I was able to watch the TNT running of the movie Contact the other night and, just like the other times I’ve seen it, I was literally moved to tears. The character played by Jodie Foster, Dr. Ellie Arroway, absolutely epitomizes the kind of person I want to be. Her dedicated search for universal truth, and her faith in her ability to recognize it when she sees it, represents an almost perfect model for how I think a human should live his or her life.
As I said in a comment reply for my tribute to Carl Sagan, who wrote the book on which the movie is based:
We’ve spent all of our history pretending that we were the most important things in the universe, completely overlooking the fact that our true greatness resides in our ability to recognize our true place in the cosmos. Rather than thinking that we’ve been given the keys to the kingdom, we should see that what we’ve actually been given is the ability to make any key we wish – and the responsibility to use them wisely!
Ellie Arroway is one who recognizes these facts.
Ultimately, however, this movie is about faith and what it means to be a truly spiritual person. Throughout it runs a thread of apparent contradictions between science and religion, with both sides being manipulated by the power brokers in pursuit of their own not-so-visible agendas. But in the end, we see that there is no conflict between those in genuine pursuit of the truth, and that multiple perspectives only enhance and accelerate our efforts to achieve it.
This first clip is of the science versus religion – “need for proof” debate between Ellie Arroway and her on again, off again lover/nemesis, Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). It also reveals just how vulnerable she is to the vagaries of politics and religion when it comes to being assigned to pilot the mission that would not even exist if not for her brilliance.
The next clip includes Ellie’s mystical flight through a wormhole to meet with a representative of the alien race whose signal she was the first to hear. I really love the part where she says, “They should have sent a poet”. And the fact that the alien chose to appear in the form of her long dead father is especially touching. But the fact that all of this occurred in only fractions of a second in Earth time would prove later very troublesome indeed.
The next clip starts in the middle of the government inquiry where Ellie is forced to admit that she has no proof that what she says happened actually happened, and that she could, in fact, have hallucinated the whole thing. Imagine the courage required to stand your ground in the face of such monumental disbelief!
Sadly, in the real world she would have had to settle for maintaining her integrity as being reward enough. But in the movie, the welcoming arms of Palmer Joss, along with the huge crowd of supporting “believers,” was some nice icing on the cake. It would’ve also been nice if the government had released the information about the 18 hours of static she had recorded. Oh how they love their secrets!
The note “For Carl” at the end is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the mind and man that imagined this wonderful story.
If I had to point to something that soured the experience a bit for me, it would be the fact that they left out the search for the creator’s signature as described in the book. The subject came up in a part of her conversation with the alien that was left out of the movie. When Ellie discovered that his race, as advanced as they were, had not actually built the cosmic transit system she had used to get to him, the conversation quite naturally turned into a discussion of an “ultimate” intelligence, or God.
He said that every thoughtful species, including his own, sought answers to those same questions. It is the link that connects us all. He went on to say that his race was in the habit of seeking “the artist’s signature” hidden somewhere on his creation, and implied – without being specific – that it might be found in the solutions for mathematical constants like Pi, which humans have yet to completely define.
The original ending to the story reveals that while Ellie is sitting on the edge of the canyon glorying in the wonder of nature, she is also waiting for the super-computers her new fame has earned her to finally crunch down the number of Pi to the last decimal place.
When it finally does, it reveals a pattern in the numbers that spells out a message. And the message reads:
I Am That I Am
I want ice water.
More of my TV & Movie Classics