Retrospective Film Review: Contact

Beginning with an extensive pull-back from Earth with all its cacophonous audio soup of TV, radio and communication signals and ending at the extreme boundaries of outer space – by which time all we hear is the faintest whispered static and white noise – Contact, based on the book by beloved astrophysicist Carl Sagan, very much the Brian Cox of his day, sets itself up to be the cerebral response to all the bug-hunt alien movies of yore.

Jodie Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a SETI researcher who is shocked one day to discover a signal being returned to our pale blue dot from the star Vega. The nature of the message and its contents are exciting enough, but the real meat of the film is derived from a conflict Arroway has, as Dr. Lector might have put it, deep within herself; she forms an uneasy romantic bond with Palmer Joss (man of the moment Matthew McConaughey) – a spiritual advisor to the stars, as it were – who in turn escalates up the ranks, eventually becoming the President’s right-hand mystic, just as Arroway begins a bullied fall from grace at the hands of the glory-hunting, former-sceptic David Drumlin (Tom Skeritt).

The Science Vs. Spirituality argument is intimately played out between the pair, and the scale, awe and wonder of the film’s physics is intelligently woven into the story. Alan Silvestri once more employs a mawkish score he unashamedly lifts from his own Forrest Gump themes, anchoring the movie to mass appeal and never letting the geekiness run away with the goods. Quite simply, Hollywood rarely deals with thematic content this vast and far-reaching in a mainstream movie anymore, certainly, in a post-911 environment (the film was made in 1997), the idea of one of the film’s sub-plots involving evangelical Christian terrorism would doubtless sit uneasily in the minds of movie-goers and studios alike. But Foster convinces as Ellie, vulnerable, intelligent, driven, and the film has as much to say on galactic existentialism as it has on misogyny and gender-discrimination.

Words: Ash Verjee