By William Shelton
Close Encounters is a 1977 science fiction film by Director Steven Spielberg. The film centers around Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) an average man who encounters a UFO one night while investigating a blackout. Upon experiencing the alien craft Neary’s life begins to tear itself apart as his wife doesn’t believe what he says, his kinds think he’s a joke and his mind is contently filled with a strange image he can’t seem to place. He soon finds that he’s not alone, as he meets a woman named Jillian (Melinda Dillon) who’s son was taken by the same craft he saw. Once the two learn what the image they’ve been plagued by is, they team up and head out in order to find the find the alien ship once again.
One of the most fascinating things about the film is how optimistic it is. The government team that is sorting out the “first contact stuff” is made up of both American and french members and at one point does anyone thing mindlessly shooting at our new galactic neighbors is a good idea. It’s somewhat odd then that the film choices to focus on Roy Neary, as he is something of a detail to this core concept. As the film start Roy is the kind of guy who will “jokingly” tell his children he’s going to beat them for basic misbehavior and try and sway them into doing things he’d rather do. And while he does change in the end into being a more open person, but he is still rather unlikable. As he slowly begins to be devoured into the image the UFO has placed in his head he makes no real effort to explain to his wife and children what’s going on. When his wife decides to leave him his biggest concern his that she isn’t dressed properly. And wen the film ends he has not only started a relationship with another woman, but he also joins the aliens without so much as a mention of his wife. No “tell my wife I love her” or “i’m sorry baby” not even a “see, I was right all along”. He just does not care about her or his kids at all. For a film that is mostly about people coming together it is just such an odd choice that the main character would be so willing to leave his loved ones behind with out a second thought.
However odd the choice in main character was, the gravity over the overwhelming positivity can’t be understated. For example of this, look to the well known scene near the end when mankind has not only encountered alien life, but has also started to communicate with it. In most movies man kinds first encounter with extra terrestrial life involves man kind getting its ass handed too them and the climax is about man kinds managing to fight back the invaders. Here, however, man kind greets these unknown life forms. They play music to each other. The start a conversation using a common language. No shots are fired, no one dies, no one is even harmed. It’s a beautiful scene that caps off a beautiful movie.
Again, the point of this really seems to be taking an optimistic stand on living with outer and learning from each other. While it’s not an omnipresent theme throughout the film, the necessity of none violence towards outsiders seems to be on the forefront of the films mind. Could this be a statement on immigration or on accepting refugees asylum? It’s hard to say with out proper context of the era’s political climate, but it is an interesting thought.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a great film from one of the best film makers of all time. It’s not quite as good as some of Spielberg’s other works, but it is still an brilliant example of why he’s considered one of the greats.
My Grade: 19/20