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Jodie Foster's Contact --For Carl?

by Penn Jillette

A recent Newsweek survey says that way more than half the people in this land of the free and home of the brave believe in UFOs. Of course, nowadays "UFO" doesn't always mean "Unidentified Flying Object," as the literal acronym would have you believe. Sure, there are things in the sky that we can't identify. But there are things in my refrigerator that I can't identify. That doesn't mean they're space alien leftovers.

The over half of us who are nuts (a democratic majority -- that's why our founding fathers gave us the Bill of Rights and representational government), also don't mean, " I just can't figure out everything that's in the sky." They mean they believe in space aliens traveling hundreds of thousands of light years to bewilder some beer-buzzed hicks. If that "over half" figure is really accurate, it might be time to take a Cobain suck and get it over with.

Although I tend to be, as Chip Denman says, "so skeptical, I can hardly believe it," I was very excited about the movie "Contact." For one, it had Carl Sagan's name on it. Carl Sagan was a great man. I heard him speak several times. I knew him well enough to make "billions and billions" jokes to his face. I was proud when he introduced Penn & Teller at a skeptic's convention as "Madonna's ex-husband and the father of the H bomb."

I wouldn't give UFOs the time of day (and with faster-than-light travel, it wouldn't mean jack to them anyway), but I would always listen to Carl talk about SETI. Organized radio waves are a long way from weather balloons and doe-eyed rubber dummies.

But I hated "Contact." I really hated it. And I don't think I would have been so angry if it hadn't strung me along.

Jodie Foster plays the best scientist in movie history. There was no Jeff Goldblum/William Shatner nerd histrionics. There was no "you know, Miss, withou t your glasses . . . my god, you're beautiful!" She had the lust for truth in her voice, her walk, and her eyes. I was down with this character. Jodie sure can act.

I loved the way she had empty sex with the Forest-Gump-thinking, Yanni/DanFogelberg-listening, epistomological-hedonist (if it feels good, believe it), guy and then dumped him. It's about time we saw some male bimbos in movies. The hearing scene where she refused to cop to believing in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who cares deeply about our sex lives made my heart soar like an eagle. And foot age of Billy Clinton saying anything he thought voters wanted to hear seemed dead on.

The movie was rocking along. Even though it was fiction, it was just like Carl -- pro-science to the bone.

Then it all started falling apart. Why didn't Jodie permanently lose the newage -- rhymes with "sewage" -- hippie after he tried to keep her from fulfilling her dreams for his own short-sighted horniness? That started to bum me, but it was the ending that finally broke my heart. The end of "Contact" asserted that belief in something tangible by a single person is equivalent to belief in god, and that the reality imagined by saints is the same as scientists understanding so mething they can't explain to lay people.

That is evil, utterly evil.

Some of my friends say I should be happy that there was an atheist hero. They say that she didn't knuckle under to faith, that she was still looking for proof. Well, I hop e that's what it meant but, man, when "For Carl" came up at the end, I felt cheated. Carl Sagan never hedged like that.