Time is not linear, but circular.
That's the operating premise of this unusual film, and it impacts
the screenplay in a number of ways.
The beginning is really a flash-forward to the end.
And the images you see at the beginning actually apply to things
that happen after the ending. Confused
Imagine that the aliens really have landed.
Or at least, they have chosen 12 locations on Earth on which to
hover their spherical spaceships that resemble dirigibles turned
Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist, a college professor
whose intended lecture about the evolution of the Portugese from the
Spanish in the Middle Ages is interrupted by this epochal event, where all
the students---and faculty and staff---disappear to breathlessly await
further developments. The
government calls a state of emergency, urging people to stay home, imposes
a dawn-to-dusk curfew, and calls out the military.
Yes, our first reaction---along with other world governments---is
to assume an “armed and ready” posture.
Dr. Banks is approached because she has assisted the military
before with a Farsi translation that apparently helped track down some
terrorists. She's invited to
attempt to communicate with the aliens, to try to find out their purpose
in visiting. When she arrives
on site, she meets a scientist/theoretical mathematician, Ian Donnelly
(Jeremy Renner) who teams with her to encounter the aliens.
After much anticipation, they finally meet.....giant heptapods?
Yes, octopus-like creatures, with fewer “legs,” but they squirt
ink on a clear, hard barrier. The
“blots” are mostly circular, with many variations in the ridges.
There's a missed opportunity here, as it's not clear exactly when
Dr. Banks makes her big communication breakthrough.
Somehow we go from “Me Tarzan, You Jane” (actually, “Me
Louise, You Abbot and Costello”) to Dr. Banks being able to transpose
their own complex symbols on the “screen” because she has already
figured out a vocabulary. (We
overeducated geeks love it that the heroine is a linguistics professor
almost as much as we love that the hero in “Inferno” is an antiquities
Any time you mess with time in a movie, you risk confusing the
viewer. But here, Director
Denis Villenueve seems to want the viewer to share the character's sense
of being “at sea” here, completely bewildered most of the time,
fighting exhaustion as well as the urgent aggressiveness of their military
“handlers,” whose first instinct is to shoot first and ask questions
later. But Dr. Banks
has risked making herself vulnerable to the aliens, and they reward
her with a communicating to her their skill at transcending linear time.
Thus, she is able to discern their meaning when they seem to be
projecting images into her head about things that haven't yet happened, a
knowledge which greatly impacts how she handles the present.
Yes, there's some viewer deception.
Get over it. And
viewers will respond very differently to the ending---some literally in
tears because of tapping into some deep-seated emotional memory, others
wanting to discuss the ramifications of the plot twist.
This is one unusually inventive film.
And it will receive a lot of attention.