Had a little movie party last night, screening an all-time fave: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I’ve been waiting for years to see it on a big screen again, enhanced by surround sound and a cheerful bunch of fans and newbies. (Believe it or not, a full 1/3 of our guests had not seen the film. Ever.)
But a funny thing happened on the way to the fantastic finale: people balked.
Now, I was remembering the story as a quest for adventure, about a man who had to follow his true calling (in this case, an actual alien call), against all odds. And I remembered that one of those odds was his wife. Another, his kids. I distinctly remember the familial dissolution that was central to the film. In fact, I asked my guests before we ran the movie to consider: is this film really about aliens at all?
I asked this question because I was thinking of this as a film about the struggle between dreams and doubters, and an accurate portrayal of a man undergoing a midlife crisis: something even I could recognize at the tender age of 11 when the film was released.
But somehow the takeaway memory got wrapped up in all that blissful glittering of the mothership and the look on François Truffaut’s face when he says, “I envy you, Monsiuer Neary,” as Dreyfuss prepares to go on his cosmic journey.
Most of all, I remember wishing Roy Neary well.
But here we were, a group of still-new parents and everyone said: “Hey, did he just leave the kids behind? What about his wife? Did he give up???”
I argued that in the age of Kramer Vs. Kramer, this was a natural ending. Hey, it was the ’70s, people. The “me” generation, remember?
“But did Spielberg know what he was saying?” our audience members asked.
“I think he knew exactly what he was saying. And in his next film (E.T.), the dad is completely gone and it’s the boy who follows the adventure to its ultimate conclusion.”
But viewers were left with more of a sour taste than I ever had for the film, and I had to ask myself: is Roy Neary the ultimate adventurer or the worst dad ever? Would I leave my kids if aliens called? Would you?
Keep thinking… And in case you need a reminder about the general vibe, here’s a quick rehash: