I know, I know: when you think about “one shot that encapsulates CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, this isn’t the one shot that comes to mind. Accepted, but hear me out.
A lot of people these days have obsessive personalities (guilty!). One moment, someone will suggest to us that we give quinoa a try, the next moment we realize we’ve had quinoa for lunch for two weeks straight. One moment, someone will mention in passing how good a show The Wire is, the next moment we realize that all we did all weekend was sat on the couch and watch The Wire and now there’s only four or five episodes left unwatched.
Or better yet, we just give in to these obsessions and don’t even realize how much time and energy we’ve lost. Sound familiar yet?
What interests me, and what I believe this shot represents, is that quiet moment when the obsession begins. That moment where “You should try…” turns into “I need to…”. Here, for instance we find Roy not long after his first close encounter with alien life. He’s narrowly avoided being hurt, he’s narrowly avoided hurting others, and he’s somewhere in between awe, shock, and panic. His wife, Ronnie, sees this – sees her husband excited, confused, and a little afraid – and tries to centre him. She tries, if you’ll pardon the pun, to bring him back down to Earth. For a moment she’s successful, and the married couple embrace in a loving kiss. However, the moment is short-lived, and while still lovingly kissing his wife, Roy’s eyes look skyward.
His obsession is born.
It’s what another character in another film would call an “Uh-oh moment”. It’s that spot where someone does something just a little crazier than usual, or a little bit outside of who we know them to be. As we stand aside and look on, a little voice inside our head mutters “uh-ohhh…” as we get a glimpse of coming attractions. That’s if we happen to be looking on. If, like Teri Garr here, we have our eyes closed tight, and our arms wrapped around them, the moment comes and goes without ever clueing us into its arrival. Then it’s too late. We’re already on our way to carving mountains in our mashed potatoes while the kids look on and cry.
For most obsessions though, I believe this moment arrives. The moment where we can collapse into a loving embrace, or glance back up at the sky. When that moment arrives, how many of us have the wisdom to notice it – to see it as the crossroads it is? It’s like the riddle I once heard about getting a glimpse at your future and seeing yourself living a life alone that has you fixated on watching a sport that you’ve never watched before. The next day while flipping channels, you come across that very sport: do you stop and watch?
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is about a lot if things; communication, isolation, belief, and fear to name a few. It wants us to try not to dismiss things as easily as we do, and might even have the balls to suggest that we let go of everything we hold dear for greater ideals. I believe though that as much as these ideas, it wants us to think about our obsessions and think about how we became obsessed. Were we as helplessly consumed as we think we were, or did someone come to us at a crucial moment, wrap their arms around us and say “It’s OK”.
If they did – if we were lucky enough to have that person at that moment – would we fall into their embrace, or would we sneak a peek skyward?
Here’s three more from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far