First off, I would like to admit that I ended up watching this on the recommendation of a drag queen named Katya. She talks so incessantly about it on her YouTube series, UNHhhh, that I decided to watch it whilst intoxicated and see what makes a Jodie Foster flick about finding aliens a drag queen’s favourite film.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, considering I went to watch it with no expectations one way or the other. I was more surprised still to find that I actually had material to base a Bechdel Bitch blog post on. This film includes a lot of exploration of the issue of women in science, a historically male-dominated field. A romantic subplot is also included, but in a way which does not undermine Ellie’s character (Jodie Foster) or her work to find extra-terrestrial life.
Ellie is the main character in a film dominated by male presence. Her mother is revealed to have died in childbirth and so her father is shown to be the main parental presence in her early years until his death when she was still a young girl. This theme continues throughout the film with a distinct lack of female characters, other than the excellent Angela Bassett playing Rachel Constantine, who definitely deserved a bigger part. Male scientists such as David Drumlin in particular, are those who are quick to dismiss Ellie’s quest for the truth about extraterrestrial activity.
The prejudice which women face in the field of science is not conveyed so much by Drumlin’s comments towards Ellie but rather the way people respond to his character. He is seen to be the face of the operations Ellie is working with, despite the fact that she did the bulk of the work and did it in the face of his cynicism. His word is trusted when hers is not, and he gets away with interrupting her during discussions, as well as becoming the favoured human subject to enter the spaceship and travel to make contact with the aliens. Whilst his snide comments mean that he is the antagonist of this movie in a simplistic sense, it is the attitudes towards him which are far more telling of a deeper-rooted issue of sexism in science. His death, therefore, comes as a bittersweet turn of events, since it means that Ellie’s candidacy to be the passenger of the spaceship is finally taken seriously. Ellie is proven to the viewers that she is a worthy candidate when she successfully makes contact with the aliens. However, her testimony is once again not taken seriously when she returns to Earth, leaving us wondering whether Drumlin would have convinced anyone of the truth.
Another point I would like to raise is the issue of the romantic subplot between Ellie and Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). They are seen to be star-crossed lovers, kept apart by their differing views on religion and science. However, what is truly noteworthy and somewhat remarkable for a Hollywoodian movie of this nature, is the fact that Ellie is shown to choose her career over her pursuit of romance every single time the two are pitted against each other. After Ellie and Palmer sleep together for the first time, she then leaves the note with his phone number on it by her bed when she moves for her work. This is an obvious illustration of Ellie choosing her career over her love interest and something which I think is rare and commendable in a film like this. This same choice is repeated again later on when she chooses to continue with the mission to find extra-terrestrial life despite the fact that travelling in the spaceship would be risking her own life and thus any potential she had to be with Palmer. I am thrilled she did so, illustrating the importance of scientific gain over personal gain, and personal gain over any romance that she would gain by staying by his side.
Despite any short-comings of the film as occasionally cheesy and a little on the long side, I feel that it’s definitely worth a watch. It raises interesting questions about science for science’s sake versus applicable and useful science, faith versus truth and of course, all the feminist issues which I have delved into in this blog post. It’s made me want to read the book, written by Carl Sagan himself, to see what he has to say on all these matters. Thank you for the recommendation, Katya.