Jerry refuses to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind--on principle: He disdains a movie that asks people to search elsewhere for hope and fulfillment, rather than in their own lives. This is also the guy who’d rather listen to Yes than Bruce Springsteen--“Why eat hamburger when I can have a steak?” A nice guy, but suffering from a blind spot: Someone who thinks Siddartha is one of the best books of the 20th century has a funny idea of what makes for a good steak.
Now, I like Yes--went with my Close Encounters-hating friend to see them tell Tales from Topographic Oceans--and have read with great pleasure Hesse’s book about the Buddha--but I also could not take my eyes away from Close Encounters, from that first moment when Spielberg jumpstarts us with a burst of light and music, to the gumball/pinball spaceships, the unfolding mystery in Roy Neary’s head--Richard Dreyfuss once more in deep waters with Spielberg (and this time the boat’s plenty big)--and Melinda Dillon’s panicked mom, and the little boy who runs toward the monster like a kid on Christmas morning bolting down the stairs--and even François Truffaut showing up, the strangest visitor of all, a gentle reminder that Jerry is wrong, that this is a story about finding something in one’s life, down deep where indefinite shapes elude our grasp--unless we’re scary lucky, and they take definite shape, in mashed potatoes or charcoal sketches--or gigantic science fair projects, big papier-mâché mountains in the living room. It was dismaying to see Neary fly away from everyone, little by little, to outer space--the kind of upheaval only reckless hope can fix, with or without special effects.
I won’t argue with my friend; I can only record my own hypnosis, not wanting the picture to end, wanting its humor and terror, joy and wonder to go on for just a little more, just a while longer, like a kid who doesn’t want to go to sleep.