#6 – Contact (1997)
Film review #6
Dir. Robert Zemeckis
Something a little different this week for my movie review. Less of a science-fiction and more of a science-speculation (but all science-fiction is science-speculation really, right?).
Written by astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan, it offers a scientific and human perspective on just what could happen during first contact with an alien species. The film promotes the rigour of scientific enquiry and testing one would expect in a first contact situation, along with all the problems that arise from government and religious responses.
The script has Carl Sagan’s writing all over it. The poetic way the plot’s key points are described and explained really humanises the whole experience of the movie, instead of drowning in scientific discourse. I noticed some of the things that were said were similar to some of thing’s Sagan has said before in his Cosmos documentary…
Like a good scientific experiment the narrative and aim continually shifts from the humble beginnings, to discovery of something brand new. Everything in between explores the implications and effects of this discovery on the populace of the Earth. But this also a human story as well. The motivations and tragic story of the protagonist really personalises the science, which is done really well.
Religion and theology clash with the scientific discovery throughout the film. The evidence of contact with other species angers religious groups, believing whole thing to be blasphemy. On the other hand, the part of religion and belief in a “God” is clearly an important part of humanity, since as it is explained “90% of the world population believe in a God.” and it is argued that a representative of humanity that will visit the aliens should represent that 90%. Classic Sagan.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is when the protagonist is given a suicide pill: Which apparently all astronauts have been given throughout the space program. Sagan says this is accurate to real life, though NASA denies it. There is a lot of scientific accuracy in this movie, since Sagan has experience in this field, he applies his knowledge really well in my opinion. As he states: “I was willing to imagine alien contact, but I wasn’t going to break the laws of physics”.
So at the end do we see these aliens? Of course not, but that’s classic Sagan too. It was he who advised Kubrick to not physically show any aliens in 2001: A Space Odyssey, since he believed aliens would look so different to anything we could possibly imagine, that showing them would do the idea no justice, the same reason we get at the end of Contact, though we do get something much more closer to home: A deeply personal resolution for the protagonist in a galaxy so far away and different from her own, and so the aliens download her thoughts so she could understand what was before her. Finding yourself and the answers you want in a place you never even imagined…again, it is something that Sagan has always done so well.
So overall, fantastic film. Something a little different than my usual ones, but so full of wonder and prospects it ranks very highly.