Thirteen years ago, there was a big-budget summer blockbuster that did something rare: it entertained people AND made them think about important philosophical issues. Its repercussions continue to be felt today. That movie, of course, was Beverly Hills Ninja.

No, I kid, it was Contact, starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. This was 1997, when Jodie Foster still made movies regularly, and when the novelty of Matthew McConaughey hadn't worn off yet. Robert Zemeckis, who had just won an Oscar for directing Forrest Gump -- THAT IS A THING THAT REALLY HAPPENED -- was next hired to direct this story, based on a novel by Carl Sagan.

Sagan, who died eight months before the film was released, was next to Isaac Asimov and Stephen Hawking in the category of Super-Smart Guys Who Look at the Stars and Know Everything About Them. The stereotype would be that he was therefore an atheist, but Sagan always insisted he was agnostic. "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know," he said. "An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."

As a scientist, Sagan was interested in observable facts. Religious faith is more about intangibles. Yet science and faith are not mutually exclusive, despite what you may have heard from Richard Dawkins or Conservapedia. Contact acknowledges that sometimes even science requires a leap of faith. Sometimes you can know something without being able to prove it.
categories Columns, Cinematical