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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Contact is a 1999 movie speculating on the ramifications and wonder that could happen during humanity's first interaction with extraterrestrial life forms. There is some violence -- a Christian fundamentalist infiltrates NASA with explosives taped to his chest and destroys a spaceship on the verge of liftoff, taking his own life and the lives of many others. Some sci-fi peril, as a later spaceship rumbles and appears as if it could implode. In a flashback scene, a tween girl finds her father dead of heart failure at the foot of the stairs; in the aftermath of his funeral, she laments not getting to his heart medication in time. The lead character, played by Jodie Foster, is a brilliant astrophysicist who sticks to her convictions despite how many believe her ideas to be the product of an unhinged mind; she is also often patronized and rudely interrupted in many male-dominated meetings. Essentially, the characters themselves are embodiments of many of the dominant philosophies, beliefs, and ideologies followed by "billions and billions" of humans: rational thought, ethereal spirituality, rigid fundamentalism, myopic bureaucracy, etc. Occasional mild profanity, including "s--t" and "bitch."
What's the story?
Devastated by the loss of her parents at the tender age of 8, Ellie (Jodie Foster) yearns for contact with extraterrestrials, but shies away from contact with anyone on earth. Having been hurt by feeling, she relies entirely on science, on what can be proven. After a one-night-stand with Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a charismatic divinity school drop-out, she leaves, to continue to listen for whispers from the universe, despite short-sighted bureaucrats who cut her funding. When she finally hears something, the government steps in. The message is to build a machine, apparently to be used to go to the source of the message. Joss turns up as an advisor to the President who is assigned to the panel that will select the person who will make the trip. He does not believe that Earth should be represented by an atheist. And he does not want to lose Ellie again. Ultimately, she does make the trip, and finds that she is profoundly changed by it. She finds herself asking others to believe what she says without evidence, on the basis of faith.
Is it any good?
Based on the late Carl Sagan's novel about a young scientist's efforts to make contact with intelligent life beyond our world, CONTACT is a thoughtful movie. It also provides a good opportunity to discuss how we know what we know, whether on the basis of faith or on what we can prove.
Sagan, a scientist who consulted on the space program and hosted public television programs about the universe, raised important questions about the connection (and sometimes obstacles) between science, business, politics, and notions of God. If he does a better job of asking them than answering them, that is at least consistent with the scientists' creed that the only sin is to be afraid to ask the right questions -- and to be open-minded about the answers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the reactions of the people to evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence are what they would expect. Why do some people object so strongly to communicating with creatures outside our world? What do scientists think about God and what do theologians think of science? What is the role of government?
Quite often, those trying to teach a lesson or impart a way of viewing the world will use story to present their beliefs. The characters in stories like these are made to be the living embodiments of an idea: capitalism, communism, objectivism, idealism, cynicism, heroism, cowardice, etc. What aspects of humanity do these individual characters embody in this movie? Did the movie's overall messages seem relevant to our world, or did the messages seem forced or conveniently made to work in order to prove the message valid?
Movies in which humanity meets extraterrestrial beings have been around almost as long as movies have been shown in theaters. Why does this story have such a profound appeal?
- In theaters: July 11, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: December 30, 1997
- Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 150 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some intense action, mild language and a scene of sensuality
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