Im just starting to realise that a lot of films that I’ve seen as a young child, films that I now swear by, I actually didn’t like the first time I saw them. This is another one. I just didn’t get it. Was it scary film, a family film or a sci-fi flick? It took me a few years of maturity to realise its all of them. However, there was one thing that really bugged me about it though and that was the ending. Im not talking about the various endings Spielberg has changed over the years. I mean the choice Roy makes.
It was a while before I could really take in the subtleties of what Spielberg achieved with encounters. It also took me a while to realise how sad the ending really is. This movie is a masterpiece, visually and structurally. But even after all these years theres one major point that really sticks with me.
Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary is involved in a ‘close encounter’ where a vision is placed in head. This vision proves so overwhelming he ends up losing his job and his wife leaves him taking the kids as well. Even then he’s still compled to find out what the visions mean. He eventually finds the location thats been placed in his head. And heres the point that really grinded on me even as a kid. Roy is there to witness the first ever contact with an Alien life form. He’s actually been chosen by the aliens to be there, he just happens to be one of the few who made it. But its the idea that he leaves earth, without ever knowing if he will return that really got to me. I guess I was especially sensitive to this as my father was not part of my life, and in a way I felt abandoned. The idea of just leaving your family was remarkable to me. Of course being a little older now I understand that it was a little false equivalence I was doing. Being a terrible father and never seeing your children and being invited on a once in a lifetime opportunity to live with alien lifeforms is not exactly the same thing. Yet even know I still can’t get over how he doesn’t even seem to spare them a thought as he boards the spacecraft. It just feels like such a cold moment within, an ending that is otherwise so full of joy and wonder. No matter how many times I rewatch Close Encounters, it’s that end sequence that stays with me mo than any other Spielberg movie.