Contact

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a_contact.jpg

A journey to the heart of the universe.

1997

Genres:
Sci-Fi, Drama, Philosophy, Romance

Starring:
Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerrit, James Woods, Anglea Bassett

Summary:
Based on reknown astronomer Carl Sagan's novel of the same name, Contact tells the story of Eleanor Arroway. Since she was a little girl, Ellie has dreamed of finding life beyond humans in the universe. Losing none of that interest, Ellie (Foster) grows up to work on SETI, the project designed to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. When she discovers a radio message from outerspace, her beliefs seem confirmed. As she and her team decipher the coded signal, they realize it contains intsructions for building a machine.

At first hesitant, the entire world becomes caught up in the project as science and religion collide and mingle. False prophets spring up overnight. Camps and parades and conventions flourish near the huge SETI satellite dishes. Ellie's colleague, Drumlin (Skerrit) seems intent on stealing the limelight from Arroway. In the middle of this turmoil are Ellie and her ex-lover Palmer (McConaughey), a preacher who loves Ellie and yet risks her dream by publicly exposing her atheism and seemingly destroying her chance of personally contacting alien life.

Response:
Yeah, maybe it's a tad long, but Contact is one of the most subtle and elegant sf movies to have come along in a long time. There are no flashy supernatural effects (unless you count the trippy dream-like sequence at the end), but the machines and transport equipment are realistic and impressive nonetheless. There are no horrifying or original shots of aliens, but the alien life does appear in a surreal form. There are no struggles to assert human dominance against a terrorizing extraterrestrial force, but the internal political and spiritual struggles of the human characters are quite complex.

Foster and McConaughey give superb performances as similar passionate souls caught on the opposite sides of religion and science. That's one of the things I like most about this movie. It intertwines two seemingly opposing forces. It doesn't focus just on hard science without acknowledging the ramifications to be had on humans' spirits. Neither does it portray Palmer as an unreasoning religious zealot. In contrast, both Palmer and Ellie challenge each other in order to grow in their own respective strengths.

I was a bit disappointed with the actual alien contact while I was watching it. I thought it was a bit of a cop-out, but after finishing the movie, I realize there was no other way they could have done it. The ending itself was elegant and subtle, but still very clever and punchy (check out Angela Bassett's wry obervation at the end).

Contact brings up ideas about mankind's place in the universe and the purpose of life through both the eyes of science and religion. The movie doesn't just question what kind of other life might be out there; it questions why we might be looking for it in the first place.

Point Blank:
Sagan was a smart man who wrote a smart book that was made into a smart movie.