Film Review: Contact (1997)


[This review contains spoilers.]  Contact is a character-driven, thematic exploration of the schism between science and theology.  Jodie Foster gives an impassioned performance as Ellie Arroway, an astronomer (and atheist) who discovers a message from deep space.  The message turns out to be schematics for a mysterious transport.  While Ellie helps the government prepare to launch a representative into the unknown, she develops a relationship with Palmer Joss, a pop culture ‘man of the cloth’ played by Matthew McConaughey. Contact uses Ellie and Palmer as vehicles for an honest debate, but never disrespects either character or their points of view.

If you’re uninterested in the movie’s message, the plot’s climax may disappoint you.  But the plot isn’t what’s most compelling here.  There are climaxes of character and theme when Ellie returns from her intergalactic travels.  Without a shred of evidence to prove what she saw, Ellie finds herself in a painful paradox:  the atheist is forced to convince the theists to accept her word… on faith.

Contact features strong performances all around, including solid supporting turns by James Woods, William Fichtner, Tom Skerritt, and John Hurt.  Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) tells Carl Sagan’s story at a natural, easy pace, allowing us to slowly crawl into Ellie’s skin and identify with her on a level uncommon for major Hollywood films.  The music by Alan Silvestri is simple, elegant, and moving, and the sound design is equally superb in its minimalist approach.

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 


About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (

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