Rating: 2 Stars
The movie starts with a linguist, Louise (Amy Adams) raising, caring for, loving, and then mourning her daughter when she dies of a rare cancer.
Now lecturing, her class is interrupted when alien ships appear in various locations around the world. She apparently is a world recognized linguist. The military recruits her to communicate with the alien ship stationed in Wyoming.
After some difficulties, she does begin to communicate with them. Ultimately, she learns that the aliens are here to bestow a gift upon humanity. That gift is their language, which, once learned, allows you to essentially effortlessly traverse time. We learn that the child that we thought had died in her past is actually a flash forward to the child that she will have. She knowingly will have the child, even though it is destined to die of the rare cancer.
The film starts off really well. It demonstrates the mass panic / concern that will arise when/if aliens appear en masse. It shows the governments of the world working together, and then, inevitably, the relationships start to deteriorate. It does a good job showing the aliens as not just some ugly bipedal life form but actually a uniquely different form. It attempts to demonstrate an innovative new form of communication.
And now the problems.
First of all, why is Ian (Jeremy Renner) even there? What does a physicist have to do with establishing communication patterns? His role appears to be exclusively that as a future romantic partner for Louise.
The scene where Louise actually shares space with the alien was just a little too 2001ish for me. The setting was just too silly. The music score was overwhelming (throughout most of it, the score was about as subtle as a meat cleaver).
Whenever a movie starts fucking with time, I know that it’s going to probably head South, and indeed it does here.
The idea is that time is nonlinear. All time exists and any one time is accessible at any time. For those of you who are into Vonnegut, this should remind you very much of the Tralfamadorians from Slaughterhouse Five. And indeed, it seems pretty similar and introduces the same issues.
If time is available to all, then there is no free choice. There is no dramatic tension. Everything happens because it is always happening. It cannot happen anyway else. The movie makes it seem as if she chooses to have the child despite knowing that it will die, but the fact is, she really does not have a choice. That is the essence of nonlinear time.
The key to understanding the language is that they use no tense (as in, future or past). This makes perfect sense because, if all time is happening, then there is no future or past. However, in the crucial scene where Louise is communicating to the alien, all of the sudden the alien starts communicating using tense. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but that really annoyed me.
Of course, then there’s the whole thing where the Chinese and the Russians are the villains looking for an excuse to shoot the alien crafts down. I’m actually surprised by this choice; given the size of the Chinese cinematic market, it seems like choosing to have the Chinese act in a typical dictatorial manner would hurt the box office. It makes me wonder if a subtly different version will be shown there.
All in all, not a horrible movie. I have a predilection against sci-fi movies, and possibly my predilections are showing through here. Generally it received high reviews; I just did not get much out of it and got annoyed with it several times.