Great you also saw this film!
I never recognised that particular scene as gnostically inspired: actually, it's not in the book (which is from the 1980's).
(WARNING - SPOILERS BELOW)
The movie is very interesting indeed, though I find the book way more interesting (as is often the case); even though Sagan co-authored the film script.
In the book, Ellie's mother is alive - she passes away of old age at the very end.
Ted, her father, dies in the book, too - around the same age. But her mother re-marries with a guy - John Staughton - with whom Ellie has a very difficult relationship. Of course because she misses her own father, but John's also a very different kind of person. Not as warm and stimulating as her father had been.
But thereby hangs a tale - of a theme that seems to be characteristic for the book. The other main expression of that theme is (again, more pronounced in the book) in her relationship with Palmer Joss, the religious guy (he eventually becomes the presidential advisor).
He's sort of Ellie's mirror image: she's very rational and doesn't trust religion; while he's very deeply religious and doesn't trust science. Nonetheless they like one another (though the book doesn't really go into a possible developing romance - well, Hollywood eh!). They also seem to be intellectually a good match to one another.
Because of the events Ellie goes through she essentially turns from a "skeptic" into a "believer", while Palmer goes the reverse route: she's has an experience that changed her that she can't prove - to no-one. Eventually Palmer does believe her though.
The same thing - a reversal of what's been taken for granted - goes for her father: she terribly misses her father all her life, and dislikes John Staughton as a kind of imposter.
But when her mother dies, she leaves Ellie a letter in which she tells her that, in fact, John was her real father whom she had left for Ted even before Ellie was born. After his death she ran into John again and they re-married, deciding to never tell Ellie because that might have shaken her too much at that age.
In the book there is an element that I really missed in the film. It's the concept of "numinous": it's being introduced halfway as the thing which is at the basis of Ellie's motive to become an astronomer (which I find a more true motive than the rather psychological reason that is hinted at in the film: that by doing SETI she unconsciously wants to contact her mother again).
When she's "there" in the alien machine - at the beach that resembles Pensacola - she asks her "father" / the alien whether they know "the numinous". He says they do and gives her a hint as to what that might be.
When she's back she starts to look where the hint leads her: the alien had told her that if you look very closely at the numerical development of certain transcendental_numbers
at a certain place the seemingly random digits disappear to make place for ordered structure, possibly containing information.
Ellie programs on of the SETI computers to go really deep into PI (also a transcendental number) and notify her if it encounters something unusual.
In the last page of the book, at the exact moment she reads her mother's letter that tells her that John is her father after all, the program finds an anomaly.
Deep down in PI, when looking in base 11 math, the random numbers stop and are replaced by a long string of ones and zeros. After that the random digits resume.
The length of the ones and zeros turns out to be a prime, and laid out thus it forms a rectangular grid in which the ones form a perfect circle against the background of zeros.
Code: Select all
(This example measures 6x17 which is wrong, because it should be two primes - in which case there's only one way to lay it out. I think there was even a dot in the center but this example has an even number of rows
I found this a very beautiful way of getting the essential idea across, because there is no other way that a message could be imprinted on the fabric of reality like this, other than that it was deliberately put there by a "creator". The last words of the book are: "There is an intelligence which antedates the universe. The circle had closed".
I find the book especially remarkable because Sagan is also a declared skeptic; he's a man of science and steeped in rational thought. Maybe you've heard of, or read, "The Demon-Haunted World"
. And his "Baloney Detection Kit"[/] is famous.
Yet he writes a book that has the most profound, openly spiritual message that you can think of. It's packaged in a science-fiction wrapper, but still. Maybe that's why hardly anyone seems to have noticed what this book's about?
I haven't tried to find out how "gnostic" the book is. Therefore I'm glad that Dave brought it up and mentions this point.