It was early 1997 when that twin-tailed beauty passed close by and started her dazzling show that lasted for months. It was just around the time I'd decided to go on a quest for knowledge and started visiting the public library three times a week. I don't know why I suddenly went from zero to full-on almost overnight, but my life changed. I read nothing but science (non-fiction) and soon knew that it was time to go back to university and focus on one of the hard sciences. Having recently discovered that I actually had an aptitude for mathematics and had been fooling myself for years into thinking I'd had a math block, I started thinking about physics. Einstein and Hawking stuff. But, fearing it would be too difficult, I spent my first year in general studies thinking about molecular biology.
Then, I saw "Contact" and I knew I wasn't going to be satisfied studying anything other than astrophysics. Even though it's a movie about S.E.T.I. (the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence), it gives a bit of insight into the lives of people who spend their working days and nights studying the skies. It's a Robert Zemeckis movie, so you'd expect the cheesy Hollywood stuff (which you do get), but what you get wrapped in the melodrama is a wonderfully inspiring tale about a person who after years of living inwardly, finally learns to reach out and connect with people after spending so much time alone searching for something more in the heavens.
I can't say now concretely what it was about the movie that convinced me to major in physics because once I started with the advanced mathematics and physics courses, the sense of wonder I felt at discovering down to the smallest details how things in this universe work became the driving force in my academic success. I was reaching out with my mind farther than I'd ever dreamed and forgot about what inspired me to do it all in the first place.
This last weekend, however, I re-watched Contact and recaptured some of the feeling of how much the movie moved me when I first saw it. Of course, a lot of people I know who've seen it say, "Meh," but all I can say is that it still speaks to me.
Note: I actually studied at New Mexico Tech in Socorro for awhile. That's where the Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes that you see in the movie is.