Arrival Parent Review
Although the plot is somewhat abstract in presenting its messages, these visitors from another realm offer families discussion ideas that mirror current concerns fear and prejudice.
It’s always such a difficult problem. Every time aliens come to Earth for a visit, we need to determine if they want to share their advanced technology and intelligence, or if they intend to annihilate all of us and steal our resources. (Yes, the scenario is becoming more reflective of real world border issues.)
When a dozen egg-shaped objects appear in a variety of locations around the globe and hover just a few feet above the planet’s surface, military forces don’t know what to make of the visit. In the U.S. the craft, which appears to be as tall as a 20-storey building, is perched above a Montana meadow. The next logical step is to establish communications, and that’s where Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) comes into play. Banks is a linguist and has previously assisted the army with translations. Her Top Secret clearance is, conveniently, still valid and that’s why Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) has dropped by to pay her a visit. He’s hoping she will be able to speak to these visitors and ascertain why they’re here.
When Dr. Banks arrives on site she is paired with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist whose skillset doesn’t appear all that applicable to the situation. In short order they are given vaccinations, dressed in hazmat suits and driven to the bottom of the space egg where a door mysteriously opens every 18 hours. Once inside they meet a pair of octopus-like aliens whom they will later refer to as Abbot and Costello. Over the course of many visits Banks tries to figure out the meaning of their ink-blot writing. Eventually she also discovers a cool new trick that bends her perspective of time. Meanwhile Donnelly helps with the ESL classes, schleps equipment in and out of the egg and contributes a light bulb moment or two.
At the risk of mistaking my sarcasm as a negative outlook on this movie, I fully empathize with the creators of Arrival: It is difficult to do much new with an alien film. Looking at the past six decades of this genre, it wasn’t until Close Encounters of the Third Kind that Hollywood explored the idea of not dropping a nuke on the offending spacecraft. Today the appearance of otherworldly beings immediately sets up the “big” decision – do we defend the world and attack? Or should we roll out the welcome mat and open the doors to unforeseen possibilities?
To its credit, this script explores that conundrum and introduces opportune messages about the benefits of learning to understand intentions and overlooking species differences. The time distortion plot also presents a chance for our protagonist to consider whether or not she might change her life if she was given the ability to know what lies ahead.
Parents will appreciate the relative lack of issues that would prevent teens, and even somewhat younger audiences, from seeing this film. A single sexual expletive is the primary reason for the PG-13 rating in the U.S. Other lesser profanities are infrequent. Violence is minimal as well, with references to riots and looting, depictions of explosions, and the threat of weapons and war. Other than a married couple discussing “making a baby” there is no sexual content.
Although the plot is somewhat abstract in presenting its messages, these visitors from another realm offer families discussion ideas that mirror current concerns about immigration and defense. Finally, even though we don’t have the privilege of seeing our future, we are reminded that our decisions today ultimately affect our tomorrows.Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker. Running time: 116 minutes. Theatrical release November 11, 2016. Updated January 16, 2017
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Arrival here.
Arrival Parents Guide
This screenplay uses (pretend) news footage and headlines to show how the world is responding to the alien arrival. How does the media use its influence to incite fear and distrust amongst its audience? How accurate are the facts they report? Why do you think their coverage is skewed? In the film and in real life, is there any way for the consumer to tell if they are being present with truth, hype or rumors? Do you think news reporters sometimes reflect what their audience wants to hear? What responsibility do these information providers have to the public?
A plot element in this movie has a character asking if she would change anything in her life if she could see the future. If you had this ability, what would you do? How might tampering with one thing affect other things? Do you think it’s possible to make all the right corrections and create the perfect outcome? Are there some disappointments, pain and sorrow that are worth enduring? How do both good and bad experiences shape who we become?