"Contact": How does Elli's search for truth and meaning differ from Palmers?

Essay by sarah_k October 2006

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"Contact" is a film mainly about faith, faith in yourself to do what is right and faith in others that they do right by you. It's also a film about belief, and whether we, as human beings should be forced to justify what we believe in when there is no physical proof that the focus of our belief actually exists. It's also a film about hope, and love, and life, and death.

The whole concept of the movie is based not on the question of whether extraterrestrial life exists, but whether what we believe should be determined by what we can prove.

The main character in the film is Dr. Ellie Arroway who is the head of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project. Ellie is a woman whose purpose in life is to scan the heavens for the possibility of alien life, and she has dedicated the last fifteen years doing so after the deaths of her father and mother.

After the mathematical message, assumed to be from aliens, is received, Ellie shows her determination by finding out more, which ends up in her taking a trip to outer space. The visit changes the way she looks at the world and the concept of humanity itself. Ellie is a woman not driven by ambition or materialism, but by her curiosity. She believes in science and its logical principles, but towards the end her feelings change and she starts to question her whole understanding of life.

Ellie is intelligent, brave and proud but, in a strange way, a little naive in the way that she thinks her incredible discovery will be left untouched. Elli is a person who would ask questions and would not believe in something straight away, she needs some sort of proof to back up an argument.

Palmer Joss is a theologian who is in love with Ellie. When palmer meets her he tries to change her and makes her belief in God. He finds this difficult because of Ellie's arrogance. He does however manage to make her believe in faith.

Ellie is passionate about astronomy to the point of obsession. She is driven by visions of beauty and truth. Despite all obstacles and rational objections to her work, she is a true believer. Human relationships seem to mean almost nothing. Because she was so close to her father and orphaned so young, she is completely wrapped up in her work.

Palmer Joss, on the other hand, is a balanced and rational observer of religion; deeply committed, both to Christianity and to social justice. He reaches out, not so much for Truth, but for relationship.

The main difference between the two is that Ellie searches for truth through science and logic and Palmer uses his belief in God. Ellie looks for rational reasoning whereas Palmer bases all his searches on his strong beliefs, faith and philosophy. He searches for truth through his religion and is motivated by this.

Elli was determined to find the truth of life through scientific research but wasn't always successful. She wasn't always proven correct and here she relied on her beliefs in faith and used it to find answers.

Ellie Arroway and Palmer Joss's beliefs differed in terms of beliefs and life experiences but one thing they both had in common was their belief through faith.