We embarked on our trip to the stars through a question an initial framed in the childhood that our species and in every generation request anew v undiminished wonder: What are the stars? expedition is in our nature. We started as wanderers, and also we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores that the cosmic ocean. We are all set at critical to collection sail because that the stars.

You are watching: No words should have sent a poet

–Carl Sagan, Cosmos.

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Poster for Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997).“For as lengthy as I deserve to remember, I’ve been in search of something, some reason why we’re here. What room we law here? Who space we?”—Ellie Arroway, Contact

In among the most memorable opening sequences in science-fiction film because its predecessor (and evident inspiration) 2001: A space Odyssey, the camera pulls slowly away native the planet into deep space. ~ above the soundtrack us hear the aural artifacts of humanity in reverse order from chart-topping music access time to the well-off baritone of boy name Luther King and also finally, silence. Together we rate through the universe, interstellar clouds, nebulae, and zooming galaxies converge into a single point the blue light; a gleam in the iris the young Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway1 in Robert Zemeckis’s 1997 movie Contact. Ellie (Jodie Foster) is a seeker. She goes native a precocious young girl attempting to with truckers on her HAM radio come a SETI astronomer hearne for—in her own words—“little eco-friendly men.” Contact might be a film about one woman’s journey through space, but it is also about Ellie’s spiritual journey as she i do not care a mrs Columbus trying to find much more than a brand-new world.

Opening photos from Contact.I first saw Contact as soon as I was ten year old. Prior to that, I saw the initial Star Wars trilogy once it was re-released in the so late 1990s, sparking a love affair through all points extra-terrestrial that persists today. Ns was same fascinated by scientific research fiction and science fact, reading every little thing I might find around astronomy and also NASA and also practicing my pressure powers in the backyard. In 2nd grade ns dressed up as Darth Vader because that Halloween, proudly wielding my red lightsaber in a crowd of girls dressed together kittens and princesses. Ns dreamt of being an astronaut though i was terrified the riding roller coasters and therefore was not perfect candidate for an are travel. Ns knew the books and also movies i loved would administer my just experiences beyond Earth’s orbit.

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The writer dressed together Darth Vader for a 2nd grade Halloween parade.Although i obsessed over Star Wars, Contact was my very first intellectual science fiction film. Truly great science fiction depends on two essential elements. First, a thought experiment related to humanity’s partnership to scientific research and technology and that is potential consequences. You have the right to summarize any type of science fiction stare by utilizing these “what if” premises: What if an android-hunting detective began to doubt that he might be an android self (Blade Runner)? What if the police can predict a crime before it happened (Minority Report)? What if our people is in reality a simulation devised through intelligent equipments to enslave us and also use ours bodies as an energy source (The Matrix)? Questions like these are what different exemplary scientific research fiction films from most modern big-budget drivel. Contact’s “what if” scenario—what if humanity received a article from an alien people with indict to build a secret machine? —raises the plenty of other concerns that journey the film’s plot. Would certainly we develop the machine? that gets to be the an initial to test it? exactly how would the scientific and religious communities reaction to the apparent appearance that extra-terrestrials? If you had actually the opportunity to be the an initial human to satisfy an alien, what would certainly you say come them? Contact—so affected by 2001—is ultimately around the following phase in the advancement of our varieties as our modern technology continues come advance.

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The device built indigenous plans sent out by an unknown intelligence.The second requirement for great science fiction is that the narrative—even if that crawling through talking robots or blue-skinned aliens—is actually around us, attempting come answer a concern that has captivated scientists and also prophets alike: what walk it average to be human? are we defined by our individuality? our choices? ours memories? through its dual focus top top outer room and our inner selves, science fiction is deeply existential in nature, i m sorry is part of what attractive me to it. Raised external of arranged religion by a spiritual, feminist mother and a culturally Jewish atheist father, i have always been a seeker: struggling with the idea that a greater power however profoundly curious about what else could explain the existence of the universe. Making use of Ellie’s story together a an allegory for the debate between science and religion, Contact tells united state that faith in scientific research does not necessarily negate other types of faith. In fact, Carl Sagan—in the novel that inspired the film—writes the they room inextricably related: “In the towel of an are and in the nature of matter, together in a good work the art, over there is, written small, the artist’s signature.” Sagan appears to be saying the the perfection of physics and also mathematics demonstrates the there space unexplainable pressures at work in the universe.

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Jenna Malone as Young Ellie.Contact also influenced me significantly due to the fact that its protagonist is a woman. Any kind of female science fiction pan knows the well-developed, complex women are few and much between. I experienced Contact before Divergent, Battlestar Galactica, and also Hunger Games. I had actually yet to fulfill Tris, Kara Thrace, or Katniss—my heroes to be Meg Murray from Madeline L’Engle’s A pucker in Time and also real adventuresses like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride. My favourite franchise available Princess Leia, yet she’s—in mine opinion—a combined bag. Despite she is outspoken, brave, and a qualified leader, she occasionally seems like window dressing (think gold bikini), doing not have Han Solo’s wisecracking swagger and also Luke Skywalker’s Jedi abilities.2 Therefore, I more easily experienced myself in Ellie—smart, precocious, a bit of one outcast, through a look at unquenchable thirst because that knowledge around herself and the world about her.

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Ellie (Jodie Foster) listens for trends in the chaos.Ellie’s importance as a bridge in between the realms of science and also faith is what makes her a new type of scientific research fiction hero. No the typical space cowboy, Ellie is something relatively rare: a woman mystic. Ellie is frequently chastised for being outspoken, stubborn, and passionate: attributes often checked out as confident in males and an unfavorable in women. However, she is also deeply emotional, intuitive, and receptive—the factor she is the an initial to pick up the signal native outer space is because she supplies headphones to hear for fads in the static from the radio telescopes instead of relying ~ above a computer. With Foster’s masterfully expressive power we pertained to know Ellie: her sorrow, she rage—at gift denied both resources for SETI and also later the so-called “Machine Seat,”3 — and also her pride in she work. Ellie is a self-proclaimed atheist, however, her selection to occupational for SETI demonstrates that she does believe in miscellaneous she cannot yet prove. Once questioned about why she is encouraged other intelligent varieties exist, Ellie regularly repeats a phrase she choose up from her father: “If it’s simply us…seems like an dreadful waste that space.”

Notably, the sudden traumatic death of she beloved father together a young girl catalyzes not just Ellie’s atheism but likewise her deep-rooted desire to understand why things happen. The film’s many memorable sequence—Ellie’s ultimate whirlwind journey with space—is both a pursuit for the answers come our greatest questions (what science-fiction humor writer Douglas Adams deemed “life, the universe, and everything”4) and also a deeply personal spiritual experience. In a collection of visually breathtaking scenes, Ellie travels with a collection of wormholes. In ~ one point, she arrives on the sheet of a beautiful peach-tinged galaxy v a bright white-yellow sunlight in the center giving off unearthly rays of light. Ellie, narrating her endure for the record, is moved nearly beyond the point of the speech. Her voice trembling, Ellie whispers: “Some celestial event. No – no words. No indigenous to define it. Poetry! they should’ve sent a poet. For this reason beautiful. For this reason beautiful…I had actually no idea.” In a little of cinematic genius, the challenge of young Ellie is superimposed ~ above Foster’s, the expression and voice flickering between that of the woman and also child. The implicit is that this journey is heal not only for Ellie but also for the little girl grieving the loss of a parent.

Ellie’s voyage becomes even an ext fantastical when she wakes increase on an diverted beach with stars and galaxies hanging impossibly near in the sky overhead. A acquainted figure shortly joins her: her deceased father. No “little eco-friendly man,” Ellie conveniently realizes the he is actually an alien who has actually taken on she father’s form. The alien’s appearance together a dead loved one is part of the an enig of Ellie’s experience. Is this real, the ultimate great fulfillment, or both? Regardless, the alien does what Ellie’s father Ted did for her together a small girl: make the efforts to provide her answers to her questions. Their brief conversation reveals that there room “many others” i.e, intelligent species beyond Earth, and also that some of them have actually taken the very same journey utilizing the exact same cosmic deliver system. In among the signature lines native the film, the extraterrestrial tells Ellie:

You’re an interesting species. An exciting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such awful nightmares. You feel so lost, so reduced off, therefore alone. Just you’re not. You see, in every our searching, the only thing we’ve discovered to make the emptiness much more bearable…is every other.

Because she is a woman in a greatly male field and also the scientific neighborhood considers her work-related for SETI fringe in ~ best, Ellie is regularly alone and also misunderstood. Since of the lose of she father, Ellie implemented isolation top top herself, refusing to open up to people for fear of shedding them. The alien’s prescription because that humanity—that we realize how deeply connected we room to one another and the cosmos—is additionally a prescription because that Ellie’s loneliness.

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Ellie has a mysterious encounter.When Ellie returns from her journey, she finds that all proof of she experience has been erased and her colleagues believe her memories room the an outcome of psychosis. As an atheist and a skeptic, Ellie is placed in the ironic position of having to safeguard her belief in an suffer she can’t prove actually occurred. Throughout a conference investigation, Ellie is request why she can’t admit that she hallucinated or is lying around her journey:

No longer the atheist defending her lack of id in God, Ellie is now an evangelist attempting to convince others come believe. This reversal provides Ellie a prophet that sorts. The is far-reaching that in Western tradition most explorers and nearly all prophets are men—Moses bringing God’s regulation to his civilization or Columbus finding out the so-called “New World.” In Contact, however, it is Ellie’s combination of scientific reason and also female intuition that provides her such a an effective symbol. When Ellie is deep shaken through the trial, she exits the courthouse to uncover a crowd of pendant cheering she name and also holding signs that say, “Ellie found the brand-new world.” Contact is together a significant film in the science fiction canon since it is a female hero’s journey. Ellie is no Uhura wait by the phone when Kirk and also Spock discover the foreign planet—she is the hero, adhering to her destiny with a series of obstacles and also returning residence to supply truth to united state all.

Luckily, alongside soulless science-fiction blockbusters like Transformers and yes, Avatar—movies with an excellent special effects but no heart—there have arised a couple of gems. Films like District 9, Moon, and Her may be smaller sized in scale, but they re-publishing the very same generic DNA together the best of their predecessors, making us think and entertaining us simultaneously. In addition, a handful of films and also TV collection such together Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, The Hunger Games, and Orphan Black have yielded a new generation of woman sci-fi heroes. As a female scientific research fiction fan, i am often disappointed. For this reason I organize out hope that there will certainly be one more Contact, a film that has actually stayed with me for over a decade and also reminds me how powerful a storytelling tool film have the right to be. Ns think about that small girl in her Darth Vader costume, lightsaber in hand, and am reminded that each the us has a search of our own and the opportunity to seek out higher understanding. Come boldly go.

To Coleen Hubbard and Larry Bograd, parents and longtime editors because that encouraging all my obsessions native Star Wars to absent collecting to writing and also for gift the an initial to present me to this film. You room my guides with life, the universe, and everything.

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Image Credits:1.website Contact movie poster. 2. Opening pictures from Contact(Robert Zemeckis, 1997).3. Author as Darth Vader (photo indigenous author’s personal collection).4. The machine built from plans sent by an unknown intelligence (Contact Robert Zemeckis, 1997).5. Jenna Malone as Young Ellie (Contact Robert Zemeckis, 1997).6. Ellie (Jodie Foster) listens for trends in the chaos(Contact Robert Zemeckis, 1997).7. Ellie has a mysterious conference (Contact Robert Zemeckis, 1997).