starring Jodie Foster, James Woods, Tom Skerrit and Matthew McConaughey
directed by Robert Zemeckis
Contact caused a great stir when it was released last Fall because it is a great story, and with Jodie Foster in it it features a great actress. Based on a novel by Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, who sadly could not live to se the film, the story champions a cause close to Sagan’s heart, extraterrestrial life.
At the same time the picture nicely puts into relief the possible problems to the world today with the discover of intelligent life outside our small, blue orb.
Is the discovery of intelligent, extraterrestrial life a good thing after all, or a bad thing? Would it cause tears of hope or suicidal panic? (Remember what happened with Orson Welles radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on Halloween Night 1938.)
Think about it. We are approaching the Millennium, the year 2000, upon which many religious people place special apocalyptic importance. The United Statesis a very religious nation. Nest, the U.S. is the last remaining superpower, and there is high possibility that any such extraterrestrial discovery might first be interpreted either as a sign from God, or else as a threat to American’s international position. The American President has religious advisors in addition to science advisors, security advisors, foreign policy advisors, economic advisors, and press and media advisors. Obviously in such a country, with its size, diverse population and history nothing is simple, and everything is subject to the push and pull of political factions and interests as well as to the inertia of bureaucracy.
The movie shows nicely this interaction as a lone female scientist, Jodie Foster, swims against a sea of (mostly male) political and religious interests that do not exactly fit with her pure scientific perspective.
The long and the short of it is that Foster is selected by make the trip through space to met with an alien intelligence that contacted the earth by sending back an old television broadcast signal, but with a hidden message buried inside the signal - plans for building a transportation device. She has to enter the device to travel through a wormhole to the relatively near-by Vega star system. Would you volunteer for such a thing? Not me, probably.
The problem is that when she returns to earth, no one believes the fantastic tale she has to tell. Nobody believes that she actually traveled anywhere at all because, to their eyes, the device did not work.
As a scientist, Foster’s character has a kind of spiritual awakening which I think was not at all part of Sagan’s book originally, but it makes for more interesting cinema. I could be wrong.
Tom Skerrit, playing the President’s science advisor, is a great character actor. You might not know his name, although is face will be familiar.
James Woods, playing the President’s National Security Advisor, is a great, strong actor. And a little creepy.
Matthew McConaughey, however, gives a less-than-impressive performance as the President’s spiritual, or ethics advisor.