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Contact (1997)

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Whereas I thought Contact did a great job in exploring the need for acceptance of other's beliefs whilst also highlighting that lack of faith is an equally valid belief system.

I wouldn't say 'lack of faith.' Ultimately, Jodie Foster's character's agnosticism is justified but she realises she does need faith in *something* rather than simply relying on a scientific prognosis for her experiences. Characters with faith in nothing ultimately come out of the film very hollow (as do some, admittedly, who have misguided faith)

A great film about faith, I think, doesn't simply have to be about religious experience.

Phil.

Edited by Shantih

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I would agree with you that not all films about faith are about religious experience. Now, is all faith about religious experience?

Could you expand on what you mean by faith for Jodie Foster's character? I would call her character an aetheist, not an agnostic. I think she has had a faith of sorts all through the film - she believes in the existence of extra-terrestials. This belief does not change, only she has scientific proof of it by the end. Also, I would say that relying on "scientific prognosis for her experiences" is not at all simple, and is a belief system that needs to be respected as well. It doesn't mean that she has all the answers, just that she believes the answers exist although she/we might not have the capacity to know or understand them yet/ever.

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Could you expand on what you mean by faith for Jodie Foster's character?
Edited by Shantih

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She needs to hold on to the experience she had in the machine because of its huge personal bearing upon her. But her scientific beliefs would demand she let go of it, because of the huge weight of scientific evidence against it. And that's why I say she has gained 'faith' by the film's end.

spoilers1.gif

I would have preferred for the revelation that the camera recorded "hours worth" of static to have been left out of the movie. This revelation acts a scientific corroboration of Ellie's account of events. I'm not asserting that a belief is better or more admirable depending on how little evidence there is for it, but Contact is in many ways about Ellie's break from basing what she believes on the hard evidence of readouts, graphs, recordings and signals which can be discussed by others. The belief which she eventually acquires is the belief that we can (perhaps must) form beliefs from other sources than the scientifically accredited. Even though Ellie has no knowledge of the sole scientific back-up for her account of events during the time that she was off the radar of science (indeed she is shown the footage captured by the camera, but is mislead about how long the video ran for), it still grates me that her story has any leg to stand on besides her own belief in it.

Fortitude - Aliens? Dumbo? My Left Foot?

Edited by Ben

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I would have preferred for the revelation that the camera recorded "hours worth" of static to have been left out of the movie.

I agree completley: a massive cop out. I guess the film-makers defence would be that the evidence is held away from Foster herself, and yet she still hangs on to her belief in her experience. But it takes something away from us as an audience, who should have been left in the same predicament. Our loss, literally!

Phil.

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But it takes something away from us as an audience, who should have been left in the same predicament. Our loss, literally!

Well yes. On one level we should be appreciating Ellie's journey in and of itself, and not worry about where we the audience are left. I felt that the "hours of static" revelation actually raises some good questions: does the revelation devalue Ellie's firm belief, or does it do the opposite? Is the revelation in some way making the case that scientific methods can corroborate beliefs which are initially arrived at from deeply "un-scientific" sources, not merely acting as a bridge between "science" and "religion", but between head and heart?

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Ben wrote:

: Contact is in many ways about Ellie's break from basing what she believes on the

: hard evidence of readouts, graphs, recordings and signals which can be discussed

: by others. The belief which she eventually acquires is the belief that we can

: (perhaps must) form beliefs from other sources than the scientifically accredited.

Hmmm ... so what would you make of the original novel, which concludes with

Ellie discovering proof of the existence of a Creator in a code hidden in the digits of

pi

?

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I don't feel the revelation of the video tape lasting 8 hours belittles her belief. The film, after all, is entirely her perspective. The opening shot is the universe as seen in her eye. She can believe (with or without proof) but why should we believe her?

spoilers1.gif

it is not proof enough for those around her in the scientific and political communities. Therefore, if she continues to claim that her experience is true then she will have to undermine her atheist/scientific status because she believes something which not only does she have no evidence for her, but those around her have dismissed

This is her situation throughout the film. She is constantly berated by her fellow scientists for wasting her potential on chasing little green men. They cut off her funding, make jokes about her, and when they finally pay attention to her - when they (mostly portrayed as believing in a deity or sympathetic to those beliefs), not she, receive the scientific proof they needed and which she believed existed since childhood - she is still sidelined and seen as a bit of a loon. Remember that for the first third or so of the film she has absolutely no scientific evidence on which to base her beliefs. So to say that

Contact is in many ways about Ellie's break from basing what she believes on the hard evidence of readouts, graphs, recordings and signals which can be discussed by others. The belief which she eventually acquires is the belief that we can (perhaps must) form beliefs from other sources than the scientifically accredited

I feel is a distortion of what Foster's character goes through.

Personally I don't feel she lacks scientific proof. Although her final experience isn't recorded all the events surrounding it are - the machine, the messages sent with instructions to build it, etc. That her final experience isn't recorded doesn't mean there is a lack of proof because it doesn't exist alone, it continues from the previous events and is part of a whole. It's just that it hasn't been fully explained yet - which, in itself requires belief. Such as her initial belief that aliens existed before she had any proof.

I also think that scientific explanations often require and do not undermine belief. I don't see them as opposite ends of a scale, but can be quite complimentary. I don't think scientific proof in Contact is about

[corroboration of] beliefs which are initially arrived at from deeply "un-scientific" sources, not merely acting as a bridge between "science" and "religion", but between head and heart?

rather it is about what those beliefs imply for us on a practical level. I think that this is definitely true of Foster's character, who doesn't search for scientific evidence for proof in and of itself - because that teaches us nothing - but to learn the consequences of the existence of her beliefs.

And hey, NOW we're getting into interesting territory...

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Great film about faith and science needing to walk together ... thought at the end she was definitely more agnostic in her faith. Realizes sceince can only explain so much and often takes the flavor out of life with all of the explanation ... we know why and how all the time these days, yet don't marvel in the beauty of it all.

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I don't feel the revelation of the video tape lasting 8 hours belittles her belief. The film, after all, is entirely her perspective. The opening shot is the universe as seen in her eye. She can believe (with or without proof) but why should we believe her?

spoilers1.gif

It's not so much the effect on her belief that bothered me. Like I say, the evidence is denied to her so it doesn't spoil her character arc. But it does deny *us* the ability to choose for ourselves what happened. (Until that point I was quite happy to accept that she hadn't undergone any real journey. Not just because of the physical improbibility of faster than light travel - but also because what's important about the journey isn't *where* she goes but what she *experiences.* And for that to have happened, she didn't need to go anywhere. She just needed to come to peace with herself. My assumption, then, was that the journey was an illusion generated by the machine.) It's more a problem with the drama of the piece than its physics or spiritulaity - good character drama makes us undergo the same experience as the characters themselves, even if we have slightly more information than they have.

She is constantly berated by her fellow scientists for wasting her potential on chasing little green men.  They cut off her funding, make jokes about her, and when they finally pay attention to her - when they (mostly portrayed as believing in a deity or sympathetic to those beliefs), not she, receive the scientific proof they needed and which she believed existed since childhood - she is still sidelined and seen as a bit of a loon.

Very true, and I confess I had forgotten some of those early scenes. However, that does remind me of another part of her central struggle. That she has dedicated her life to science and the exploration of *out there* to avoid dealing with the death of her father and coming to terms with herself as a person. In other words, avoiding what's *in here.* Which is basically what the search for spirituality, as opposed to the search for alien life, is all about.

I don't see them as opposite ends of a scale, but can be quite complimentary.

Absolutely. But I feel Foster's character *does* operate on one end of that scale. Her lifestyle and search for alien life have come as a substitute for belief because that's what she wants. Similarly, there are plenty of people who reject the pursuit of science entirely because they don't think it can reveal any real 'truths' to them. A load of old rubbish. The ideal, and what I believe the point of Contact is, is that finding the balance is important not just in becoming a 'well rounded' person but because that's what being human is all about. To have all of one and none of the other makes us something less than complete.

Phil.

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It's been a while since I saw the film, so my memories of it are kind of foggy, but here's what I remember thinking:

I was frustrated with the film's "maverick" tone toward religion. It seemed to lean in the direction that, yes, there are powers at work beyond our imaginations, and yes there is a benevolence and purposefulness in the universe. But it also seemed to portray an individualistic religious perspective...

McConaughey's character was a "believer," but only so far as belief gave him good vibes and an off-puttingly cocky arrogance. He didn't seem at all concerned about the ethics of his behavior, and the fact that jumping into bed with someone on the first or second date seemed like a grand idea to him. He's like, "Sure, I believe, but I'm not going to go for that kind of belief that means I need to be committed to anything other than, oh, this nice feeling of optimism and friendliness in the universe."

The whole film was so wishy-washy, and the conclusion such a touchy-feely, feel-good spirtuality rather than a revelation that would leave us with any sense of responsibility... not to mention the fact that the characters connected with any kind of "organized" religion end up engaging in psychotic, violent acts... I've seen the film twice, and both times came away frustrated and a bit disgusted with the whole thing.

Nice opening shot, though.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

My review. I haven't seen the film again since then.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Hmmm... Well, yes, I do agree that the film's presentation of Christianity, and indeed any belief system, is skewed to either the fundamentalist or the wishy-washy, but I disagree that it weighs itself towards science instead. Foster's pursuit of her life's ambition is as desperate and empty an existance as that of the religious crazies around her: her peace comes from starting on the path of personal spirituality. Admittedly, though, Hollywood does the 'first step' business a lot better than actually exploring belief systems but that doesn't make it any less of an important step to recognise: and perhaps one we Christians often forget we ever made.

Phil.

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Incidentally, in the book, there are FIVE people who go into space, not just Ellie.

My favorite line on this film was in Libby Gelman-Waxner's (AKA Paul Rudnick's) Premiere column (and I paraphrase): Contact is the sort of movie in which all the world's religions agree on a single God, just so they can gang up on Jodie Foster.

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McConaughey's character was a "believer," but only so far as belief gave him good vibes and an off-puttingly cocky arrogance

Hehehe... I'd suspect that this has more to do with McConaughey than the character he played. He's the epitomy of smug.

I can understand why you might be frustrated at the portrayal of religious people in the film, and it is a weakness of an otherwise pretty classy movie. However, look at it this way: forget the religious aspect, his is a poorly written male side character whose only purpose in the film is to develop Foster's character for the audience. In my book that makes for an interesting turn of events. Can you think of any other sci-fi film that has a woman as the central character? Barbarella is about the only one that comes to mind.

Undoubtedly if he had been better developed then it would have made Foster's character doubly interesting. However, it is a mainstream Hollywood movie and not Bergman, which would be a more appropriate place for a discussion between individuals who identify with a secular or scientific way of seeing the world. As it is, the depiction of the dedicated scientist who scoffs at everyone elses beliefs is equally one dimensional.

Foster's pursuit of her life's ambition is as desperate and empty an existance as that of the religious crazies around her: her peace comes from starting on the path of personal spirituality

I think saying that it's a desperate or empty existance is a little extreme, and perhaps judgemental? Also, I don't see any sign of her having peace by the end of the movie. In fact we are left completely unsure of what comes next for her - will she continue with the same struggles against burocracy and narrow-mindedness that she has experienced throughout her career?

That she has dedicated her life to science and the exploration of *out there* to avoid dealing with the death of her father and coming to terms with herself as a person. In other words, avoiding what's *in here.* Which is basically what the search for spirituality, as opposed to the search for alien life, is all about.

I dunno... I think it's kind of dangerous to turn around her story and make it about her father's death. Furthermore, I don't think she has avoided "dealing with it," that it is always incorporated into her life in one way or another - yeah, sure, but that's how death (and memory) is, it's meaning changes. Also, what does "coming to terms with herself as a person" actually mean? I think she was a highly moral person before her experience, and her search for alien life is part of this. I think, too, that it's dangerous to place limitations on the definition of spirituality. Her search for alien life, as she says, is to find out if we are alone in the universe, to find meaning. Therefore is not her search for alien life a form of spirituality? Does it not sound familiar?

As for the revelation of the 8hr tape: look at this discussion. Apparently it doesn't settle anything besides that something, it's unclear what, happened - the meaning of it, for her as for us, remains open. I was thinking yesterday that her little trip into the world of lights and fantasy is kind of representative of our cinematic experience. I mean, we know we went to the cinema for a few hours. We saw and learnt things. But what tangible thing do we have when we come out (besides a ticket stub which doesn't even begin to communicate our experience)?

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I think saying that it's a desperate or empty existance is a little extreme, and perhaps judgemental? Also, I don't see any sign of her having peace by the end of the movie. In fact we are left completely unsure of what comes next for her - will she continue with the same struggles against burocracy and narrow-mindedness that she has experienced throughout her career?

Not in the slightest. I'm not saying the pursuit of alien life is an empty existance but for Foster's character it *has* become that because she's sacrificed almost everything else in its pursuit. As I remarked before, she is an extreme example of this type of character. And I do think she has peace at the end of the film. Not in a political/social sense but in being able to go finally go forward in life putting her scientific exploration alongside a personal life, rather than having it in place of one.

I dunno... I think it's kind of dangerous to turn around her story and make it about her father's death.

I would say her character makes no sense without her drive being sparked by her father's death. She was an explorer before he died, but his death marks the moment when she shuts out everything else *but* exploration. The fact that scenes with her father 'bookend' her search for alien life (i.e. we see him with her at the film's beginning, and it is he who comes to her at the end as the ultimate proof) is the clue that it's him who has always been central to that quest.

Also, what does "coming to terms with herself as a person" actually mean?  I think she was a highly moral person before her experience, and her search for alien life is part of this.

I wasn't questionning her moral makeup but the fact that her life has been driven solely on one particular aim. Surely, however driven we are in any sort of activity, if we put that at the forefront of our lives and reject connecting with people emotionally (rather than just on a *work* level, as Foster's character does) then we are something less than a complete person?

I was thinking yesterday that her little trip into the world of lights and fantasy is kind of representative of our cinematic experience.  I mean, we know we went to the cinema for a few hours.  We saw and learnt things.  But what tangible thing do we have when we come out (besides a ticket stub which doesn't even begin to communicate our experience)?

An excellent anaology, I like that a lot. Of course, it's a lot easier to convey something of that experience to others because they can go see the same film. Not that that's any guarantee they'll come out with the same experience!

Phil.

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gigi wrote:

: Can you think of any other sci-fi film that has a woman as the central character?

: Barbarella is about the only one that comes to mind.

Well, these four films spring instantly to mind.

: I think it's kind of dangerous to turn around her story and make it about her

: father's death.

Ah, but that IS what the story's about -- to a point, at least! As I recall, in the original novel, Ellie discovers proof of the existence of a Creator -- and thus proof that her atheistic beliefs about her cosmic origins were wrong -- at the exact same moment that she discovers the man she always believed was her biological father was actually NOT her biological father. Her relationship with her father, and her search for him, is completely interwoven with her search for God, the aliens, and meaning.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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oooh... i can hardly believe i forgot about the alien lot.

funny how i didn't really think of terminator as sci-fi... possibly because i've seen far too many episodes of star trek for my own good. maybe it's because it's laden with action, but yeah, I suppose it is.

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Roger Ebert revisits this film so that he can add it to his "Great Movies" series, and then proceeds to tear its logic apart.

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Roger Ebert revisits this film so that he can add it to his "Great Movies" series, and then proceeds to tear its logic apart.

Ebert says, suggesting that CONTACT is inspiring regardless of its logical failings, "If all movies had to withstand the test of logic, where would that leave us?"

Well, perhaps we'd be left with a handful of some very, very well thought-out movies. But not all logical failings are equal, and the logical failings of CONTACT are a big, big problem, bigger than Ebert admits. (And, logical failings aside, it's not a work of impressive craftsmanship.)

Edited by Ryan H.

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Roger Ebert revisits this film so that he can add it to his "Great Movies" series, and then proceeds to tear its logic apart.

Ah, Contact. I've often had the experience where I only kinda-liked a movie until the last twenty minutes or so, but this movie is the only example I can think of where the opposite happened. I loved everything about Contact right up to the point where they built the thingum, and then it went way off the rails.

Edited by NBooth

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Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review:

 

It could be said that Men in Black takes the National Enquirer approach to extraterrestrial life whereas Contact comes on like CNN, literally as well as figuratively. And though I don’t necessarily prefer the National Enquirer to CNN, my heart as well as my head favors Men in Black over Contact. Or, to put it a different way, because Men in Black ironically appropriates and thereby honors the tabloid print journalism that greets us at every checkout counter, it has more to say to us, even as lighthearted spoof, than the ponderous if sometimes exciting parable of Contact, which embraces with no trace of irony CNN and other TV staples as guarantees of actuality.

 

The two movies’ levels of aspiration only make this distinction more acute. Where Sonnenfeld is creating a buddy action adventure for boys, Zemeckis aims for a spiritual odyssey with a space-age, atheistic Joan of Arc heroine (Jodie Foster). But the romantic interest in each case implies a different story. Men in Black‘s Linda Fiorentino, as a plucky morgue pathologist cruised by Will Smith’s character, is an unstereotypical delight (and the best argument for a sequel), but Contact‘s Matthew McConaughey as a hunky New Age Billy Graham groomed for Saint Jodie is an embarrassing sop to believers and an outright hoot. Where Sonnenfeld is hip enough to see through his own poses, Zemeckis is so sincere and square — suffering after Forrest Gump from the usual case of post-Oscar piety — that at certain junctures he’s jumped feetfirst into unintentional camp. Both movies begin and end in outer space, and both make explicit equations between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, but only Sonnenfeld manages to traverse this territory with the liberty of a free-floating bug. Zemeckis, for all the power of his storytelling and the urgency of his vision, ultimately becomes the prisoner of his own gravity. . . .

 

Some would call Robert Zemeckis a serious populist as well, but if he ever was one, that time has surely passed. By postulating stupidity as higher wisdom and reducing American history to a history of American TV, Forrest Gump qualifies as fake populism from beginning to end. And though Contact strikes me as a more honorable (if less effective) effort — passionately extolling the virtues of scientific exploration — the specter of Gump still hangs over this movie, which likewise sees the media as the bedrock of our shared reality. Even the opening sequence implies a mystical association of the cosmos with media history: this striking whirlwind tour of interplanetary space is accompanied by radio evocations of everything from rock to Walter Winchell. It winds up in the eye of Ellie Arroway, a little girl in Wisconsin speaking over her shortwave radio to Pensacola, then asking her beloved father if they can talk to Saturn and her dead mother as well. Soon afterward she also loses her father, and her quest for origins is fully in place. . . .

 

Zemeckis started out as a Mad-style satirist, and it’s possible that he’s trying to recapture some of that impulse in the various media circuses of Contact. But if he is, that strain doesn’t wash with all the heavy-duty high seriousness. Sonnenfeld is able to bracket Jones’s longing for his absent wife in Men in Black as an isolated somber moment without skipping a beat, but Zemeckis can’t engineer the same sort of flip-flops without the strategy boomeranging out of control. Even Foster’s performance, good as it is, skirts self-parody when it recalls some of her other pictures (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs, Nell) by positing her as some kind of middlebrow authentication of earnest female self-empowerment. (Even so, she fares much better as a role model than Angela Bassett, who’s less a character here than a form of demographic appeasement.) The clearest stretch of Zemeckis satire in Contact – a survey of the crackpot carnival that’s gathered around the earthlings’ construction of a Vega-designed spacecraft — is on all counts the weakest, both as an unimaginative rip-off of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole and as a belaboring of the obvious.

 

This doesn’t mean that Contact absolutely capsizes. The alien spacecraft itself superbly combines speculative design and sheer folly, recalling some of the best moments in Metropolis and Things to Come, and some of the high-tech human equipment is almost as much fun. The space journey itself may culminate in a vision of paradise that’s strictly southern California, but there are plenty of excitements along the way and a fair number of entertaining ambiguities to mull over afterward (not all of them plausible). And though Contact is at least an hour longer than Men in Black, Zemeckis tells a skillful, streamlined story right to the end. . . .

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"The space journey itself may culminate in a vision of paradise that’s strictly southern California."

 

laugh.png laugh.png laugh.png laugh.png

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In my opinion, this is one of the best movies. Where child-like wonder meets adult science, argument, and religion. I encountered God watching this movie my parents in the theater when I was 13-years-old and it remains a God-touchstone for me going forward as a steward for God's Word wherever we encounter it. Now as a pastor of an ELCA church in small town Oregon, I am wondering where/how I can share this God-Word-Movie experience in a way that matters.

Edited by TBeane

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