"We must be the change we want to see in the world." - Mahatma GandhiGiven the enormous influence of The Matrix on a lot of what I make, many people assume that it is my favorite movie. My favorite movie of all time is actually Contact.
Many people assume the message behind Contact is that Religion and Science aren't mutually exclusive, but this is only part of the equation. Contact is really about faith. It's about never losing faith in your own passion, regardless of what it is. It can be science, religion, art, music, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you find your passion, and you have faith in it, and no matter what happens, no matter what stands in your way, you fight for it.
Naturally, in real life, we don't have a Dues Ex Hadden Industries to magic away all our problems, but the movie does an excellent job of making sure the drama that plays out on screen does not undermine it's purpose. Even with virtually unlimited funding, Ellie finds out she's being forcefully kicked out of the Very Large Array. No matter what anyone says to her, she refuses to let it go. At that point in the movie, it is abundantly clear that absolutely nothing will stop this woman from pursuing her passion, no matter how insane or misunderstood it is, no matter what obstacles are put in her path, no matter what friends she may lose along the way. At this darkest hour, after everything seems to be falling apart, she goes to a cliffside to think.
And then she comes back.
She comes back, and she starts listening again, because she isn't going to give up, and that is when she hears the signal. That is when our hollywood movie is yanked out of reality and brings us on a fantastic journey through the stars. It happens after Ellie refuses to give up, even after the universe itself seems to be conspiring to ruin her.
Then, the project is stolen from her repeatedly, and she has to fight to keep it. Then, she is denied her desire to be the one to ride through the machine. Then the machine is completely destroyed and everything she fought for is taken away from her.
Then, our little Dues Ex Hadden comes back. Hadden gave Ellie her funding because of her emotional outburst at the investor meeting. Hadden saw the passion she had, the unstoppable fire and unshakable faith she had in her science project, and that is when he decided to fund her. Once again, Hadden moves us into the realm of fiction, and gives Ellie a second chance.
Contact is brilliant because it begins firmly anchored in reality, and only later, with a few nudges in the right direction, throws us into a world of make-believe. Carl Sagan is trying to make us ask, what if? What if we could fly? What if we could go to the moon? What if we colonized Mars? What if aliens contacted us? Contact shows us how beautiful life can be. It reminds us of all the amazing things that human beings are capable of when we ask that simple question, What If? To answer it, we just need a little faith.