I was commissioned to write a programme note on Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival for Glasgow Film Theatre.
You don’t actually see the arrival in Arrival. This is a film about the sudden appearance of unidentified alien crafts in twelve different points around the globe, yet the moment they appear plays out offscreen. Instead, the audience watches Amy Adams and her near-empty linguistics class as they react to footage of the event on the news. From the very start of the film it becomes clear – this isn’t about the aliens as much as it is about the humans involved with them.
Cinema has long had an uneasy relationship with aliens arriving on earth. Early sci-fi cinema, typified by Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, was about exploration, discovery and realising strange new worlds in the exciting nascent medium of celluloid. Five years before Méliès’ groundbreaking film, however, the groundwork was laid for fear of outsiders in H.G. Wells’ novella War of the Worlds. Wells wasn’t concerned with travelling to other planets – he was wondering what would happen if other planets visited us.