Contact is a Robert Zemeckis film from 1997 based on a novel by scientist Carl Sagan. Rather than review it, I’m going to copy Alex’s technique in discussing World War Z and just tell you what happens. Needless to say, there will be spoilers for Contact. Here’s the first: It sucks.
Jodie Foster plays a scientist. We know she is a scientist because she wears glasses. It is revealed in flashback that her dad died when she was nine, and she could have saved him if only she hadn’t been running in slow-motion.
But now she’s all grown up, with her own big hat and everything. She arrives in Puerto Rico and begins working at an Observatory where she listens for signals from aliens. Here she meets a nice man. We know he is nice because he is blind. She’s barely started to unpack when she falls in love with Matthew McConaughey, a condescending priest. At this point my mum left the room. Then a mean man shows up. We know he is mean because he has a moustache. The mean man stops her funding, explaining that extraterrestrial exploration is a bit of a waste of money given the Earthly problems that science ought to be tackling. The mean man is correct.
Except Jodie Foster is then vindicated when she hears a signal from outer space. James Woods arrives and takes her to President Bill Clinton. For some reason the government has invited a number of religious consultants to discuss this scientific breakthrough, including Matthew McConany. They all turn on Jodie Foster and stop just short of sarcastically calling her Mister Scientist. Her wardrobe then travels back in time and she goes to a party with Matthew O’Connaghy. They discuss god and she says she needs proof before she can believe anything. He goes: “Did you love your dad? Then prove it.” She’s stunned into silence, perhaps by the facile argument, perhaps by the handsome man, perhaps both. Oh and at some point the Dalai Lama seems to make an appearance, I forget why. Then my cats came into the room and started fighting so I got distracted. The next thing I knew the mean man seemed to be going into space?
The mean man is about to get on something that looks like an elaborate roller coaster, which is actually some sort of super space machine. But a Christian fundamentalist resembling the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code blows it up, having posed as a technician. Quite how a deranged fanatic managed to breach the security of the most advanced piece of technology on the planet is unclear. Fortunately for Jodie Foster, they built not one but two super space machines, so it’s up to her and the time travelling wardrobe to go on the roller coaster. Are you still following?
She goes through a wormhole and meets an alien who looks like her dad. Then my mum came back in and asked if it was still on. The alien answers none of Jodie Foster’s questions and is generally a bit rude, but not rude enough for humanity to be justified in waging intergalactic war. She returns to Earth but is told that the super space machine had malfunctioned and there’s no way she could have gone anywhere. At this point I make a mental note to re-watch Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. She is then questioned on how she can prove that it happened, to which she responds that she can’t, she just knows. Then she and Matthew Connery drive off hand-in-hand, in an almost literal marriage of religion and science. As the credits rolled a sunflower by the telly literally wilted, as if in suicidal exasperation.
Contact has only two things going for it. The first is the impressive effects, particularly the way in which Bill Clinton is spliced into the film from actual footage – it genuinely looks like he’s there. The second is Jodie Foster, who is great. But she should be ashamed, as an atheist, of her involvement in such a deeply religious movie. It arrives, after two and a half hours, at the conclusion that we always need faith. Whether you’re religious or otherwise, claims the movie, you don’t need evidence. I can only assume that Carl Sagan’s novel was completely gutted in order to reach such a decisively unscientific conclusion and that, having died the year before the film’s release, he’s now spinning in his grave. And even if you don’t share my ideological objections, it’s just a bad film; a sub-Spielbergian piece of overblown schmaltz. It doesn’t make sense, it’s terribly written and it’s boring enough to make even the happiest of flowers start to question the point of it all.