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Contact (1997)


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#1 Shantih

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 05:07 AM

QUOTE (gigi @ Aug 24 2004, 09:58 AM)
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.

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Edited by Shantih, 24 August 2004 - 05:08 AM.


#2 gigi

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 08:13 AM

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.

#3 Shantih

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 11:51 AM

QUOTE (gigi @ Aug 24 2004, 01:12 PM)
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.

That is an adequate summary of her beliefs throughout the film but misses the significant complication for her character after her experience in the machine.

spoilers1.gif

She is certain of the experience she underwent as it satisfies her as proof (she saw it, heard it and felt it literally and emotionally) However, it is not proof enough for those around her in the scientific and poltical 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. Her experience is no less real as a result, but her beliefs aren't compatible with a belief system where everyone holds true to exactly the same principles and the same basic truths (which is what the basis of science is: having a set of principles universally agreed upon and then hypothesising and experimenting to add to those principles)

Foster is as good a scientist at film's end as she is at the beginning, but realises she needs more than just that set of beliefs. 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.

QUOTE
This belief does not change, only she has scientific proof of it by the end.


No she doesn't. That's sort of the point smile.gif

QUOTE
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.


I agree, but the point Contact is making is that, as a belief system, it is rooted in the same personal experience and need for self fulfilment/purpose as religious faith.

QUOTE
If we are speaking of faith rightly so called, as one of the three theological virtues, it is a gift of God that necessarily has God and divine revelation as its object. Non-religious belief, and even belief in other religions, is not properly faith at all.


Yes... But most of these films mentionned here are more concerned with the general principle of faith rather than the Godly virtrue itself. And if we take the principle that many of our expressions of virutes on Earth are shadows and reflections of true virtues, sometimes only barely recognisable, then I think they're all valid and useful.

Phil.

Edited by Shantih, 24 August 2004 - 12:04 PM.


#4 Ben

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 06:10 PM

QUOTE (Shantih @ Aug 24 2004, 04:50 PM)
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, 24 August 2004 - 06:17 PM.


#5 Shantih

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 06:19 PM

QUOTE (Ben @ Aug 24 2004, 11:09 PM)
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!

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#6 Ben

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 06:35 PM

QUOTE
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?

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 12:09 AM

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
Spoiler
?

#8 gigi

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 08:48 AM

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

QUOTE
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

QUOTE
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

QUOTE
[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...

#9 Husker4theSpurs

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 12:46 PM

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.

#10 Shantih

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 01:21 PM

QUOTE (gigi @ Aug 25 2004, 01:47 PM)
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.

QUOTE
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.

QUOTE
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.

#11 Overstreet

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 01:47 PM

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.

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 04:09 PM

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

#13 Shantih

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 04:22 PM

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.

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 04:26 PM

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.

#15 gigi

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Posted 26 August 2004 - 07:21 AM

QUOTE
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.

QUOTE
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?

QUOTE
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)?

#16 Shantih

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Posted 26 August 2004 - 10:44 AM

QUOTE (gigi @ Aug 26 2004, 12:20 PM)
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.

QUOTE
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.

QUOTE
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?

QUOTE
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.

#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 August 2004 - 11:28 AM

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, 26 August 2004 - 11:29 AM.


#18 gigi

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Posted 27 August 2004 - 05:24 AM

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.

#19 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 12:15 PM

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

#20 Ryan H.

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 06:46 PM

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., 10 January 2012 - 06:49 PM.