Women of SF: Eleanor (Ellie) Arroway from Carl Sagan’s Contact

No 63 in Godard’s list

Dr Eleanor Arroway is the main protagonist in Carl Sagan’s science fiction novel Contact (1986) and the film adaptation of the same name in which she’s played by Jodie Foster.

Ellie is a brilliant radio astronomer who becomes Director of the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestial Intelligence) programme.  After years of searching the skies, Ellie and her colleagues discover an alien radio signal from a star called Vega.  The signal turns out to be a message containing instructions for building a machine, but it lacks any information about the purpose of the machine.  Ellie and her scientific colleagues have to persuade the world’s governments that building the machine and allowing them to activate it is in the best interests of Earth.

The film adaptation makes changes to Sagan’s story, most unfortunately, I think, in shifting the emphasis from the global team effort in the novel, to the exceptional individual in the film, with the result that the film loses the characters from Russia, India, China and Africa who accompany Ellie on the mission in the novel.  But I also think that Jodie Foster is perfect for the role and Contact is one of my favourite science fiction films.

Eleanor Arroway is a great woman of science fiction.  She’s passionate about astonomy, principled, a loyal friend to her fellow scientists, determined in the face of massive challenges, not to mention brave enough to get in a machine that might take her anywhere in the Universe and switch it on.  She’s not perfect: she has problems with her family, she’s argumentative and has a tendency to be impatient with and rude to people who irritate her.  She also has Daddy issues, which could be annoying from a feminist perspective, but since a lot of male characters in science fiction have Daddy issues too, I can’t really claim that it’s a particularly gendered aspect of the story!

You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an “airplane,” you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it’s ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon, or atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I’m asking, is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history… of history.

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One thought on “Women of SF: Eleanor (Ellie) Arroway from Carl Sagan’s Contact

  1. 100 sci fi women #63: Dr Eleanor Arroway « Godard’s Letterboxes

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