“Arrival,” with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, is a movie about aliens who attempt to communicate with humans, with profound effects on earthlings in general and with the linguistic expert played by Adams in particular.
The aliens are giant squidlike creatures who grunt and moan but also produce inky circular glyphs. Dr. Louise Banks, played by Adams, struggles to understand the messages, but she knows that when you learn another language, you reset your brain according to that language’s way of thinking. The aliens have a different sense of time, and as Dr. Banks deciphers their language, she begins to see the future. Which is what the aliens really need her to do.
The film belongs to Amy Adams, who delivers her most commanding performance yet. Renner is not much more than a sidekick, and Whitaker is the tough but fair military man. The most elusive character, however, is the script, so if you see the film, pay close attention.
Dr. Banks ends up with hard choices to make. If you know how your life will turn out, and how your decisions will affect others, would you do things differently? That dilemma is really at the heart of the movie. It carries a profoundly pro-life message, not so much in the way that term is usually understood, but in the sense that even a life cut short is well worth living. Unfortunately that is a radical message today.