The adaptation of Ted Chiang’s high-concept Nebula award winning novella, The Story of Your Life, by director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer is a puzzling word search that’s extremely smart yet doesn’t forget to deliver on the emotional heft.
When a series of 12 black pods land at random points across the globe including China, Russia, UK and the USA, linguist expert Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called upon to investigate by the American government. She is joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) who aids her in the quest to communicate with aliens.
Adams’ turns in a convincing and raw performance as the confident, ponderous and quick witted problem solver, Louise, who leads the charge. She’s passionate about sharing information with other countries in order to move forward but her ideals don’t match up with those higher up which leads to problems in trying to preserve a united front. It shares a similar political philosophy to Pacific Rim though the two couldn’t be more different in style. Villeneuve opts for slow-burning tension where battle is waged not against Kaiju but instead the destructive actions and instincts of the human race.
The entire film is designed in order to challenge perception and the way in which we interpret the world around us. At first, our eyes are drawn into one of the mysterious black pods where we witness the team’s exploration and meeting of Louise bourgeois-style sculpted aliens. The team are able to revolve upside down in a tunnel, a scary and very disorientating leap thanks to the way Villeneuve plays with depth of field.
The marriage of science and language and the questioning of time and memory makes for woozy and intense viewing. It’s a verbose and dense dialectic on the way the human brain functions and you’re left never quite knowing if what you’re watching is fantasy or reality. Occasionally the film does get bogged down in communicating its message of unity and understanding. You can imagine that some of the reveals worked better on paper but thankfully, it all comes together with a touching and eye-opening ending.