Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

     Ah, Steven Spielberg. I knew I’d get to him sooner or later. Yes, Spielberg is the director behind such classic blockbusters as “Jaws”, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and behind epic masterpieces like “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”. So even though his directing style isn’t entirely original (he’s borrowed a lot of techniques from John Ford—and Spielberg would be the first to admit it), he’s a great storyteller and can appeal to all kinds of audiences. But my favorite Spielberg film is what I’ll be sharing with you today, his UFO film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, which incorporates science fiction, music, and even faith into a movie that amazes me every time I watch it.

     The movie begins by placing us in the middle of Mexico in an investigation that’s a total mystery to us, and to the people exploring there. Scientists have found World War Two planes that had been declared missing in 1945, but somehow they look brand-new. Where did they come from? Well, remember those planes. Then we move to Indiana where we’re introduced to Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), son of Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), who wakes up to find something—or someone—in his kitchen that eventually leads him outside. Jillian chases after him. Remember that. THEN we’re finally introduced to the lead character, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), and his family. Roy works for the local power company who calls him and tells him that lines are going down all over the city, right before their own line goes down. Roy drives out to investigate, but soon he has to pull over next to a railroad crossing because he’s lost. But at the crossing, something strange happens. Lights start flashing around him. Nearby mailboxes start shaking. The power in his car goes on and off without Roy even turning the key. Eventually, it all stops, and Roy is able to go on driving, though completely confused.

     Suddenly, Roy sees up ahead on the road a little boy. He swerves just in time. He gets out to make sure the child and his mother are okay. It’s Barry and Jillian: she’s chased him all the way out to the road because he’s chasing something else. And the three of them, along with a few others, witness something spectacular: an unidentified flying object, all lit up and booming loud. It’s so bright that they’re all sunburned! And from that point on, Roy is obsessed with finding out more about the UFO. He gets an image in his mind of some kind of mountain, the shape of which he sees constantly in household objects. He knows that there is a real mountain like it, but he doesn’t know what it is. Jillian is the same way—she has the same vision of the same mountain.

     And then things start taking a turn for the worst. Barry is captured by a UFO, leaving Jillian distraught. Roy’s obsession with the ship and the mountain start distracting him from his family life, and it eventually drives him crazy—in a way. He starts to yield and takes down the drawings and sculptures he’s made of that mountain in his study, until suddenly, he accidentally rips the top off of one and recognizes it: he’s been seeing Devil’s Tower, a mountain in Wyoming with a flat top. And he starts getting even more obsessed—so much so that his wife takes their three kids and leaves him. He decides to go to Wyoming to see what’s going on Devil’s Tower, where he finds Jillian but also finds the military trying to drive people out of the area, trying to keep the UFO issue a secret. But that doesn’t stop Roy and Jillian, who climb up Devil’s Tower and find the site where scientists are preparing to communicate with the UFO.

     And the sequence that follows is breathtaking. See, earlier on in the film, scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and others figured out that the UFO made five musical notes that they were able to duplicate. And now, the scientists play those five notes, luring in the UFO, and eventually communicating with it through complicated music. It’s awesome. Soon, the UFO lands, and people come out: among them, the pilots of those “missing” WWII planes, who haven’t aged a day, and Barry, excited as ever.

     I say this is a movie about faith because Roy and Jillian’s characters have a vision and are willing to sacrifice their safety to find out what it is. And that’s the kind of faith that I should have as a Christian, trying to find out more and more about how I should follow Jesus. And it’s really simple: just have faith. Just believe. Jesus even says to have the faith of a child, just simply believing. In Mark 10, when Jesus’ disciples are driving children away from seeing Jesus, He welcomes the children to Him: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (10:14-15)

     In “Close Encounters”, Roy has to find the faith and the courage to just trust his gut and figure out what’s going on. In a sense, he needs the faith of a child—like Barry, who finds the aliens before anyone else and even befriends them before anyone else. And when Roy has that kind of faith, the faith that takes him from Indiana to Wyoming, through closed roads and military confrontations, even when he has no idea what he’s looking for, people see that in him. One of the film’s last lines is when Lacombe, who has met Roy and knows where he’s been, tells him: “Mr. Neary, I envy you.”

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will find the childlike faith to follow Jesus today, even when you have no idea where He’s going to take you.

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