Ted Chiang is something of a rarity. A writer who specialises in short stories and with a rate of output that is slow, to say the least. Yet every one of his stories is a perfect blend of fascinating science and memorable fiction.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone, therefore, that when I heard that a Hollywood adaptation of one of his stories was on the way, I was both thrilled and terrified. Mainly thrilled, though, so when I finally managed to see Arrival at the weekend my expectations were way too high. And it’s to the credit of all involved that the film managed to fully live up to those expectations.
When twelve alien spacecraft arrive on Earth, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to try to understand the alien language and, therefore, their intent. And then things get interesting.
It’s generally recognised that the language we use influences our perceptions, and you can find plenty of documentation outlining the many benefits of learning a second language. But what about an utterly alien language? And what if that alien language embodies a totally different perception of time to the one we are used to? How far can your perceptions be altered by learning another language?
Arrival is proper science-fiction, that takes an idea and thoroughly explores it. Layered on top of this is an overarching discussion about free will and personal responsibility.
This being a major film, there is plenty of dramatic tension, largely revolving around the perceived intentions of the aliens and the reactions of governments. None of this, though, distracts from the essential thoughtfulness of the film, which currently rates as the best film I’ve seen this year.