Remarkably touching alien invasion movie holds lessons for our own turbulent times

Remarkably touching alien invasion movie holds lessons for our own turbulent times

Director Denis Villeneuve heads for the stars after the drug-fueled border wars of “Sicario” early this year. Even that movie, filled with violence and an unrelenting tension, was in its own way understated, a hallmark of this director’s style. So, too, is “Arrival,” a thoughtful, almost meditative movie that is as much about the limitations of the heart as it is about the outer limits.

When 12 alien pods land around the globe (ours touches down in a pastoral field in Montana), Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a leading specialist in linguistics, is summoned to try and come up with a way to communicate with the alien beings. Each government, including most of the world powers, are working on their own approaches and are sharing their information in real time with each other.

She is paired with a theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and they are hardly prepared for what follows: their first encounter inside the pod with two alien beings. Their work involves de-coding the aliens’ ink like projections that form circular images — a visual graphic language that Louise and Ian have to link with human words.

As they work, world tensions escalate as each country decides they have figured out why the aliens have come — and it’s not in peace. There is a growing cry to bomb the pods back to outer space, just as Louise and Ian are making real progress with the two aliens they have named Abbott and Costello.

There is more at play here in what is eventually revealed to be a non-linear timeline that Villeneuve uses to advance the story. It’s an unusual construct that brings the movie full circle in a poignant way that’s not often found in a sci-fi film.

Grounding the movie is Adams’ performance as Louise. The way Villeneuve lays it out, we think we know and understand her, but there is much more underneath. She is as intelligent and intuitive as she is introverted. And the life-threatening risks she takes might just save mankind.

This is a kind of thinking man’s alien invasion. Where motives are murky, there is still a thread of hope. Maybe these pods did come in peace. In hindsight, the release date for this movie could not have been more timely for it seems in order to save the world, we must all work together — a message whose “Arrival” has come.