I revisited Contact, in great detail. The movie has really substantial flaws, but it’s amazing how rare original, intelligent, semi-hard sci-fi movies are. And characters like Ellie Arroway are even rarer:
In contrast to the nerdy girls of dozens of subsequent comedies, Ellie is a genuine geek, not just a hot chick wearing glasses. She wears awful, unflattering clothes. She has very few social skills. She’s unsaavy, undiplomatic, and deeply unstrategic for a research scientist (most of whom are not saved by reclusive multibillionaires who appreciate passionate boardroom outbursts). She does get a makeover at one point in the movie, but just for one night, so she can knock a sexy preacher’s socks off at a Washington reception. But once she’s made the impression that she wants, Ellie puts the dress away, ties her hair back again, and gets back to work. Like Hermione Granger post-Yule Ballyears later, Ellie knows who she is, and what’s trappings, and what’s important.
But despite her flaws and her awkwardness, Ellie’s also admirable and refreshing in a lot of ways. She refuses to lie about her lack of faith in front of a Congressional committee, and when one of her superiors does, she shows up afterwards to work in support of him anyway. She has a one-night stand with said sexy preacher (initiated by relatively high-level discussions of science and faith) at her first research station and in a nice little reversal of stereotype, leaves him in bed anxious that she won’t call, and then leaves his number behind when she departs for the Very Large Array.
She’s deeply committed to science, and obviously extremely talented and intelligent. She works well with a group of male peers who (with one notable exception, whose backstabbing is rewarded with, um, suicide bombing) are respectful and cool. Unlike a lot of female movie characters these days, Ellie seems like someone not only that I’d like to spend some time with, but whose friendship and trust would be worth winning.
I wish Jodie Foster would act more. And that Matthew McConaughey would do more with his talent when he acts.