Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 2 hr 23 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey
One of the most moving science-fiction movies ever made.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 8 years ago
With its huge sets, astounding visual effects and epic human scope, Contact is one of the most moving science-fiction movies ever made. It's 2001: A Space Odyssey with an unapologetic emotional makeover, and while its philosophical underpinnings never quite reach the level of Kubrick, they're admirable and thought-provoking nonetheless.
At its center is one of the movies' most complex sci-fi heroines. We get to know this character inside and out, and the film's sympathetic portrayal of her is all the more remarkable when you consider that she's atheist. Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster, in one of her greatest screen roles) is a driven scientist stationed in Puerto Rico as part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. Her beloved father (played in a few key scenes by David Morse) was taken from her at a young age, and the film makes clear that Ellie's search for alien life is ultimately a search for meaning in her own life.
That search comes to an end in a thrilling sequence in which Ellie discovers a signal transmitted from Vega, 26 light years away. The way the film presents that signal is unforgettable; it sounds like God's heartbeat. The discovery sets off a global fervor as the signal is decoded and its nature ultimately revealed: it includes instructions for building a human transport. The only question is, Who gets to go?
In addition to being a sci-fi/philosophical piece, Contact is also a critique of the media, and the way they shape our understanding of global events. Director Robert Zemeckis is mostly successful in this respect, but he makes one creative decision that I think is a mistake. He includes footage of Bill Clinton, and the editing is supposed to suggest the then-President is commenting on the events in the film. This is a technique that Zemeckis all but perfected in Forrest Gump, but there it fit with the film's overall fairy tale approach. Contact has a much more realistic tone, and the effect is jarring.
Still, it's a minor sticking point. The film has a large cast of memorable characters, each representing a different player in the game between science and religion. Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) represents the more rational side of religion, while Joseph (Jake Busey) is his opposite, a fanatic willing to kill for his beliefs. Then there's Hadden (John Hurt), Ellie's mysterious benefactor, who may be the one man on the planet capable of faking a signal from Vega.
The film's special effects sequences are astonishing, distinguished by their emotional impact. Ellie's journey through the cosmos ends in a moment of genuine awe and wonder that feels earned – both visually and in narrative terms. The film presents a vision of the universe and our place in it that's nothing short of inspiring.