Friday, January 18, 2013

#886. Contact (1997)

Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt

Tag line: "A message from deep space. Who will be the first to go? A journey to the heart of the universe"

Trivia: William Fichtner's character in the film, a blind astrophysicist with enhanced hearing as a result of his condition, is named Kent Clark, a play on the name of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent

As a young girl, Ellie Arroway would spend hours broadcasting on her short wave radio, and gazing at the stars with her father (David Morse), wondering what marvels the universe holds. Now that she's all grown up, not much has changed; Ellie (Jodie Foster) is a scientist, and works for the SETI program, a tiny organization dedicated to monitoring radio waves in an attempt to find evidence of extraterrestrial life. Thus far, she hasn’t had much success, leading her boss, David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), to shut SETI down. Faced with the possibility she won’t be able to continue her life’s work, Ellie fights to save SETI, finally obtaining the necessary funding from billionaire S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) to resume her research. Her tenacity pays off when, four years later, Ellie and her team make a remarkable discovery; a signal, emanating from the star Vega, is received, transmitting a series of prime numbers. Once the message is decoded, it’s found to contain a detailed schematic, an alien blueprint of sorts for a ship that will allow man to travel through the cosmos. But as an international crew prepares to build this ship, several religious and political groups chime in with their own opinions, arguing over whether or not we should try to contact the life forms on Vega, and, if we do, who should act as the earth’s representative for such a historic meeting?

We spend the first part of Robert Zemeckis’ Contact getting to know its main character, Ellie, from flashbacks of her childhood (played as a young girl by Jena Malone) to her struggle to keep the SETI project alive. Right at the outset, we identify with this strong-willed woman, who also happens to be a dreamer. So, when the radio transmission from Vega is initially detected, we’re as swept up in the excitement of it all as she is. The world may be stunned by the news of a signal from outer space, but for Ellie, it's an affirmation of something she’s known all along: that life is out there, just waiting to be found.

Then, Contact switches gears to show us humanity’s response to the revelation that we are not alone in the universe. There are debates on the religious significance of such a discovery, from theologian Palmer Joss’ (Matthew McConaughey) gentle observations to all-out attacks launched by extremists, who feel the very notion of visiting another planet is blasphemy. Political leaders also join the fracas, with a panel, made up of world dignitaries, chosen to select the perfect candidate to represent earth on this monumental voyage. Ellie seems the ideal choice, yet some believe her lack of a religious upbringing should disqualify her from consideration. Having answered the question of whether or not there’s life on other planets with a resounding “yes”, Contact then shows us mankind’s very human reaction to the news, including how some exploit it to further their own agenda.

Jodie Foster gives a stirring performance as Ellie, the woman who sees all her dreams come true, and then is forced to watch as they’re slowly picked apart by diplomats, who don’t share her optimistic view of the universe. Throughout Contact, we remain firmly in Ellie’s camp, hoping she’ll win out in the end and be chosen to make this journey. She is, after all, the only character in the film who comprehends just how magnificent an opportunity it truly is.


Sir Phobos said...

I love the movie, still haven't got around to the book.

I've seen people criticize the movie because there's a second station after the first one explodes, but I think it kind of stands to reason that Haddon would have a backup plan. And I totally never put it together that he's John Hurt. It's the bald head that did it.

Anthony said...

I liked it a lot, though I'll bet the book was less fluffy on he religion vs. science thing. I thought McConaughey was the weak link. I couldn't see someone that young and callow as a religious advisor to the president. I did lik the dynamics of his relationship with Foster's character, since (as she pointed out in intrviews) he completely has the traditional "girl" role in the story, trailing after her, expressing doubts, etc.

The morning after they sleep together, when she says, "Leave your number, I'll call you," I heard a lot of women in the theater laugh.