With a strong desire nurtured in her childhood, Eleanor Arroway is a doctor working for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life (SETI) programme in Puerto Rico, a project that was once funded by the United States government, but is now privately funded and run by the universities of California at Berkeley, and Havard. The film is based on a similarly titled book by Carl Sagan, an astronomer and cosmologist. Sagan used real-life Director for Research at SETI, Dr. Jill Tarter as his title character in the book, and both believed in the pursuit of communication between Earth and other able life that may exist in the universe.
Gifted and very driven, she searches for evidence of just one instance of intelligent life in any one of the millions of worlds in space. Having been denied funding, a wealthy, long-time backer and who has maintained an interest in her work decides to sponsor her, and she later succeeds in recording a coded message from an extra-terrestrial source. Contact has been made.
The search for ET intelligence has always been questioned, with some viewing it as a massive waste of money and resources that could be perhaps better utilised in curing several diseases, bridging poverty gaps and even exploring further reaches of the Earth that are as yet unexplored (Cox, 2011). Others argue that the money invested into space exploration is not only recovered, but also makes great profits from the patents of goods invented by Nasa (Dubner, 2008). Then there are the issues of intent. Why are we so eager to establish civilizations on other planets when we have failed at keeping this one intact? Religious issues are also weighty, as this would challenge the position held by the mainstream faiths, that Earth is uniquely constructed specifically for humans, who are also the pinnacle of intelligent life in the universe.
What if the answers to the most essential question humanity can possibly ask lie within us, rather than in the far reaches of the universe? (Oestreich, 2012)