The search for life outside our solar system becomes a personal and spiritual quest for a young researcher. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a scientist who lost her faith in God after her parents died when she was a child. However, Ellie has learned to develop a different sort of faith in the seemingly unknowable: working with a group that monitors radio waves from space, Ellie hopes that some day she will receive a coherent message from another world that will prove that there is a world beyond our own. Ellie's hard work is rewarded when her team picks up a signal that does not appear to be of earthly origin. Ellie decodes the message, which turns out to be plans for a space craft, which she takes as an invitation for a meeting with the aliens. Ellie and her fellow researchers soon run into interference from a White House scientific advisor, David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), who cuts off their funding and tries to take credit for their achievements.