This time we're moving on to Junior
It was about time I came back to this thread. The last update was so long ago I forgot where I chose to put the thread. Contact
Robert Zemeckis (1997)
There is a kind of movie that is hard to talk about, and above that, hard to discuss with other people. I am talking about the movies about which one is unsure whether they are not sure what they are trying to say or if they do not know how to say it properly. They are hard to pinpoint ; accuse them of saying one thing and you can be answered that they are saying another. Things are unclear enough that no one can be right - talk about alternative facts. I am not talking about ambiguity, open endings or obscure nuances ; those are fine and often elevate a movie. I am talking about films that contradict themselves, or at least, appear to contradict themselves, which is very much the same thing.
I spent the entire movie trying to figure out Zemeckis' message. I held on until the last second to solidify my opinion of it because I had to believe there would be some final statement that would clarify what parts of the movie were his voice and which ones, if any, he was criticising. The whole thing is a mess.
Jodi Foster, the main character of the movie is a passionate, rational scientist who the viewer is supposed - except that the film does everything to make that impossible. She is wrong in most confrontations she is with. Closing her SETI program was the right thing to do until someone could provide an explanation to how we could communicate with another species without waiting 10,000 years for an answer. But you're still supposed to be rooting for her in these instances. What's more, in a movie that constantly opposes scientific empiricism and faith, her answers to spiritual questions are feeble and comprising, even when the questions could be properly retorted by a semi-educated high-schooler.
Her intellectual counterweight in the movie, Matthew McConaughey (sort of great to see him in pre-comeback work) only makes matter more complicated. He is supposed to be a theological star but only mouths trite clichés like he flunked university after one year majoring in Theoretical Platitudes Studies. Zemeckis wants to present him as a more sophisticated form of religiosity, as opposed to the Luddite fanatics seen other places in the movie, but his great insights sound a tremendous lot like my high school liberal classmates raving against the vices of capitalism.
Clearly the movie condemns the alarmists who look to hinder science but I can't make out where it stands on McConaughey. We can't take him seriously, he sounds too dumb ; and yet, the film has such sympathy towards him. When Foster changes gears in the last scenes and stands on faith is he vindicated? Is that Zemeckis telling me that, after all, after all the defences of rationalism, a measure of faith is necessary to a human existence, to be at peace with the universe? If so, the movie has been equivocal about it. Worse, the message is noxious.
I don't know if Zemeckis is a gigantic misanthrope like so many people like to say, but I am pretty sure he is a mis-systemist, that is to say, he displays contempt for the system. It is a minor part of the movie which nonetheless merits to be mentioned. This is one of those movies where nice-guys-competent-scientists (and gals, in this case) must manage the idiocy and incompetence of political maneuverers and the military. One of the things I am grateful to Contact
for is that it crystallises some of the best features of Arrival
. Its military is not very well versed in linguistics or physics but its leaders are not warmongering cretins either. Everything is corrupt and rotten in Zemeckis' government and presidents take their advice from spiritual guides rather than scientists. I would normally criticise such government-negativity, but in the age of Trump I can only protest that things weren't that bad in the nineties.
There are so many (more minor) things I find wrong with Contact
. There is scientific nonsense, like Foster, a supposed specialist, talking of alien "civilisations", as if such a human concept could be applied to non-human species, or the nineties' obsession with wormholes. The first twenty minutes of the movie are pointless: just start off in Mexico! Worst of all though, has to be the romance, which survived a four year hiatus after a one night stand and was reignited in a couple of meetings and a dozen exchanged sentences. Maybe a better written story would make it work. As is, it only cheapens the script.
The final chance for the story, it's Hail Mary if you will, was the meeting with the Vegans (which name is, and I will not budge from this opinion, mispronounced during the entire movie). It was botched. Even if I overlook the impossibility of them reading in minutes the thoughts of a species whose biology they have never encountered before, that entire, needlessly short dialogue, is devoid of any meaningful profundity or clever insights. As the intellectual climax of a big budget think-piece of a sort it was not just disappointing ; it might as well not have been there at all. Maybe better if it had not really. The open ending would have made an ending about the idea of faith that much more poignant.
I was shocked to see Carl Sagan's name appear on screen during the credits. I don't know what parts of this are his and can only hope he was not responsible for the most egregious bits. 3/10
Sorry Junior, it's the second movie you love I have come down hard on in a week. Like with Martin, I will be watching at least one other.