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Dark Implications in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1 Viewer)

Desdinova

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My friends often accuse me of overthinking movies and I suppose this thread proves them right.

First off, I absolutely love the film and have ever since I first saw it back in '78; since then I've seen it countless times. But with subsequent viewings I find myself thinking about all of the very dark, undiscussed aspects of the story.

For example, what was the entire point of the aliens' visit? Insofar as we know, they didn't share any great technological advances with us, they simply dropped off at bizarre, random spots all of the hardware they'd stolen over the last few decades along with all of the people they'd abducted...people they've been abducting for decades (at the very least). Considering just the pilots of Flight 19, they've been held captive for thirty-two years, yet haven't aged. So now they're returned to pick up the pieces with spouses and children much older than themselves (if the family members are even alive). In addition, they're all legally dead at this point. Are we to assume that the government returned them to Life Status? Wouldn't that require the government to also announce the existence of the aliens?

And if the aliens wanted to announce themselves to us, why all the subterfuge? Why not simply land and say, "Hey, we're here!" Instead, they mess with the brains of a large number of witnesses (and from Neary's reaction, we know it was a traumatic experience). After the aliens leave, does all that go away or are there still a bunch of damaged, confused folks still suffering out there? Did this happen in other countries or did the aliens only land in the U.S.? We know they visited other nations in their Comeback Tour but we're never really told if it went any further than the aforementioned dropping off of ships and planes.

And what about Neary's family? I'm assuming that the aliens didn't just take him along so he could go sightseeing for a few weeks and then they'd bring him back (though that's possible). Suddenly, his wife and kids are left without a husband and father and probably no explanation forthcoming as to what happened to him.

So what do YOU folks think about these grumbles? :)
 

Walter Kittel

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I believe the general idea of the film was to shape a narrative that conformed to a lot of the tropes associated with UFOs at that time, not to make sense of an extraterrestrial agenda or to necessarily examine all the ramifications of the events depicted. As noted in the first post, there are a lot of unresolved questions or unexplored plot points. The film is more about the experience vs. trying to create a story line that answers the questions posed in the first post.

Is that a weakness in the film? I suppose it depends upon your perspective. I've watched the film a number of times over the years and I tend to just go with it on the strength of the performances (esp. Dreyfuss) and the general sense of mystery that surrounds the phenomena. I've always loved the opening in the Sonoran Desert, BTW.

Sometimes it is better to not ask questions. :)

- Walter.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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My friends often accuse me of overthinking movies and I suppose this thread proves them right.

First off, I absolutely love the film and have ever since I first saw it back in '78; since then I've seen it countless times. But with subsequent viewings I find myself thinking about all of the very dark, undiscussed aspects of the story.

For example, what was the entire point of the aliens' visit? Insofar as we know, they didn't share any great technological advances with us, they simply dropped off at bizarre, random spots all of the hardware they'd stolen over the last few decades along with all of the people they'd abducted...people they've been abducting for decades (at the very least). Considering just the pilots of Flight 19, they've been held captive for thirty-two years, yet haven't aged. So now they're returned to pick up the pieces with spouses and children much older than themselves (if the family members are even alive). In addition, they're all legally dead at this point. Are we to assume that the government returned them to Life Status? Wouldn't that require the government to also announce the existence of the aliens?

And if the aliens wanted to announce themselves to us, why all the subterfuge? Why not simply land and say, "Hey, we're here!" Instead, they mess with the brains of a large number of witnesses (and from Neary's reaction, we know it was a traumatic experience). After the aliens leave, does all that go away or are there still a bunch of damaged, confused folks still suffering out there? Did this happen in other countries or did the aliens only land in the U.S.? We know they visited other nations in their Comeback Tour but we're never really told if it went any further than the aforementioned dropping off of ships and planes.

And what about Neary's family? I'm assuming that the aliens didn't just take him along so he could go sightseeing for a few weeks and then they'd bring him back (though that's possible). Suddenly, his wife and kids are left without a husband and father and probably no explanation forthcoming as to what happened to him.

So what do YOU folks think about these grumbles? :)

I think Spielberg has discussed the idea that Roy is not a great dad.

To me the story is told from the perspective of the characters and what happens leading up to this event where the aliens want to make contact, presumably to return the people that have been taken aboard their spaceships. In telling the story this way, we do not get a "god's eye" view of things, we are seeing things with and through the characters, so as they are not thinking through every implication of the choices they make, neither are we as an audience really. We are observing what they are going through from their perspectives.

Motives of the aliens are kept mysterious, although when the final meet and greet happens at the end, they appear friendly, with no ill intent. It seems they have been studying the planet, our species, and our technology. We know as much as the characters do and that is the intent. The characters have questions and so we share their questions.

Roy is driven by some pull to meet the aliens. He and the others that try to make it to this meeting have all been contacted in some way and are following this thought that has been put in their head. It is a mystery they feel they must solve, that they must be a part of.

In the film, this meeting does not seem to be about the aliens bestowing upon humanity some great technology but rather just an opportunity to make contact and attempt communication. I think it is a sizing up of how the two species will or can interact in a friendly manner.

Telling the story from the perspective of the characters increases the mystery that pulls us into the story, obviously at the expense of explaining things to us. I think the film is meant to leave us with a series of questions because the filmmakers did not feel they had any answers. The idea was to present what contact like this may look and feel like. To that end, I think the film greatly succeeds.
 

Jack P

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I've always been bothered by the whole element of Roy abandoning his family especially because it was an outside event that basically made him act this way that drove his family away. That doesn't exactly make the aliens look good either, and I have to agree with the points made by Scott. These benevolent aliens snatched people from their families for decades or more and they also put poor Melinda Dillon through the wringer for no good reason ultimately. That said, if Roy had said something to Lacombe before he was leaving about, "Would you please get word to my wife and tell her.....I'm sorry. And please make sure they're taken care of?" that would have salvaged it somewhat. At least it would show Roy has enough humanity in him to not forget them completely (of course let's be honest. Given a choice between traveling with aliens or being married to Terri Garr what would any sane male choose????)

The first version I saw was the Special Edition on TV. And has anyone ever felt as I did that when you see the shower of lights coming over Roy inside the mother ship and then we cut back to the alien coming out on the steps, that hey, has Roy been turned into an alien???
 

Winston T. Boogie

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I've always been bothered by the whole element of Roy abandoning his family especially because it was an outside event that basically made him act this way that drove his family away. That doesn't exactly make the aliens look good either, and I have to agree with the points made by Scott. These benevolent aliens snatched people from their families for decades or more and they also put poor Melinda Dillon through the wringer for no good reason ultimately. That said, if Roy had said something to Lacombe before he was leaving about, "Would you please get word to my wife and tell her.....I'm sorry. And please make sure they're taken care of?" that would have salvaged it somewhat. At least it would show Roy has enough humanity in him to not forget them completely (of course let's be honest. Given a choice between traveling with aliens or being married to Terri Garr what would any sane male choose????)

The first version I saw was the Special Edition on TV. And has anyone ever felt as I did that when you see the shower of lights coming over Roy inside the mother ship and then we cut back to the alien coming out on the steps, that hey, has Roy been turned into an alien???

I don't think there is anything in the film that gets into the motives of the aliens because we do not at all see the events through their eyes. I don't think anything in the way it is told asks us to examine why different people were taken with them. I think when they return these people at the end it is meant to be a gesture indicating they meant no harm. We don't know if they think, feel, or interact in the same way we do as a species and so to them taking some people with them could have been seen as harmless in their culture. Time may also not be viewed in the same way we view it, so to them, these people being with them could have seemed like a very short period of time that would be little interruption to their existence.

They appear benevolent because they return the people unharmed...and interestingly, as if no time has passed for them. It is only for the humans that did not go with them that time has passed.

Roy's character is following something mysterious within him and he feels this need to make contact with these creatures, as if it is something bigger than his ordinary existence. His wife wanted to leave him and take the kids with her at that point anyway, according to the story. We don't know how long Roy will be gone, as it could be any period of time, from however long the pilots had been gone, to how long the boy had been gone. It seemed as if Roy and the others going with them at that point were volunteering to do so, so perhaps, we don't know, it would be for a brief period of time. Long enough for some sort of exchange between the humans and aliens.

Really the film does not attempt to deliver answers, it shows us a mystery unfold, and that is the fun of the picture. The things referenced in the film, like missing planes and pilots and ships, well, that was just the writers using these things to make the story feel more attached to real events. Not so much to be used as a way to gauge what the aliens wanted of us or their motives.
 

KPmusmag

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For me, part of the magic of Close Encounters is that we, the audience, are as bewildered at what is happening as are the human characters in the film. With most movies and TV shows, everything ends up being explained and wrapped up, so it does feel incomplete somehow not to have that happen in CE. It kind of echoes how I feel when I look up at the stars at night and ponder existence and there are no certain answers to be had.

While Roy is the character the movie mostly follows, I do not see him as a hero; I do not expect him to be a paragon of virtue. He is so consumed by his calling that he does abandon everything and everybody. Is that the "right" thing to do? No, certainly not, but part of the mystery is the intense need he (and the others) have to obey this calling at any cost. Are the aliens calling these people individually or is it a DNA thing or something else? Maybe all life is more connected somehow than we realize.

The events in the story are so extraordinary that I find it hard to apply traditional human societal mores and ideals to the characters these things are happening to. CE is one of my favorite movies because it leaves me feeling like there is so much possibility. I don't know how to say this correctly, but somehow this movie makes me feel closer to the mystery even though I cannot explain it.
 

Desdinova

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Thanks everyone for jumping in and sharing your insights.

I think we're all pretty much in agreement with what the filmmakers intended in terms of focusing primarily on the witnesses and the wonder of the moments but I'm not sure that gets them off the hook for setting up questions and implications that we're left to resolve with only negative implications.

Unfortunately, since the aliens aren't really directly present until the climax, we the audience are forced to fill in the narrative gaps and we're left with nothing but their off-screen (except for Barry's abduction) presence. And I continue to find their actions troubling, if not outright malicious. Not only do they trash Jillian's kitchen and most of her food (why? they've been visiting and studying us for decades and they still don't understand what a Coke can is and how it works?) but they then abduct her son under horrifically traumatic circumstances. For what purpose? "Hey, let's check out one more kid even though we'll be landing in a week or so and can simply ask to have some volunteers to look over"?

I also question that as advanced as their science clearly is, they didn't know how long they were keeping the abductees. And in regards to studying our technology, why not just grab the various planes and ships and Coke cans and go hide behind Mars or something and study them on their mothership and then return them? They clearly weren't grabbing such structures with those smaller ships so they were using a pretty large ship (that could evade our radar and other detection, evidenced by their grabbing all five planes from Flight 19 out of our airspace with no one noticing). If they don't have any kind of laboratories on such a ship (doubtful) then they were making repeated multi-light year round trips. They could have easily returned those abductees on a return flight.

And were they only abducting Americans? Were they also dropping folks off in other countries or were we expected to just take all of these confused, lost abductees and make sure they got home okay? And how does that make America look? Without the aliens as an explanation, the implication is that America abducted all of these folks and were using some unknown science to keep them young.

In all fairness, I don't expect anyone here on the forum to have any answers to these questions and accusations, I've basically just spiraled down the rabbit hole with my grumblings. But hey, that's half the fun of these forums!

And despite all of my questions, I still love the film, so clearly I don't consider it broken. I just have questions...sooo many questions. :)

A friend of mine chimed in when he read this thread and explained it thusly: "It was an invasion, pure and simple. They planned to sweep in and finally take over but once they got Barry on the ship, the little twerp started trashing the place and writing on the walls so they said, the hell with it, kicked everybody out, took Neary for a hood ornament and went home."
 
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TravisR

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While Roy is the character the movie mostly follows, I do not see him as a hero; I do not expect him to be a paragon of virtue. He is so consumed by his calling that he does abandon everything and everybody.
I've always felt that while Roy is abandoning his family, it's not like he's running off to Reno with a floozy that he just met- he's been chosen by an alien lifeform to go with them and he'll see things that no other human has ever seen or experienced. I think potentially never seeing your family again is a noble sacrifice to make for what would probably be the most important event in history.
 

jayembee

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Given a choice between traveling with aliens or being married to Terri Garr what would any sane male choose????)

This reminds me of a question someone asked years ago:

Back in the late 70s, there was this movie where this workaday man sees something so extraordinary that he's compelled to try and make sense of it. His family doesn't believe him, and because of his attempts to uncover the truth of it all, they begin to think he's losing his mind. Eventually, in the end, he's proven right.

Oh, and his wife was played by Teri Garr.

What movie is this? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Sure, that works.

But so does Oh, God.

Now, it's a fun bit of movie trivia, but the thing is, the same issues with the alien agenda, etc. that one can have with CE3K can also apply to OG. The alien agenda is impenetrable, but what is it that's often said about God..."He moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform" and "They are things that Man is not meant to know". And Neary may have abandoned his wife and children to go off and learn more about the alien mysterious, but then, people have done the same thing searching for the meaning of God's truth.
 

Desdinova

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Maybe after going through all that with her first husband, she decided one seeker was enough and that's why she ditched Neary.:)
 

Worth

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Oh, and his wife was played by Teri Garr.

What movie is this? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Sure, that works.

But so does Oh, God.
Yes, and they were released within a month of each other.
 

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