Contact (1997) : Journey to the heart of Universe

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Brilliant performance by Jodie Foster is what makes this film must watch

Have you ever enjoyed an opening sequence of a film so much that you wished it never ended. Contact’s opening sequence is absolutely brilliant and for about two minutes you are lost in its awesomeness as the visuals zooms out of Earth into far end of the universe.

Robert Zemeckis’s (director of Forrest Gump) Contact happens to be one of my favorite science fiction films. Sure it doesn’t have lead protagonist battling in space or stranded in another planet to stay alive, it doesn’t have a magnanimous black hole into which our hero falls. Or a killer robot hellbent on eliminating our protagonist. No! but its a satisfying film to say the least. It doesn’t answer anything but help us get comfortable with our unawareness.

Towards the end Dr Ellie Arroway played by Jodie Foster, talking to a bunch of school kids, says that she will tell them one thing about the universe. That its big. Bigger than anything we ever imagined. And if its just us.. seems like an awful waste of space.

Indeed! and this film indulges in such metaphysical debates mostly. Based on the book by the brilliant Carl Sagan, Contact intersects science, religion and politics in a world turned upside down by the prospect of an Alien Contact.

*Moderate Spoilers*

More than Aliens, this story is about Dr Ellie Arroway. Incredibly Intelligent and amazingly driven Ellie, has dedicated her life in search for Extra Terrestrial for she believes that we aren’t alone out here. Once government cancels her research citing it as waste of money, She seeks private funding to continue her research in ‘ET hunting’. The executives dismiss her project as Science Fiction. That’s when you see the glimpse of a genius and the driven scientist. ‘yeah! that’s crazy’ she exclaims as she slams her file on the table and breaks into a terrific monologue. ‘I heard a couple of guys wanting to build a machine that flies like bird. Crazy right? Rockets to the moon and mission to mars. Science fiction of course’. ‘Look’ she says ‘I only wish you to have a tiny bit of vision. To look at the big picture and take a chance on something that might be impactful in history of humankind’. And tada! There’s her funding.

(Mahn! Jodie Foster is just amazing in every screen she is in)

EllieFour years later, unable to deliver on her promises, she faces shutdown. That’s when she hears overwhelming noises from a star system well outside our cosmic neighborhood… The first signs of a Contact. Her antennas had picked up signals from a star system Vega, 25 light years away. And apparently, the signals aren’t random but are coded messages for the humankind. The world goes crazy. Along comes religious fanatics claiming it to be ‘message from God’, mischievous security adviser and unfriendly bureaucrats claiming government rights on those data. Ah! It becomes a circus.

The coded message urges the recipient to build a machine which might allow one person to sit inside and presumably travel to them. After a certain hiccup, Dr Ellie finds herself inside a pod chosen to be the ambassador for earth. The pod vibrates, she sees translucent light and boom! she is passing through wormholes after wormholes, which seems like some kind of transit system, witnessing the universe in all its glory. Once when it stops she finds herself in a world she dreamed of as a child, she doesn’t gets her answers there but an awareness that humans aren’t the only ones and that is the first step.

Once back on earth, to her shock, she realizes the pod didn’t go anywhere instead just fell through the machine. For the people on earth, nothing had happened, they didn’t see her vanish but fall straight into the safety net. The eighteen hours of journey she made on that pod could have been a delusion.

The Machine they created on instruction from Aliens that would transport our heroine.

Contact has lot of debates between science and faith. A priest Joss Palmer played by Mathew McConnoghey asks in a TV interview ‘Are we happier? Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the Web, and at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history.’ He is a man of faith and Dr Arroway a student of science and certain dialogs between them are provoking.

In the end, the state refuses to believe her saying ”you do not have proof for us to believe you”. She agrees that the logical evidences disapprove her statement but then insists what she saw and felt was real. And this means her experience has to be taken on faith, and difficult predicament for the protagonist who had spent her life dismissing such faith. One thing that irks me is that why didn’t they just send another person through it, you know to verify her statement. Well, its a movie. So!

Apart from that, this movie is dedicated to Carl Sagan, a person who taught a generation to be curious and to explore. An idol of mine, he  explained that us humans have so limited thinking that we are hiding ourselves from knowing the universe and exploring it. The movie makes us realize how small we are in the universe. How insignificant we are. How obscure we are.

In the vast tracts of cosmos, our Earth is nothing but a pale blue dot.

Watch Contact Trailer

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2 thoughts on “Contact (1997) : Journey to the heart of Universe

  1. Gaming Backlog

    I have this on DVD and love it. The opening sequence that you talked about is one that I enjoy showing to people who don’t seem to grasp how small we all are. Then again, I doubt that any of us completely comprehend our place in the universe, or how minuscule we are. Our planet is a spec of dust, an invisible atom in the grand scale of the universe.

    Reply

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