As a bit of a language nerd, I was beyond thrilled when I first stumbled across this trailer. A sci-fi movie where the real enemy is ignorance, and the protagonist is a linguist and translator who’s just been tapped for the most important ethnography of her life? Sign me up.
I discovered after deciding to review this trailer (courtesy of fellow LGG-er Luce) that Arrival is based on a short story called Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Upon reading the story, I was struck by the immediate differences between the trailer and the source material; for one, there’s no greater conflict caused by the aliens besides the difficulty of transferring information. Rather, the arc of the story follows the protagonist Louise learning to understand the aliens’ fascinatingly nonlinear conception of time, which allows her to experience her own life and her relationship with her now-deceased adult daughter in the same nonlinear way.
While I might typically be frustrated with a major change to the themes of a story in adaptation, I can see why they’ve decided to do so in this movie. First of all, that internal conflict (and the nonlinear way it’s presented in the story) would be very difficult to conceptualize in a visual medium rather than a written one; its quiet dissonance wouldn’t make for a two hour film or justify the special effects budget needed to portray the aliens. The idea of global cooperation and issues with the dissemination of information between nations are highly relevant now, and so using the movie to spotlight them is timely and doesn’t seem too forced.
I’m excited to see Amy Adams taking on Louise’s role. I think she has a great range as an actress, and I’m excited to see her saving humanity with, well, the humanities. Also, between her casting and the casting of Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, her Army liason, we have a trifecta of main characters in which only one is a white guy—which is good, even if it again means that we get white-woman-plus-one-Black man diversity. My one hope is that, despite presumably jettisoning the nonlinear aspect of the original short story, that they still give Louise’s relationship with her daughter the same depth and importance. Even the title, Story of Your Life, is a reference by Louise to her daughter’s life; to remove that significance would do her character a disservice and only serve to reinforce the lack of female-female bonds being portrayed on the big screen.
In the end, I can almost be okay with Hollywood churning mindless blockbuster after mindless blockbuster if it means establishing the financial stability to take a chance on more cerebral and intellectual speculative fiction like this one. Even with a contrived conflict, this looks to be an exciting and unique addition to the slate of movies left to premiere this year.