How Villeneuve Advances Story with Sound

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival uses sound design to shape the atmosphere and mood of its scenes. The scene begins within the alien ship as Amy Adams is trying to communicate with them. The only sounds we can really hear are the hazard suit rubbing together and her heavy breathing. A dampening effect is over the sounds however, and it displays a lot of the character’s feelings at that time within the movie. The humans feel closed off, their survival is being threatened as they are backed further into this corner of mystery. The muffled sounds display the theme that the characters are feeling sort of claustrophobic; that they are trapped and have no way out of this predicament. Amy Adam’s character, Louise, has a different idea and in a moment of symbolism takes off her suit, the sound of her voice is immediately clearer as if she has had a breakthrough. The background is full of hurried voices within the team about whether to let her continue; the alien’s low tones are heard rumbling through the room as well. As Louise begins walking toward the “glass” barrier separating the aliens and the humans, no footsteps are heard, only the sounds of the alien rumblings gaining in volume. Villeneuve draws our attention away from something like footsteps to completely immerse us in the moment which is a tactic he reuses multiple times through sound and cinematography throughout the film. As Louise reaches out and touches the glass the low roar stops momentarily, cluing us that some action is about to happen, but an anticlimax is reached instead. The sound of the alien’s “hand” hitting the barrier is very quiet and not very shocking. Villenueve is clearly showing the audience that the language barrier is close to being deconstructed. The softness of the hit and the slight echo are almost peaceful and Louise believes as well that the gesture is more of an introduction and nothing close to a violent reaction.

Arrival Scene: The Introduction