its beauty. It is a tale of how God sees the world and each of us.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Jeff Mazza, age 58 (USA)
Positive—The less you know about what is going to happen when you see it the better. A mix of some of the most touching wholesome parent child relations you will, see combined with a variation on the alien arrival genre, trying to discern whether these aliens are invading conquerors of the War of the Worlds, Independence Day variety (a reflection of how human societies have treated less militarily advanced ones), or the morally superior, judgmental and perhaps challenging people to shape up or perish variety like in the Day the World Stood Still, or perhaps some new and different variant (a plug here for John Kessel’s “Good News From Outer Space,” where possible aliens provide a mediation on the inscrutability of God).

Human mistrust and national conflict rear their heads to provide tension with the aliens, although human evil is remarkably absent. The atmosphere and music are effective, the acting good and themes of deception, genuineness, and communication as well as time, circularity, inquiry, sadness and embrace of life, while not presented the way Biblical material is, should be positive enough to satisfy Christians.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Stanley Hirtle, age 72 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral— Staring up to the stars and not knowing what is up there will only create a void that has to be filled. It can be filled by God, or, in this case, Aliens. The movie “Arrival” chooses the latter. Language is very interesting, the fact that Dolphins can understand English but we have no way to understand Dolphanese, or “Octpusian” as in this case, is interesting, (octopuses don’t use their ink for writing, but, perhaps with another zillion years of “Evolution,” they could). But we should let science fiction be science fiction, that being said “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Contact “were both better examples of Alien contact for their respective time periods.

In cannon of Star Trek mythology, it is against protocol to contact primitive planets that have not achieved speed of light space travel. Given what happens in this movie there is good logic, the Chinese and Russians just can’t be trusted. But, as a concept established in the movie “E. T.,” a phone call prior to arriving would be nice. Binary code would likely be a language that all “nerd” creatures could agree on, and, after all, if they’re not “on-line,” should we really have anything to do with them?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Tom Macpherson, age 62 (Canada)
Negative
Negative—I went into this film expecting something awe inspiring. I came out thinking what a waste of my hard earned £11.50. The acting was below par, and the script was full of holes. I know my way around a nonlinear narrative, but when the much touted “payoff” came along—complete with some subtitles which still didn’t bring closure—I was very irritated.

There was nothing spiritual to this film, nothing I could compare Biblically. It was a complete waste of time (pun unintended). The music score has been touted as being wonderful, but, again, it failed to deliver on any level. I am a film music journalist and consultant, and the music did not score subtext, emotion nor reinforce anything on the screen. Someone on social media told me I was not “intelligent” enough to realise the film’s “genius,” which was a ridiculous thing to say. Only lemmings and sheep who are told what to like will pretend to enjoy this garbage.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: none
Dirk Wickenden, age 49 (United Kingdom)
Negative—What a drag! The first ¾ of the film was the set up. It seemed as though The Rapture would arrive before the script finally got to its point. And when it did, the denouement was wanting. There was a HUGE hole in the story's logic: If these aliens had enough intelligence to build such technologically advanced spacecraft, you'd think they would have also been smart enough to figure out a language translation system so they'd be able to communicate with life on other planets. But these quixotic visitors from another galaxy appeared “slow”—and also looked for all the world like leftovers from a Johnny Depp pirate movie. Forgetaboutit.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3
Leonardo, age 74 (USA)
Negative—Despite some good qualities, there’s one scene with a questionable message. In the scene, the translator decides to break the safety rules and throw aside her exterior hazmat suit, in hopes it will promote her relationship with the aliens. In so doing, she risks exposing herself and Earth with unknown contaminants from outer space. This scene could suggest to some that it’s okay to disregard the commands and safety rules God has in place when encountering unknowns of the spirit realm.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Lynne C., age 65 (USA)
Negative—What a huge bore! Absolutely mindless. I agree with the negative comments of previous responses. (Poor scripting, lame acting and line deliverance, huge holes in the “logic” of the basic premise of the story.) I’ll add that the production values were poor, unimaginative, and looked like they were making a movie with the thinnest penny. The music was repetitive, uninspiring and painfully constant. Long, very slow sections… slow slow slow!

From a Biblical perspective, this story line reflected the human hope for a savior who brings gifts and aid with no strings attached. A wise and wonderful alien race who will come to bestow great gifts on Humankind. Salvation without God. My biggest regret is staying to the end, hoping that something interesting would happen. It didn’t.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 1½
Jen, age 50+ (USA)
Negative—The movie emphasizes “feelings,” above logic, reasoning and common sense. 2 hours, but should be 30 minutes. Slow to build. Even the music is slow, dull and boring. Some scenes are sleep inducing. At times, you have to turn on the closed caption to read what they say. They, too often, speak in low tones. When in the helicopter, initially, you struggle to understand their speech. There is a scene where a Rush Limbaugh-like man acts like a foolish idiot, thus mocking him and his followers. If I ever want to be constipated again, I might watch the movie again, but I’m sure I’ll vomit. So, no thanks. No second viewing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
Chas, age 65 (USA)
Negative—This movie doesn’t promote any of Christ’s work. Instead, it implies that science and language are more important; specifically, the protagonists were talking about the cornerstone of civilization being language (by the female protagonist) or science (by the male one), and no one mentioned that the actual cornerstone is religion and Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the movie implies that sinful people who haven’t reached sainthood can have glimpses of the future. Last, but not least, religious groups that attempt to rationalize the invasion of an extraterrestrial species are portrayed in an unfavourable light, and even presented by the media as cultists. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
Pastor Lul Reverend, age 69 (Ethiopia)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Movie Critics
…dazzling science-fiction that will leave you speechless… It is introspective, philosophical and existentially inclined…
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph [UK]
…communicates spectacular ideas… daring, clever and touched with skin-crawling strangeness… [4/5]
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)
“Arrival” and Amy Adams are out-of-this-world amazing… such a beautiful and thought-provoking film …
Brian Truitt, USA Today
…a pensive, interior movie… akin to “Contact”… a satisfying emotional drama, with aliens…
Richard Lawson, Vanity fair
…It offers magnificent performances and an authentic sense of mood even as it is narratively claustrophobic almost to a fault. Fortunately, it features superb performances and a refreshingly different take on the alien invasion sub-genre. …
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
“Arrival” is a thinking human's alien-invasion movie. …beautifully made, but not entirely gratifying… somber atmosphere… there's no cheap sci-fi action. …
Kurt Loder, Reason
…It has a little action, a bit of violence and clenched-jawed jittery men. Mostly, it has ideas and hope, as well as eerie extraterrestrials who face off with a soulful linguist-heroine…
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
…an ersatz mind-bender… The movie plays off the notion that if you learn a new language, it can rewire the way you think. …has an eerie poetic grandeur, but its net effect is far from out of this world…
Owen Gleiberman, Variety
…the movie is very melancholy… poignant story of death and grieving… strong caution for the movie’s false circular view of reality, which may confuse or sway viewers. …dismisses the hope of eternal life with Jesus Christ…
Ted Baehr, Movieguide