There are of course various first contact sorts of sci fi movies. Think ‘Close Encounters of the Spielberg Kind’. This one is however very different. The aliens this time do not know how to speak in human languages, and yet they need something from the human race—- but what? Enter a linguist named Louise, played brilliantly by Amy Adams. No she is not fluent in ‘alienese’, but as a linguist she knows how to look for patterns, repetitions, and knows how to begin a conversation across the linguist divide. Commandeered from her teaching post by Forrest Whitaker playing a military dude, she and Jeremy Renner have the daunting task of cracking the code, before the leaders of the world crack and start firing missiles and the like at the giant football shaped pods hanging in twelve places above the earth. And as it happens they only have 116 minutes of movie time to get the job done before everyone panics.
The movie is suspenseful with precious little violence or war-like behavior, though you can hear the sabres rattling in the background throughout the film. The real tension builder is the race to interpret the alien language and find out what they want. As it turns out, they have something to offer, but I will not spoil the story line by telling you what. In many ways the behavior of the various militarys of the world is predictably fear-based, as if violence could solve our problems when it comes to a species with higher intelligence visiting planet earth. And of course the other premise is that there is life out there elsewhere in the universe. I have no problem with that notion (see C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, especially Perelandra). It seems an enormous waste of space and planets if we are the only show in the universe.
What I especially liked about this movie is not merely it’s surprise ending, nor the magnetic performance by Amy Adams, but the fact that the plot revolves around the premise that human intelligence rather than military intelligence is the way to address such a dilemma. And it is very refreshing to have a linguist as the hero of the tale. Bravo for linguists. This movie is suitable for the whole family, except for small children, and intriguing enough to keep you guessing until the end. I highly recommend this one as a conversation starter about alien life, and human responses.