Story

Arrival begins with 12 1500-foot alien spacecraft appearing without warning and positioning themselves randomly across the Earth’s surface. When one of the alien craft lands in the US state of Montana, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) contacts Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams). Louise is an international expert and professor in languages. Weber wants her to find a way of communicating with the aliens so that humans can work out why the aliens have come to Earth.

Accompanying Louise is physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). His job is to determine the aliens’ technological capabilities, including their ability to travel through space and defy gravity.

It takes several trips inside the alien craft before Louise makes a breakthrough and starts communicating with the aliens through symbols and writing. She learns that the aliens have come to save humanity by giving them a gift. Unfortunately, China’s General Shang (Tzi Ma) and the leaders of other countries misinterpret the aliens, believing they have come with evil intentions. This misunderstanding leads to near disaster.

Themes

Aliens; xenophobia; death of a child

Violence

Arrival has some violence. For example:

  • There’s a report that 120 religious cult members have committed suicide by setting fire to the building they’re in.
  • Several soldiers transport a bomb onto an alien craft, and a short time later the same soldiers unpack and share out rifles.
  • A man and a woman stand in front of a glass panel behind which are two alien creatures. A timer counts down to zero and there are the sounds of gunfire outside the spacecraft. There is a loud explosion and a flash of light as a bomb explodes. The man and woman are thrown backwards by an unseen force and suspended in a tunnel, which is protected from the bomb’s blast. In the next scene the man and woman are in hospital.
  • A news report tells us that China has declared war on the aliens. The Chinese give the aliens 24 hours to leave China or face destruction. News images show Chinese battleships and aircraft carriers and people rioting and looting stores.
  • A woman is pursued through an army camp by several soldiers with assault rifles. The woman and a man lock themselves in a secure room behind a glass door. When a soldier points a handgun at the woman and threatens to shoot her, the man stands in front of the woman to shield her. The scene ends without further violence.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Arrival has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • People panic at a college as fire alarms ring out and army jets fly low overhead. One car crashes into a second car as drivers panic.
  • Several scenes show alien creatures that look like giant, bony, severed hands with squid-like qualities. The creatures squirt out inky vapours that form circular symbols. Their language sounds like growls and rumbles. The aliens move through a swirling mist.
  • A few scenes show a woman and man wearing baggy radiation hazard suits with large hoods, breathing masks and oxygen tanks on their backs. At times their breathing sounds loud, rapid and panicked.
  • A woman steps inside a cylindrical alien pod, which then fills with a white mist that engulfs the woman. She begins to floats as if underwater, with her hair flowing above and around her.
  • Several gigantic cylindrical spacecraft hover in the air and disappear as if dissolving in mist.
  • After returning from encountering the aliens, a man bends over a rubbish bin and vomits. We don’t see the vomit, but we hear the sounds of retching.

From 5-8
In addition to some of the scenes mentioned above, this movie has scenes and images that might disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • There are a few brief images of an unconscious adolescent girl with a shaved head and an oxygen clip attached to her nose lying in a hospital bed. The girl is dying from a cancer-related disease.
  • Later scenes show images of the girl lying dead in her hospital bed. The girl’s mother leans over her dead daughter’s body and cries in an emotionally distressed way. 

From 8-13
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.

Over 13
Younger viewers in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.

Sexual references

Arrival has some mild sexual references. For example, in one scene, a man and a woman stand together. The man asks the woman, ‘You want to make a baby?’. She replies, ‘Yes’. The scene flashes forward to show the same man and woman holding a baby. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Some scenes in Arrival show adults drinking wine.

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

Arrival has some coarse language.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Arrival is an unusual and thoughtful science fiction movie that’s likely to be enjoyed by older teenagers and adults. It’s about resolving conflict and differences through communication, compassion and understanding, rather than through aggression, dominance and war.

Younger children might find some of the movie’s scenes and themes disturbing. The movie is also rather slow moving, so we don’t recommend it for children under 12 years. We do recommend parental guidance for children aged 12-14 years.

These are the main messages from Arrival:

  • Communication, understanding and compassion have better results than violence and domination.
  • The language you speak determines how you think.