Eleanor, a driven scientist and skeptic, because her mommy and daddy are gone, finds a message from extraterrestrials with instructions on how to build a really big ball. She also discovers super-Christian and telescope groupie, Palmer Joss, and since he looks like Matthew McConaughey, she sleeps with him, but then ignores him because, you know…the daddy thing. Lots of people argue endlessly (really, it never stops) about how only God-types should get into the really big ball, but Eleanor is helped by a rich nut who floats around and is only in the movie to further the plot. Oh, there’s a terrorist too, but that part is too silly to discuss. So, Eleanor must fight evil religious guys and her own lack of faith until she can reunite with Palmer Joss (I’m not kidding, his name is Palmer Joss) and realize that we’re all religious, in our own way, so its OK to sleep with him, even if daddy is gone.
What makes Contact so excruciating, so painfully unpleasant that it sends any alert film critic into spasms, gnawing at his own leg in hopes of escaping, is the insidiousness of it. Coming as it does from a book by atheist and scientist Carl Sagan, it pretends to be an intelligent look at the implications of extraterrestrial life. It’s not. What it is is a love letter to religion. At least The Passion of the Christ makes no bones about what it is. It clearly states Jesus exists and he got the shit kicked out of him for you, so you better be grateful. Contact‘s message is much more dangerous and tries to hide under a false aura of intellectualism. The message: Science is a religion. Atheism is a religion. And of course, Christianity is a religion. It’s all religion, so let’s all worship together.
Director Robert Zemeckis, who is quite adept when working with comedy (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is lost when the subject becomes sincere, and there is black, viscous sincerity hemorrhaging from Contact. You can almost hear Zemeckis shouting “I’m so meaningful” as part of the soundtrack. With his ode to stupidity, Forest Gump (a far superior movie, and that should frighten you), Zemekis learned the basics of pretentious storytelling, and he’s mastered it here. Keeping the plot moving just slightly faster than a complete stop (because slow things are more sincere), his characters preach, lecture, and cry for the camera (everything is aimed at the viewer; this is hardly a movie at all; it’s more of a lecture on the meaning of life). And because it worked in Forest Gump, he sticks his actors in footage with a celebrity, this time President Clinton. But it isn’t for laughs now. It, like everything in Contact, is in deadly earnest.
To earn its pseudo-intellectual street-cred, the villains are religious. One’s a pure zealot, one’s a political/religious demagogue, and another is a hypocrite using Christianity for his own gain. They are all a smokescreen. The only complete and happy person is Palmer Joss. He is the voice of truth, reason, and purity. And he is the president’s religious advisor. He’s the goal. You see, once you have faith, everything is OK. And that’s the route of the film. It’s all about Eleanor finding God. Oh, this is large-tent Christianity, so God is such a broad concept as to be even more meaningless than usual. But then it doesn’t matter what God is, as long as you believe.
The way that Eleanor finds her faith has become a South Park joke. I’ll only say that her great trip into the beyond to meet aliens is…anticlimactic.
Contact is a horrible film, both from an atheistic/free thinking/philosophical/intellectual perspective, and in terms of general storytelling. It is not only ignorant, but dishonest—a Trojan horse for scientists. Beware of Hollywood Christians bearing gifts.