I’ve seen Contact several times and I distinctly remember being royally confused by it when I was younger. The first part of the plot is fairly straightforward: Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), working for the SETI program, discovers a transmitted signal being sent from the star system Vega. Using help from a reclusive billionaire named S.R Hadden, Arroway discovers that the information in the signal are instructions on how to build a machine that would allow a single person to apparently travel to meet the aliens transmitting the signal.
A machine is duly built at Cape Canaveral, and while Arroway is a frontrunner to go, because she is an atheist, she is passed over for David Drumlin (Tom Skerrit), Science advisor to the President instead. But on the day of launch, the machine is bombed moments before launch and Drumlin is killed as a result. Hadden informs Arroway that a second machine was built in Japan and this time she is going to be the one to go.
From this point on, things get weird, and I mean REALLY weird. Arroway is in a pod-like structure, dangling above the whirling machine that is apparently generating a wormhole for her capsule to pass into. Upon launch, Arroway passes through a long series of wormholes and experiences a lot of strange phenomena, including distant starscapes and planets that appear to contain intelligent life.
Last of all, Arroway finds herself standing on a beach that exactly resembles one in South Florida from her childhood (only a look up at the sky gives away that she’s not on Earth). An alien appears in the form of her deceased father and the two have a brief conversation. Apparently, all of this (the signal, the machine, Arroway’s visit), was only the first step in helping humanity become a spacefaring race. The visit abruptly ends and suddenly Arroway is back in her capsule on the other side of the machine.
As if things weren’t already weird enough, the situation turns on its head when everyone informs Ellie that her trip never happened. As far as they could tell, she simply dropped from the top of the machine to the bottom in a matter of seconds. Yet Ellie swears she was gone for 18 hours, but the video footage she recorded is only static, leaving no proof to verify what she saw. After a long hearing, Ellie returns to work at SETI, still believing in what occurred, despite the fact that almost no one believes her, and hopeful that they will be contacted again someday. Meanwhile, in one last strange conversation, two government officials discuss the question of, if the mission was a failure, why did the recording devices record 18 HOURS of static? Hmmmmmm, a good question.
The film is based on a book written by astronomer Carl Sagan and depicts how he thinks a first contact between humanity and aliens might go. Like I said before, this film gets really weird in some places, but if you’re okay with that, this is the film for you.
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*film poster is the property of Warner Bros. Pictures