Anthony's Film Review

Contact (1997)

Contact works as both a scientific mystery and a journey through human beliefs...

Of the many endeavors that people dream of, only a relatively small number look towards the stars. One of the biggest questions that remains largely unanswered is about outer space and the rest of the universe. What is out there? Is Earth the sole planet that could sustain life? Are there other worlds yet to be discovered? If so, could we communicate with these other beings? These questions provide the basis for Contact, the 1997 film adaptation of the novel by astronomer Carl Sagan. The opening of the film also sets the stage as we hear the various radio and television broadcasts that have beamed off planet Earth.

Now the focus shifts to the main character. Jodie Foster is Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who spends much time and money being on the lookout for meaningful signals from space. In the eyes of many, this is a pointless research endeavor that deserves to be shut down for good. Just when the thought may cross one's mind, Ellie gets a signal, a strong signal that is more intriguing as it is recorded. It's a series of numbers that happen to be a sequence of nothing but prime numbers. It's one thing to have a random assortment of numbers, but what is the likelihood that the numbers are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc. and are solely due to chance alone? One cannot help but wonder that something is going on.

The mystery turns to a mix of excitement and drama. The signal is soon found to be the blueprints for some type of machine, presumed to be for space and/or time travel. As it would probably happen in real life, this discovery becomes a media sensation. U.S. President Bill Clinton delivers a press conference. Ellie's boss, David Drumlin, selfishly takes credit for her discovery. But it's not all about science. Religious groups are also gathering outside the research facility grounds, all rejecting science and free thought.

So the movie also becomes a look at religion versus science. This is greatly explored through Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss, a man of religion. He is the opposite of Ellie, even though he has an intellectual and romantic interest in her. There is one great scene where Ellie explains how everything in science she believes in is all proven. Palmer asks her if she loves his father. She says yes. Then he tells her to prove it. I still remember this scene because it reminds us how the religion-science debate may never end because both sides are filling in the other's voids.

Both components in Contact, the scientific mystery and the religious commentary, are captivating. It's great to have a film like this that goes from one to the other or presents both simultaneously. Together, they create a sense of wonder and anticipation. And when the climax finally arrives, it's truly something to experience. The scenes in the last half hour do not provide definitive answers. Instead, they make you ask more questions. Ultimately, you might just settle for an explanation and just believe in it. Maybe that's why religion is such a powerful thing for most people.

Contact was a lot better than I expected. Although Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, and director Robert Zemeckis did a great job, none of this would be possible without the late Carl Sagan. Before his death, shortly before the release of this movie, he had achieved worldwide fame as a brilliant astronomer. Through all of his works, including his TV series Cosmos, he has stimulated our curiosity about the universe and inspired us to think. He has done so one last time with the film Contact, truly leaving a mark on our world.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Contact, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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