There is a long-standing tradition and genre of feature films imagining encounters between the human race and other life forms in the universe, films such as "Contact," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and the more sinister "Alien." This December, we have been lucky enough to see the release of another Film which rivals its predecessors in its complexity and beauty. "Arrival", directed by Dennis Villeneuve, based on the short story 'Story of Your Life' by Ted Chiang, takes as its central theme the envelopment of life within language.

Understanding the message

The film begins as 12 alien ships land at different sites on the planet, such that the world's governments are forced to work together to establish contact and determine their purpose. Central to this aim is the role of linguistics professor Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, accompanied by the scientist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, who are hired to establish a form of communication with the alien life forms. The audience is given the opportunity to witness their first meeting and the following process of development of a language of interaction. The extra-terrestrial beings communicate with circular written symbols called logograms and, through numerous sessions, an understanding is formed at all 12 sites that they are on earth to give humanity some form of technology.

Parallel visions

From the start of the film, the camera alternates between shots of the present developments of the race to understand the heptapods, and a parallel story of Louise and her daughter, who is shown from birth to her passing from a rare disease. The interspersed sequencing of shots of this relationship are sunlit and full of hope, in contrast to the present which is portrayed in a more subdued and dusk-like tone.

There is a sense that the stories are linked and, indeed, it is only after Louise encounters the aliens that she starts experiencing visions of herself and her daughter.

The critical discovery

When the world understands the visitors' purpose of a technology, the governments react defensively, assuming the aliens are referring to weapons.

Louise must risk her life to avert disaster, entering the alien ship unprotected, where she has a direct encounter and becomes the receiver of the transfer of technology. It is only at this critical point of urgency, where she must save humanity from entering into war with the aliens, that she understands her visions are the technology and are intrinsically connected to the language of logograms she has absorbed. The sublime revelation is that the language is an advanced gift which allows humanity to understand the nature of time and see the future - as Louise is able to see her own future life with her daughter - unlocking a new non-linear understanding which places life and time as part of a transformative story.

A hopeful worldview

The film is composed much like a piece of music, with parallel movements, finally linking to offer a hopeful alternative to today's chaotic, disillusioned and self-concentrated worldview. Through carefully chosen, poetic reflection, 'Arrival' suggests the infinite resonance of each moment, and a possibility of cooperation, interconnection and, above all, the triumph of life.