Contact is the story of Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster). Ellie, as she is known, or Sparky as she is referred to by her father, is introduced to astronomy and radio communication when she is very young. Her mother died due to complications from childbirth and her father died of Myocardial Infarction when Ellie was nine years old. She was a bright child and graduated from High School two years ahead of schedule and then went on the acquire her Ph.D. in astronomy-all in all a brilliant woman. This movie is strictly about the intelligence of this woman. The main theme of this movie is faith.
Ellie decides early that she wants to use her intellect to listen to the stars. She becomes part of a team, using a large stellar receiver in Puerto Rico, that is mapping the cosmos. It is while on this assignment that she meets Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), who is a divinity student on sabbatical writing a book on the effects of technology on our spirituality. They have a one night tryst that leaves Ellie shaken. Palmer, the priest, describes for Ellie, the scientist, what he experienced on the day he realized his vocation. She, of course is curious as to how anyone with an intellect can believe in the existence of God without empirical evidence. In the course of this conversation he points out that she must have been very lonely after her father died. This is the scene that explains Ellie's drive.
Ellie leaves Palmer in her bed and heads off to listen to the stars or, as she says, "for little green men." After her shift, she is informed that the plug has been pulled on the project. Dr. David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), Ellie's nemesis, is a bureaucratic pinhead-we all know the type-who has determined that listening to the stars is not a practical or profitable use of government money in the area of astronomy. This leads Ellie and members of her team to go it alone. They get the government to lease them time on the massive array of stellar receivers/transmitters in New Mexico, but must go in search of funding to pay for these leases. They find it in the person of S.R. Hadden (John Hurt), an eccentric billionaire with an ego to match his money. Four years later they are about to have the plug pulled one more time when Ellie hears something. The project is saved. The message carries with it the plans for building a machine. The machine, it turns out, is a single person interstellar transport. Now comes the ethical and moral quandaries.
I dare not go any further for fear of giving too much of this movie away. I will say that if you have ever questioned the existence of God or wondered as to the nature of Faith, this movie is a must-see. I was moved almost to tears at the end when Ellie is grilled by a government committee about her ride in the transport. Palmer looks on as Ellie is forced to qualify every aspect of her experience, with no empirical evidence. The internal tug-of-war is evident and raw. There are no answers here, but the ride is excellent.