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Arrival stretches the boundaries of the sci-fi genre

Cameron Bender, Editor-in-Chief

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2016 brought many different types of movies. In November, a new sci-fi movie hit the theaters, and took the world by storm. It quickly accrued an impressive score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular TV show and movie-reviewing site. The sci-fi film is titled “Arrival”, and the movie is based on the arrival of extraterrestrials, which received several Academy Awards nominations.

This movie is not your typical cheesy alien flick like “Men in Black” or “Transformers”. In contrast to most corny alien movies, “Arrival” tangles with big themes like the perception of time, language in society, and knowledge of the future.


Arrival begins with the introduction of the main character, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, a linguist who teaches at a university. She begins her lecture when a student asks her to turn on the television to any news channel. According to the news channel, 12 UFO’s have landed in places around the world. People in the US start to go crazy and the US government shows up at Banks’s house and asks her to lead a team to communicate with the aliens at the nearby Montana site. She teams up with physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, to communicate with the aliens.

With the ultimate goal of learning why the aliens are on Earth, Banks and Donnelly board a UFO and attempt to communicate with the aliens, who turn out to be heptapods, seven legged, that look like huge squids. They use written language to spark conversation when oral exchange is a failure. The alien’s language is made of complex symbols that is formed like how we would write complicated sentences with two hands writing left and right. Banks and Donnolley begin to compile vocabulary lists. All the while, Banks keeps having visions of her and a young girl.

All the countries are collaborating and sharing their information when China goes dark. All countries follow suit. This happens after all 12 UFO’s communicate the phrase “Use Weapon”. They assume the worst and prepare military action against the aliens, against the protests of Banks. Some rogue soldiers plant C4 in the Montana UFO, assumed to have been radicalized by outside citizens. Banks and Donnolley meet with the aliens again while the C4 is about to go off. The aliens give Banks and Donnolley a gift, a compilation of symbols that don’t make any sense to the duo. As the C4 explodes, the aliens shoot Banks and Donnolley out of their ship, and the blast kills one of the aliens.

As the US prepares for military action, they evacuate the site around the Montana UFO. Banks and Donnolley crack the complications of symbols; it is evidence of the perception of time. Banks runs out toward the UFO and the remaining alien sends a shuttle down to transport her onto the ship. The alien explains to Banks that these visions she has been having are those from the future, and that the aliens need humanity’s help soon.

Banks returns to the evacuating camp and has vision from the future that helps change the mind of China’s General about attacking the aliens at their UFO site. The Chinese suspend their ensuing attack on the aliens and offer up cooperation talks with all world countries. The aliens leave with the people of Earth cooperating and discussing the use of the gift.


Unlike many other sci-fi movies, Arrival proposes many themes that leave the audience to think for themselves. In Arrival, the alien’s time is nonlinear, or not chronological, like our own. They can see things from the future, past, and present to form idea. When Banks starts to see visions of her with a child, it is actually her daughter in the future, who will eventually die young from a disease. And the father will be her partner from her alien endeavors, Ian Donnelly. Her visions also show that the two will divorce.

This poses the question to the audience, “Would you do the things you do if you know it won’t work out in the end?”, with the thing being Banks having a child even though she knows her daughter will die.

Arrival also introduces the concept of language in society. Banks and Donnolley communicate with the aliens through written language. As they learn more about the alien’s language, they learn more about the aliens.

Without a doubt, “Arrival” is not your average alien movie. It is thought proving, and stretches the boundaries of the sci-fi genre. Arrival is a must see that tackles the concepts of language and communication, and how they can both destroy us, or bring us together.


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Arrival stretches the boundaries of the sci-fi genre