'Contact' - Movie Review

"Contact" was written as a film treatment by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan. When movie production stalled, Sagan released the book Contact in 1985, with the film eventually coming out in 1997 - the year after Sagan's death. It's a fascinating take on Science and Faith, and despite some significant flaws, I've been a big fan for years.

Jodie Foster is Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, a SETI scientist who lost her mother at childbirth and her father at age 9. She's independent, intelligent, excessively honest, and bad at relationships. While working at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, she and her team find an incredibly strong signal coming from the Vega star system. A signal with a LOT of information embedded in it. What comes of this is a machine that - they think - will transport someone to Vega to meet the aliens. Ellie desperately wants to be that person.

I've totally left out Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a man she had a fling with in Puerto Rico. As the machine is being built, Palmer goes on to considerable fame as a Christian philosopher. He also becomes the middle ground in the film between Ellie's atheism and Jake Busey's religious fanatic.

I find the movie's take on both the science of star travel and the essence of science vs. faith to be quite brilliant - I've watched the movie three or four times, and find it thought-provoking every time. Sagan himself was not (as I suspected, age 10, watching his famous TV series "Cosmos") an atheist like Ellie, but neither was he a follower of a particular church. I have to guess he wrote Ellie and Palmer as representative of those two sides of his personality, science and faith. Towards the end of the movie, Ellie comes up against a particularly nasty conundrum for an atheist scientist: she has an unquantifiable experience that she must ask others to take on faith. It didn't occur to me until this viewing of the movie that there's a very strong connection between the movie and Arthur C. Clarke's "Third Law:" "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The biggest problem with the movie is Foster's performance. Don't get me wrong, I love Foster. But there are a couple extended scenes where she goes way over the top - or Zemeckis told her to make it an excessive ecstatic religious experience, I don't know. Either way, it's too much and the reason that I can't list this as one of the best movies in the history of the world. Given that, it still remains a thought-provoking and wonderful film about how we view the universe around us.