I spend a lot of time watching movies, they are one of the few things in life that I enjoy. I like a lot of movies, love a couple dozen, and consider a few to be life changing. That sounds cheesy but there are a few movies that have changed my life after watching them.
Contact is a movie that changed my life and I had only watched it once before I saw it on Netflix two nights ago. Religion, outer space, the cosmos, astrophysics, the Universe; it has consumed my curiosity since the spring of 2006, when I first saw Contact.
I was a pudgy socially awkward 15 year old freshman in high school anxious for summer vacation to start. The last four classes of the school year in my freshman English class taught by Ms. Hilliard were spent watching Contact. I don’t remember why we watched the space movie in an English class but I vividly remember watching the movie 10 years ago.
Growing up I never went to church with my family, but I had a bible and I did believe in the Christian God. I was homophobic, “moral”, and believed in the afterlife. That way of thinking began to change my freshman year of high school. I took biology for my science class and in that class we learned about creationism and evolution. I remember thinking evolution made so much more sense. There was clear evidence supporting it and it was widely accepted in the scientific community. I then began to think about a pregnant virgin, walking on water, putting a fuck ton of animals on one boat, and that millions of people believed in a completely different God than I did.
Later that year I watched Contact at school in which the debate between science and religion played a big role in the story. This movie completely grabbed me because of the engrossing story line in which humans received a message from a star (Vega) 26 light years away that included blue prints for a single person space ship to travel to somewhere in space, most likely to an alien species. The tens of thousands of documents sent to Earth were encoded in a video transmission sent by Hitler in the 1930’s proving that the alien species received the message.
This was the first time I thought about the scale of the universe and that simple probability shows there are millions of other civilizations or planets with life in just our Milky Way galaxy. Did God create those life forms too? Did the prophets or the religious scripts even know about space and the universe?
In the movie a worldwide debate over building the machine takes place. Should we travel to the star 26 light years away? Will the aliens take us over? Do the aliens believe in God? Is science separating us from each other and God? The machine was built, but destroyed by a religious fanatic (played my Gary Busey’s son). Matthew McConaugehy’s character is a priest, or father, or religious guy, believed science doesn’t make humans happier. Jodie Foster’s character wanted to be the one to travel in the space ship but after McConaughey outted her as an atheist the decision committee selected someone else because they wanted a believer to represent the 95% of the world population who believes in God (I know this movie was made in 1997, but I find it hard to believe 95% of the population believes in God).
After the creepy Busey offspring detonated a bomb, he destroyed the ship and killed the passenger. But a weird billionaire had a second space ship built in secret in Japan just in case something happened to the first one. Jodie Foster was selected to be the passenger. The space ship is just a ball with enough room for one person. The ball is held over a huge structure of rings that spin amongst each other that open a worm hole. The ball is dropped in the worm whole that leads to the Vega star where the message was sent from. Next to the star Jodi sees a quick glimpse of a space ship and then gets sucked into a highway of worm holes and pops out in a solar system next to a planet where she can signs of a civilization. She wakes up on a beach and talks to an alien in the form of her dead father (David Morse). The alien explains that the first time a species travels to the planet, they have their memories obtained and talk to the alien in their species form. The process of becoming incorporated into the interspecies gathering/communication is a slow process and has been for millions of years. When asked about the worm hole transportation system, the alien said they do not know who made it but it has been around for a long time. Foster then looks up and sees many ships flying in and out of worm holes showing that species across the galaxy and probably universe do travel to each other. Foster is then sent home.
Her travels lasted 18 hours to her, but on Earth the ball she was in just fell through the rings and landed in a manner of seconds. To the people on earth it didn’t look like she went anywhere. Foster then fell victim to a congressional hearing were they berate her because she says she traveled through worm holes and talked to aliens but didn’t have any proof. Congress used facts against her while she asked them to have faith and believe her. Boom. That’s how you tie up a story. Foster is an atheist scientist asking people to have faith and believe her even though she has no proof.
I am still an atheist, or if I want to be polite, agnostic.
This movie was trying to show that people of science and religion can live together peacefully. Contact forced me think about my beliefs and religion as a whole. It also opened up my curiosity about the universe. I took an astronomy class in college, the wall paper on my phone is the pale blue dot photo named by Carl Sagan, and the wall paper on my computer is of the NGC 6503 galaxy. In my spare time I look up hypothesis on the formation of earth’s moon. Whenever I want to feel insignificant, I get drunk and watch the most recent season of Cosmos.
I have been thinking about this movie non-stop since I watched it last week. I honestly believe it was the first domino in a series of events that changed how I think about life. Ten years ago I believed in God, loved George Bush, hated gay people and Arabs, and today I am much different. Watching Contact started that transformation.
Now that you know where my unfair negative judgments towards religious people and my love for space come from, I want to actually talk about the movie. Jodie Foster is great in the leading role, and McConaughey is surprisingly good in his role as the rationale religious guy. I remember even back in 2006 before I knew a lot about movies, seeing McConaughey on the screen and thinking, “not this fucking guy.” I was a part of the majority who thought McConaughey was the no shirt wearing rom com guy. Then the McConasissance happened. He ripped off like 4 good movies in a row and an all timer performance in the first season of True Detective. The guy is a good actor and I liked him in Contact. If I re-watched all of his old non rom com performances I bet I’d like them.
I like a lot of the other actors in the movie as well, David Morse (16 Blocks), Tom Skeritt (Alien), and Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation). With a decent cast, dope source material from the Carl Sagan novel, all this movie needed was a competent director, which it received. Director Robert Zemeckis had directed the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump leading up to Contact. There was a lot of good camera work, my favorite being the scene when Foster is driving her Jeep really quickly and stopping right in front of Tom Skeritt to confront him.
The incorporation of CNN broadcasts and clips of Bill Clinton press conferences was well done. They looked and sounded genuine showing how the building of this ship grabbed the interest of everyone.
My favorite part of this movie is the first scene. It starts with a view of Earth with current TV or radio playing in the back ground. The screen then zoomed out passed all of the planets in the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the local cluster, and into deeper and deeper space. As the camera gets farther and farther away from earth, the content of the programming playing in the back ground gets older and more dated representing how far those signals have traveled going at the speed of light. Eventually the sound stops signifying that sound traveling at the speed of light wouldn’t have reached that far yet.
The Universe is fucking huge and who are we to act like we know that it was created by a person, spirit, or idea known as God?