Your own close encounter

I remember the night I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the first time. It was at the mobile home of a neighbor in the dark back country roads outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m going strictly by memory right now but if it serves correctly, the beginning is marked by ocean liners that have been misplaced, missing monuments, and generally remarkable and humanly impossible things. There’s also that annoying sequence of musical notes that baffles and plagues the scientists who wonder of its significance and meaning. The notes are truly haunting.

They also haunt Richard Dreyfuss and several other compadres, so much so that they leave kith and kin in order to follow what some might term whimsy. Perhaps it is whimsy. At least the Dreamkillers would have us think so.

In the end of the movie, Dreyfuss joins the aliens, entering a new life entirely juxtaposed to the one he lived before. He jumps off the train of life as he has known it. He bets his very life on the belief that there is reason to follow dreams, take risks, and discover the bigger picture. He votes for mystery rather than complicity. I love that final scene, all the people leaving the alien craft and some getting on for, hopefully, the adventure of a lifetime. The craft is surrounded by hundreds of people. In their hearts I think most of the observers are wanting to get on, but afraid of what it will mean, what lies ahead.

If I could interview just one movie director it would be Steven Spielberg. Somehow he has learned to make the conventional unconventional, the routine hair-raising. I think I remember reading a long time back that Spielberg was having problems conceptualizing the craft and the surroundings in that final scene of Close Encounters. If memory serves me correctly, he had driven up to the top of one of the mountains that ring Los Angeles. He stared out over the magnificent lights of the city hoping for just the right solution to materialize in the quietness of that space. Indeed it did. Being awed by the lights of the city, he wondered what those city lights would look like if they were all turned upside down and made to look as if they were coming down from the sky. And thus was born the final scene of the movie.

In this moment, as in so many others, little makes very much sense. Life seems to be a few dissonant notes, jagged, with no apparent rhythm or pattern. But for those who are willing to follow the broken strands of sound, to embrace the pain and the the losses, the music will one day make sense and be beautiful beyond belief. Indeed, it will welcome others into your story, into the hearth of your own heart’s kitchen. Often we have to leave the comfort of home, the safety of the familiar, to find the music that will free our souls from the tyranny of the urgent.

Written by Mike Davis June 7, 1995

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