Updated: Nov 4, 2021

For a moment, visualize that you are actually in your dream job, the one you wanted to do more than anything as a child. Your childish enthusiasm grew and drove you to bust your ass where you become one of the brightest in your field. Then reality hits: Because of your specialization, you are ridiculed, discredited, and doors are shut at every turn. not to be deterred, you continue banging on those doors until finally someone is inspired by your passion. They give you your last chance.

You work your dream but after a period of time, those voices that derailed you at every opportunity return. With only a few months left, you need a miracle. Do you pray for that miracle or do you work your logic?

Then your miracle arrives. Everything you dreamed and worked for has delivered! That is when the test happens. Those dissuading voices, they reach in and take charge of your discovery, the discovery of all of mankind. Now you have to navigate the minefield of science, religion, and politics, the Trinity of both the best and worst of Man. How do you reconcile yourself to these? That is what we discuss when we make...


Contact (1997)

Directed: Robert Zemeckis

Written: James V. Hart (screenplay), Michael Goldenberg (screenplay), Carl Sagan (based on the novel)

Music by: Alan Silvestri

Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett, William Fichtner, John Hurt, Jake Busey, David Morse

Watch on: Showtime

Review Alpha


I won't lie - Contact is one of my favorite alien science fiction movies. Unlike most alien movies where they come to kill us, the alien civilizations in this movie are friendly. While there are movies with benign extraterrestrials, such as E.T., we don't see the beings in their form. What is also refreshing about this movie, and I am really drawn to it, is that it isn't about the contact itself. Instead, the human experience of connection is played out through scientific, religious, and political experiences.

The movie starts with a look at Earth from low orbit, listening to radio broadcasts of the current time. We begin to zoom out through the solar system. The broadcasts get older and older until we hit deep space and silence with a beautiful shot of the Milky Way galaxy. We zoom further out until we see the iris of an eye and then eventually a young Ellie Arroway. She is operating a Ham radio, trying to make contact. A bit impulsive, she gets frustrated when her father reminds her to make small moves. Ellie slows down and ends up making contact with another operator in Pensacola, FL. After the conversation, Ellie's father calculates that the communication was made from over 1,100 miles from their home in Wisconsin. This inspires Ellie, who becomes Dr. Eleanor Arroway, a radio astronomer.

We meet the now-adult Dr. Arroway as she arrives at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. There she meets her team of fellow radio astronomers. As they are introductions, Ellie states that her project is S.E.T.I., where she is looking for "little green men."

While at the Arecibo Observatory, she meets a man named Palmer Joss, who says he is writing a book on the effects of technology. A bit smitten, she tells Palmer that her boss, Dr. David Drumlin, will be at the observatory on Tuesday.

Drumlin is telling some of the astronomers that budget priorities will be changing at a mixer, prompting Ellie to argue that pure research is more critical than pragmatic and even profitable spending priorities. Palmer interjects during the debate, drawing a response where Dr. Drumlin calls him "Father Joss." An intrigued Ellie asks Palmer if he wants to leave the mixer. They observe the night sky then kiss. After an intimate session, they wax philosophical about the existence of God versus the nature of science. Suddenly disturbed, Ellie leaves the room and returns to work.

The next day, Ellie finds that Drumlin has pulled the plug on her research. Drumlin tells her that her present course of study will lead to her being driven from the field before she is further published, thus ending her career. A furious Ellie counters that it is her life and leaves. She goes on a quest looking for funding to continue her search, only to be met with rejection. These rejections lead her to Hadden Industries, where at last, she gets financing.

Four years later, we see Dr. Arroway listening for radio signals at the V.L.A. (laughably named the Very Large Array) in New Mexico. During her radio time, her colleague and best friend Kent argue when Kent reveals the government is shutting down their research. Despite having another two years remaining on their grant, they have to leave in about three months. Frustrated at this development, Ellie drives out to the dish array with a laptop and puts on her headphones to continue her work in the dusk of a beautiful New Mexican sky.

Then the dial hits the magic frequency, and a signal is heard. Racing back to the observatory building, the team tracks the source to Vega, about 26 light-years away. They are incredulous because the Vega system had been observed for years with no results. As they debate, the signal stops. After a few moments of static silence, the signal, a series of pulses, returns. Two pulses, three pulses, five pulses, seven pulses. The pulses come in at prime number intervals, convincing them they cannot be a natural phenomenon. After getting an Australian observatory to confirm the message, they alert the world.

As expected, the U.S. Government gets involved. This brings in Dr. Drumlin and National Security Advisor Michael Kitz and troops and other government officials. An argument breaks out on if this is a civilian research project versus a government take-over, getting heated before the entire room is shushed by Kent. Kent, who is blind, picks up there is an embedded file in the transmission. They determine first it is a video, and there is even audio. As they work to filter the band, they discover something that shocks everyone in different ways

Afterward, further diving into the signal reveals thousands of pages of text, but no one knows how to align them and read them. From there, the movie goes to Washington, D.C., where an argument breaks out of the meaning of these pages. Is it a communication device? A bomb?

A Trojan Horse? When Ellie suggests the possibility of a transport device, things get crazy over science and God again. This prompts a concealed Palmer Joss to appear, saying, "But a voice from the sky is what you heard," to Ellie.

Ellie meets with Hadden, who unlocks the mystery of the text by showing how the pages fit together by folding them into three-dimensional boxes and opening the primer to put them in order. Ellie takes this to a meeting in D.C., where another argument occurs between Ellie and Drumlin and Kitz on the other side. When Chief of Staff Rachel Constantine interjects and lays down the law, President Clinton calls the shots, but each will have their place.

NOTE: This movie was shot during the Clinton Presidency, so there are cuts of President Clinton and lots of CNN. CNN was mockingly called the Clinton News Network due to their gross fawning of Bubba.

At a social function that night, Ellie and Palmer continue their debate on God versus Science in what for me is the heart of this movie:

NOTE: I desperately wanted to post this clip, but the upload is blocked from playback when posted on other sites. Be sure to watch it.

Palmer Joss: Did you love your father?

Ellie Arroway: What?

Palmer Joss: Your dad. Did you love him?

Ellie Arroway: Yes, very much.

Palmer Joss: Prove it.

I'm not going to lie; I cry every time I watch that scene. Here are two people on completely different ends of the belief spectrum, yet they clearly love one another. They can show that love through their calm regard and respect for each other. It is beautiful.

Pagers go off before we can continue (yes, those 1990s beeping devices), alerting everyone to return to the White House. President Clinton has called an emergency meeting because the schematics reveal a transportation system, showing a capsule with a human inside. President Clinton decides they will build it, and a new kind of confrontation begins. Drumlin, Scientific Advisor to the President, resigns from his position to become a candidate to be the person to go. He again finds a way to jump in front of Ellie and take credit from her.

A selection committee is formed to select the best candidate, which ends up being Drumlin. Ellie is upset with Palmer because she feels he sabotaged her selection by getting her to state that she does not believe in God. She tells Palmer that the selection is wrong by highlighting another actual conflict we face: Telling the truth to people versus telling people what they want to hear. This is precisely what Drumlin did to earn the selection.

Billions of dollars later, the machine is built at Cape Canaveral. Thousands of people watch as NASA runs a test on the device. Drumlin joins the test, taking advantage of the limelight. As one NASA member in the Control Room puts it, "that's what we call an overcooked ham," a line that cracks me up. Ellie is in the Control Room, watching when she recognizes a character that she had seen twice before - an evangelical preacher named Joseph. She had first seen him outside the V.L.A. preaching in protest of science. Later, Ellie sees him at a protest in front of a hotel where the reception was held. She calls a security breach and gets on a private channel with Drumlin. She manages to get Drumlin to identify Joseph, who calls out the breach. Crewmembers manage to tackle him, but Joseph detonates a suicide vest bomb in the chaos, destroying the machine and killing everyone in the machine's tower.

Returning to her residence after Drumlin's funeral, Ellie receives a message to call Hadden. Now aboard the Mir Space station to extend his life as long as possible from cancer, Hadden teaches Ellie the first rule of government spending. "Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?" He has shown Ellie that a second machine was built in secret in Japan. Hadden has bought the company that helped construct the second machine and uses this to get Ellie to pilot the second capsule.

Ellie has yet another argument with the control crew over them breaking the machine's specs and installing a seat and survival gear. This is one of many situations where Ellie is confronted. She has the opportunity to choose faith but instead deflects in the name of science. She is overruled, so she enters the capsule and buckles in as the machine starts.

During the power-up sequence, Ellie first reports vibrations in the chair, then the floor turns translucent. As the power increases, Ellie starts to lose contact due to the interference. A light begins inside the machine that gets larger and brighter, sending out pulses. Afraid that something is wrong, the control team is about to abort when Kent says he can hear Ellie, reporting that she is good to go. Now at 100%, the capsule is released.

Ellie travels through a series of wormholes, occasionally making brief stops. She first arrives at Vega, then arrives at another planet, overlooking a city on the planet's night side. She begins traveling through another wormhole when she notices the Cracker Jack compass from Palmer is calmly floating. She unbuckles and calmly floats. The chair sheers from the bolts and flies to the ceiling of the capsule. It is completely calm and quiet inside.

Finally, Ellie arrives at her destination. An environment is created that represents Pensacola at night. A figure approaches, and as it gets close, it had taken the form of her deceased father, who died when she was 9. Trying to rationalize it, she first thinks it isn't real. This is a hallucination caused by the beings scanning her brain. All the while, the being talks to her calmly, explaining the system she traveled in was made millions of years before its kind used it to make meet other species. It tells her that some civilizations accept the meeting, but others do not. As they talk, the being tells Ellie that humans are an interesting species in their ability to have the most beautiful dreams while having the most horrifying nightmares. He also notes that humans feel totally alone but know they aren't alone.

Then it is time to go. Elite protests, wanting to know more, but the being informs her that this is how things are done: First, a small step that she has taken, then another step sometime later. To comfort Ellie, it says the same thing her father told her all those years ago on the Ham radio - "small moves."

Ellie returns to chaos in the control room. She learns that to them, and recorded by over 40 different cameras, Ellie fell straight through and didn't go anywhere. An inquiry is put together, lead by Kitz. In her testimony, Ellie is presented by an alternate theory from Kitz utilizing Occom's Razor. Hadden faked the entire thing for unknown reasons. He presses her to admit that this is the truth. To the surprise of everyone in the room, Ellie concedes that this may be the truth. Kitz demands she retracts her testimony, but Ellie says she cannot:

The session ends with Ellie in the hallway where she sees Palmer. They embrace and walk out of the Capitol together to a crowd of thousands in support of Ellie. As they enter a car to leave, reporters as Palmer what he thinks. He answers:

As a person of faith I'm bound by a different covenant than Doctor Arroway. But our goal is one and the same: the pursuit of Truth. I for one believe her.

Contact is a movie that I absolutely love. It presents a reality where science, religion, and politics intertwine to create complicated dynamics when pursuing the same goal - the pursuit of Truth. It highlights that Science and God can and often coexist not only in our world but also within ourselves. The movie asks the viewer to look at an event and determine when is the right time to apply logic and when it is the right time to go on faith. It illustrates how dynamic humanity is; when we accept our hearts and minds together, we are all the better for it.

Warp 9 on the SciFi Drive!


Next Review: Oblivion (2013)

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