God At The Movies: Jodie Foster in “Contact” and How Real Belief Transforms

god-at-the-moviesThere is a great scene at the end of the movie Contact where Jodie Foster is sitting before a Senate hearing committee in an attempt to “prove” she had an extraterrestrial encounter.

For those unfamiliar with the movie Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a young scientist that discovers an alien signal from space. The signal provides blueprints for the governments of Earth to construct a vehicle that, is assumed, will provide a single person journey to meet the aliens.

Arroway is sent and has an incredible encounter with the universe that fundamentally changes her perception of everything. However when she returns she discovers the vehicle she was in simply dropped off the launchpad, didn’t go anywhere, and no time had transpired.

Ellie has this experience that she can’t prove, that goes against her very being as a scientist,…and yet she can’t deny it.

(The courtroom scene starts at 1:20)

As she sits before the U.S. Senate Hearing Committee she is hounded by people on the panel that simply want her to recant her testimony:

		So why don't you admit what by your
		own standards must be the truth:
		that this experience simply didn't

			   (pauses, then,
		Because I can't.

		I had... an experience.  I can't
		prove it.  I can't even explain it.
		All I can tell you is that
		everything I know as a human being,
		everything I am -- tells me that it
		was real.

The room grows quiet.

		I was given something wonderful.
		Something that changed me.  A vision
		of the universe that made it
		overwhelmingly clear just how tiny
		and insignificant -- and at the same
		time how rare and precious we all
		are.  A vision... that tells us we
		belong to something greater than
		ourselves... that we're not -- that
		none of us -- is alone.

		I wish I could share it.  I wish
		everyone, if only for a moment --
		could feel that sense of awe, and
		humility... and hope.  That
		continues to be my wish.

Arroway as a Disciple

Christ’s disciples had a lot in common with Ellie Arroway.  They had an encounter, an experience, with a person who claimed he was the Son of God. But by all the laws of the natural world he was just an ordinary carpenter from an obscure region in Judea.

Nothing special…

But the experience his followers had when they encountered him fundamentally transformed them.  Despite all the stress (and physical beatings) they could have probably avoided by simply denying what they experienced…

…they couldn’t!

Then they (the temple priests) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:18-20

Since you can’t prove it, just say it didn’t happen…

We can’t…

Belief transforms…or it isn’t belief

The interesting part of belief is it becomes real, not when we defend it, but when it transforms us.  It wasn’t Arroway’s declaration in the Senate chamber that demonstrated she really believed what she had experienced…it was the scene showing her 18 months later.

In the final scene of Contact Ellie Arroway has a classroom of kids out in the dessert looking at the huge array of radio towers used for listening to the universe.  She is obviously a different person to what we saw before her experience.  She enthusiastically communicates the wonder and awe of the universe to the young students who are delightfully responding to her obvious passion.

Her experience hasn’t caused her to give up being a scientist, it has allowed her to become a better one!


Arroway’s encounter with the divine has transformed her.  It has reshaped the way she views everything including the way in which she teaches the children.

She knows

* she is not alone

* there is something “more” in the universe

* that “more” in the universe thinks she’s special

She’s changed and so she can’t help but share what she has seen and heard.  One of the great lines from the film is during the experience she realizes that their assumption of sending a scientist on this journey was wrong.  Gazing over the wonder she mutters in awe, “Poetry…they should have sent a poet.”

Writer and theologian Peter Rollins mentions how we can’t have 100 things in our life, then we add God and have 101.  No, God fundamentally alters the way we view and engage with those other 100 things in our life.

For the disciples of Christ the “proof” of their belief was years after the experience, when a transformed life was the trail left behind.

That should be our proof of “belief” as followers of Christ.  The proof of a life transformed!

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Contact yet…you should.  It’s one of my Top 10 movies of all time.

1 comment

  • Connie Mudore

    Contact is on my top ten list, too. Great article, Steve. Thanks for clarifying why the movie has always resonated with me so powerfully.

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