Saturday, 2 February 2013

Contact (1997)

I'm sure it'll come as a great shock to anyone who knows me, but I am a massive nerd. Especially over space and astronomy. As such, Carl Sagan is one of those people who I look to as an example of the best humanity had to offer. A brilliant scientist and a brilliant man, Sagan devoted his life to both learning and teaching about the cosmos and dedicated a notable amount of his work to the idea of humanity's first contact with other intelligent life. In that thread he wrote a novel about our first encounter, and based on that, we got Contact.

This is proper sci-fi. None of that Star trek or Star Wars bollocks where it's just soap-operas-in-space or Tolkien-in-space; but fiction grounded in science that's thought provoking and not just a succession of action sequences. Contact takes on a lot in terms of its message. It's a film about science and religion at heart, and thankfully it's not science vs religion for once. Go to any corner of the internet, no matter what the supposed topic of discussion is, and spend enough time there and you'll find people branding themselves as atheists and trying to tear the religious peoples a new one because they're "illogical". But science and faith aren't completely incompatible, and it takes a writer and a director as nuanced and empathetic as Carl Sagan and Robert Zemeckis respectively to get it right.

It's refreshing, as somewhat of an agnostic myself, to see something that gets to the heart of what both science and religion are about: finding and discovering truth. The message advocated here is that an unwavering extremist belief in either way on the existence of a god or higher power is ultimately damaging.

Jodie Foster kills it as the lead character; Dr Ellie Arroway is the determined but often cast into the background scientist who discovers the first radio message originating from life outside our solar system. As time goes on and she and her team decode the message it becomes clear that they are on the verge of making first real contact with what could be an intelligent alien species.

Many slated the film claiming it lacks payoff in the final act of its 2h30 runtime, but these people obviously miss the message and don't appreciate the beauty and significance of the scene they got instead of the one they wanted. With a visually stunning and emotionally moving closing act, I think Contact pays off in a way that many science fiction films can only achieve if they use a round of explosions and crazy monsters, but none are necessary here.

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