Though she’s best known for her performance in The Silence of the Lambs, where she played Clarice Starling, Jodie Foster has enjoyed a long-lasting and fruitful acting carrier. Her filmography is quite impressive, as she’s credited for acting in over 80 movies. And one of those movies is in Contact, the 1997 mystery drama that just appeared on Youtube and ready to stream for free.
Many stories and anecdotes surround this classical piece of mystery drama with elements of science fiction. Screenwriting alone took ten years to complete, and the movie spent another 6-7 years in the preproduction phase alone. But when the Jodie Foster movie was finally released, it was an excellent piece of art that intersected science, religion, and politics – three subjects that don’t fit easily together.
Jodie Foster plays the role of Dr. Ellie Arroway, a radio astronomer working for the SETI program, a calling that stemmed from her love for amateur radio imparted on her by her then-deceased father. Ellie is a firm science believer and an atheist who likes to listen to radio emissions from space, hoping to find evidence of extraterrestrial life.
Unfortunately for Jodie Foster’s Ellie, Drumlin, the president’s science advisor, decides to pull funding from SETI, shutting it down, believing that the whole endeavor is futile and meaningless. Arroway, however, gets funding from a secretive billionaire S.R. Hadden, head of the Hadden industries, allowing Arroway to continue her project at the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
Four years later, she discovers a pattern signal sent from our starry neighbor, the Vega star system, some 26 light-years away. This announcement causes Drumlin, the same presidential advisor, now backed up by the National Security Council, to attempt to take control of the VLA facility.
The project is put under tight security, under the pretext of “national defense,” but its progress is followed by nations worldwide. Jodie Foster’s Arroway and her team discovered a video of Hitler giving an opening speech at the 1936 Olympics, hidden within the radio signal she received. She also discovered 63,000 pages of indecipherable data, which turned out to be for a complex machine, a spacecraft of sorts, later in the film.
Nations worldwide provided funding for the machine’s construction, and an international panel was formed to decide who will be the sole candidate to travel in the mysterious machine. Jodie Foster’s Ellie, whose team received the message, was the first choice for a passenger. However, when her atheism was brought to the panel’s attention, the committee selected Drumlin as the passenger, as a fairer representative of humanity
Through the series of somewhat unfortunate events surrounding science and religious zealotry, Ellie eventually enters the machine, travels through a wormhole, and finally meets the representative of the alien race.
Taking her father’s form, the alien representative tells Arroway that her journey is humanity’s first step towards joining other spacefaring species of the universe. Upon returning through the wormhole, Ellie falls unconscious, waking up on the machine pod’s floor, repeatedly being hailed by mission control.
She quickly learns that, from the outside, the machine pod seemed to have merely dropped through the machine into the safety net, without anything else happening. Arroway insists that she’s been away for 18 hours but is greeted with disbelief, as her recording devices show only noise. The movie’s ending sequence reveals that, though Ellie’s devices only recoded static, they recorded 18 hours of it, granting Ellie ongoing financial support for further research.
Contact was released on July 11, 1997, and the Jodie Foster blockbuster earned a total box office of $171 million. Unfortunately, Carl Sagan didn’t live to see his brainchild premiere, despite his significant involvement in the movie, as he died of cancer a few months before its release.
Carl Sagan was posthumously sued by Francis Coppola, the director of the gangster epic The Godfather, claiming he approached Sagan with the idea for the Contact back in 1975, demanding $250,000 in compensatory damages. When asked why he sued Sagan only days after he died, an act many characterized as appalling, and not before, Coppola declined to comment on the story.
Despite the controversies, lawsuits, firings, screenplay, and preproduction issues, Contact turned out to be a fantastic movie with a great performance by Jodie Foster. At the very least, it is nothing short of a cult classic.