Ok, so last night as I was flipping channels, and I came across Contact. I had purchased the DVD over a year ago, and was excited to see in the features that Jodie Foster had done a commentary for the movie, but had never gotten around to watching it. Since the version on TV was already half-way through, and I have no patience for commercials, I decided that I would watch the commentary with Jodie Foster.
Normally I enjoy watching commentaries as they often give insight into the story and characters that casual viewers are not privvy to. And lets just face it, some commentaries are just plain fun. Having Brendon Frasier sitting next to you watching The Mummy with you is just a riot!
But what got me as I was watching Contact with Jodie Foster was just how wrong I was about what was trying to be explained in the story, including one of the central themes of the entire movie! So I'm gonna use this space to talk about one of the minor plot points to the movie, and the major theme. Did I just not get it, or are there several different ways to explain it? Anyone else have thoughts?
In watching the movie, there is a part where she is in the capsule traveling through the wormhole, and as she looks around, her view of what is going on outside of the capsule follows her eyes, and where she looks. As I watched the movie, I always rationalized it as the metal of the capsule being sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, specifically to light in the visual spectrum. For example, after she is free of the chair, and turns on her flash light, and points it to the bottom of the capsule, it 'shines through' and she can see what is going on outside of the capsule. Thus to explain how the viewport followed where she looked, I always thought that something on her headset was doing something to the metal. Earlier in the movie they told her that the camera she was wearing could see in the ultraviolet as well as infrared spectrums. As many movies seem to skimp out on explantions, I felt this was one of those times, and was left my own devices to explain what I was seeing.
Jodie's explanation was quite different. That there was no viewport, there was nothing special going on outside the capsule, that instead what Ellie was seeing was a vision that was being provided to her by the aliens to help HER understand what was going on. Or at least put things into a perspective that Ellie could understand. The only flaw that I can see with that explanation is the translucency of the capsule's bottom as the machine is powering up.
While not a huge difference (unlike below), I find it fascinating to see how things like that could be interpreted differently. Are our different interpretations caused by our different understandings of the world around us? The philosophies and filters that allow us to comprehend the world we live in? Or was she "in the know" and I'm just totally off base?
Ultimately it is not a big deal. While I would be curious to know the answers to the above questions, I can most likely live the entirety of my life without that knowledge and not feel any less for it.
Most of us have experienced events that we cannot explain. Whether the events are explainable or not, we are ignorant to the pieces of the event that may help explain it to us. So most of use the Great Equalizer. God. An omnipotent being that can do anything, and is unpredictable in her/his actions. (I say her/his because I believe that God is a woman, who gave the gift of creation to the female gender, even though the act requires both sexes to initiate the process.) Some people use the Great Equalizer as a crutch, and take little time to understand the world around them. Instead they rely on God as an explanation for everything, from wars to famine, from birth to death, from how the fish breath to how the birds fly. It is God's will. Other people, like myself, rarely use the Great Equalizer, if ever. What we do know, we understand through learning. What we don't know we explain through the existence of God. For Jodie's charater Ellie, she had never used the Great Equalizer, instead saying that what she doesn't understand, she does not know enough of - yet. Her character is always looking for the truth, and a logical explanation. According to Ellie, her father did not die because it was his time, or it was God's will, he died because his pills were in the upstairs bathroom, and it took too long for her to run upstairs to get his pills. If they had been downstairs, she could have saved him.
Her entire life can be explained through logic up to the point where she takes the 'trip' in the machine. Suddenly she is presented with something that cannot be logically explained. The conflict between her logical side which acknoledges that what everyone saw happen happened, and her senses and emotions that experienced the trip will not allow for any kind of resolution between the two. It is my take at the end of the movie where she appears before the pannel is that she finally joined the rest of humanity. That she finally had an event that she cannot explain. She had an event that her philosophical filter of the world around her could not process. She may not use the Great Equalizer, and join the 95% of us who are suffering from 'mass dilusions' (quoted from the movie), but she has experienced something that she cannot explain, and I felt in watching it, that she finally joined humanity, because of that event.
I should throw in more detail, as the entire movie is a treatise about how science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive. But if you are familiar with the movie, that should suffice.
Jodie's take on it was almost the exact opposite. That because of the event Ellie was even more isolated than before. She experienced an event that no one will ever be able to relate to, or experience. She is now alone in the world because of her trip.
THE BIG QUESTION
So, here is the big question. How can my perception and interpretations of one of the major plot points in the movie be so drastically different from what the actor was trying to portray?
Is it the actor's fault? I've always seen Jodie Foster to be one of the best actors in the world. The work she does has been thought provoking, intelligent, and it seems to be well researched. She is a master of conveying emotions, and ideas with a facial expression. She is well adept at her profession, and has awards to prove it. I find it hard to believe that she was tasked with expressing something that she could not present correctly to me, the viewer.
Is it the writer's fault? Carl Sagan was one of the preeminent writers of our day. And while he may have had little to do with the screenplay, the screenplay was based on his book, and from what I understand Carl was involved in the production of this movie. I find it hard to believe that gross negligence on anyone's part in the writing team would allow for an interpretation that is vastly different from what was meant to interpreted.
Is it the director's fault? Robert Zemeckis, the director of Cast Away, Forrest Gump, the Back to the Future movies, What Lies Beneath, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabit, and Death Becomes Her failed to ensure that one of the major points of the movies was properly conveyed is laughable in the least. No I don't think it is Rob's fault.
Perhaps it was meant to be open to interpretation. How I might interpret it is different from how a friend sitting next to me might interpret it. Perhaps how I understand what is going on is filtered through my own philosophies that only allow me to understand it in a way that is comprehensible to me. Perhaps it is the fact that after seeing this movie many many times over the past 5 years, being told that my understanding of it was totally wrong is rather grating on me.
Am I the only one to not get it? Anyone else see it like I did? Anyone else see it in a different way? Please post, I welcome your thoughts.