We don’t just report off-beat news, breaking news and digest the best and worst of the news media analysis and commentary. We give an original take on what happened and why. We add lols, satire, news photos and original content.
EPIC typos presents the Daily Mail’s British suicide bomber who “blew himself” in Syria. Who needs 72 virgins in paradise when you can do that?
When You Wish Upon A Star: Exploring the Spirituality of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
THE second-highest grossing film of 1977 (right behind George Lucas’s Star Wars) was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind, a science fiction film concerning mankind’s first official contact with alien life-forms.
Close Encounter’s narrative also involves the mystery behind alien abductions and the truth regarding a government conspiracy to keep the existence of UFOs a secret.
Throughout the film Spielberg cross-cuts between two major plot-lines: a scientist’s (Francois Truffaut’s) efforts to develop a language so as to communicate with the visiting aliens, and one blue-collar worker’s (Richard Dreyfuss) personal journey to better understand their uncomfortable — but growing — presence in his daily life…and inside his very head.
Importantly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was described by Science Digest as a film that is “tantamount to faith.”
The same publication noted too that Close Encounters’ sense of faith, so “wondrous and thoroughly spiritual – is registered in nearly every frame, reaching a climax in its messianic ending.”(Joy Boyom, Feb 1978, p.17).
Similarly, Gregory Richards’ monograph, Science Fiction Movies (Gallery Books, 1984, p.61) contextualizes Spielberg’s disco-decade UFO epic “as more of a religious film than a science fiction one.”
So the primary question that viewers must reckon with regarding this cult classic is: why have so many reviewers contextualized the Spielberg film as one of an overtly religious nature? Does an understanding of the religious allegory open up new avenues for understanding this work of art?
Or contrarily, does the religious explanation of Close Encounters only serve to cloud the secular, humanist message beating at the movie’s heart?
Close Encounters as Religious Allegory
In part, the categorization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a film about spirituality and faith arises because Steven Spielberg’s movie so abundantly features what David A Cook, author of Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970 – 1979, calls “an aura of religious mystery.” (University of California Press, 2000, p.47).
Roy Neary — much like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus according to Paul Flesher and Robert Torry in Film and Religion: An Introduction — experiences a kind of spiritual dawning or awakening.
In particular, Neary sees a UFO and hears the call of the aliens (transmitted via a telepathically implanted, subconscious “message” or “vision.”)
At first he does not understand the alien message. What is the meaning of the strange thoughts in his head? Why does he feel compelled to undertake a pilgrimage -- a journey to a location of great importance to one’s faith – to some mountain he has witnessed seen only in his mind?
Eventually, however, Neary surrenders to the vision, to his faith. He forsakes all his worldly belongings and connections — including his family — in a devoted (and perhaps mad…) attempt to understand why he has been “chosen” to hear this call from a (literally) Higher Power.
Clearly, Neary seeks communion with the message’s sender…with a stand-in for God. His quest in Close Encounters thus reflects Scripture and Romans in particular. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Here, Neary has heard and honored that word, but it is the words of the aliens.
Neary’s hardship and trials are eventually vindicated. At last, he meets the aliens at the mountain of his vision (ironically at a place called Devil’s Tower), and then watches as a version of the second coming of Christ is re-enacted before his eyes.
According to Flesher and Torry (Abindgon Press, 2007, p.200), the returned abductees whom the aliens release from their landed mother ship symbolically represent the dead rising, or the resurrection of the dead as foretold in Scripture. And furthermore, the ascent of the alien craft to outer space with one of the faithful (Neary) ensconced aboard it similarly represents the Christian rapture, the trip to Heaven, essentially.
Even the physical appearance of the aliens in Close Encounters might be readily interpreted as strongly reflecting Christian apotheosis.
In form, the extra-terrestrial bodies “have no clear blemishes or gender, suggesting that superior beings transcend the normal categories of physical existence and approach the ethereal qualities associated with spirits and angels,” notes scholar Eric Michael Mazur, (Encyclopedia of Religion and Faith (ABLC-CLIO, LLC 2011, page 388).
In his final ascent to the stars, to Heaven, Roy Neary is wholly affirmed in his unyielding faith and belief in the vision he received, over his wife’s cynicism and stubborn skepticism, and over the U.S. Government’s attempt to “control” the meeting of man and alien.
In some sense, Close Encounters is all about taking a leap of faith, and that very idea finds resonance in one of Spielberg’s compositions. Confronted with the government lie about a deadly and toxic nerve gas spill in Wyoming (near Devil’s Tower), Neary chooses to “believe” his own narrative instead. He rips off his protective gas mask and breaths the purportedly contaminated air. But he is proven right…he survives, and his faith is replenished.
Given the alien angels, the metaphor for the Second Coming and even this leap of faith, the overall effect, therefore, of this cinematic journey is indeed, well, rapturous.
Strangely, however, there is a dark aspect to this story of religious awakening that one must also weigh.
While it is true that Roy Neary transitions from an unhappy and spiritually bereft life to one of faith and purpose, the cost of such knowledge of God (or God surrogate, in this case) is his very family. In the act of proving his faith and his worthiness of being “born again” in the stars, Roy abandons his family on Earth. This abandonment is literal, not metaphorical.
The non-believers — including his children — get “left behind” to toil in the world without his guidance or even presence. And again, the message could be interpreted as strongly religious.
If you don’t “believe,” you don’t get saved.
Lastly, even Close Encounters’ famous tag-line “We Are Not Alone,” could be easily parsed in a religious, “God is my co-pilot” sense.
Close Encounters as a Secular Film about Self-Fulfillment
An alternate reading of Close Encounters suggests this cinematic work of art from Spielberg is actually a humanist film, the secular tale of a man who chooses to no longer be enslaved to society’s destructive constructs (including government, career, and family), and to follow his own individual path instead.
The story, again, is of Neary breaking free of constraints, but the breaking free in this reading is from a society that lies, cover-ups, and demands his perpetual unhappiness for its continuance.
The fact that Spielberg plays the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the conclusion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the primary support for this reading.
One lyric in that composition suggests a direct rebuke of faith, or religious identification. When you wish upon a star it “makes no difference who you are,” the song goes. In other words, you need not be affiliated with any particular group or belief system if you hope to achieve your dreams. You need not believe in God or a higher power. Instead, if you must merely “wish” and voice your “dreams,” you will be rewarded for following the best angels of your – human — nature.
In terms of history, Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed closely on many frissons in American politics, and this context, likewise, suggests a more humanist reading.
President Richard Nixon had been toppled in the Watergate Scandal in 1974, for example. His resignation and culpability in illegal activity suggested that “faith” or “belief” in the pillar of leadership was not such a good idea.
Similarly, the Vietnam War had ended in ignominy for the U.S. in 1975. The cause that so many Americans fought for (and died for…) was lost, and this very idea seems reflected in Close Encounters’ final scene.
There, a line of carefully vetted and approved government officials (surrogates for soldiers in Vietnam?) are overlooked by the aliens in favor of the “Everyman,” Roy Neary.
By contrast to these seemingly emotionless, expressionless, thoughtless drones, he is a man who chose explicitly not to believe the fairy tales his government was peddling. He has thus established his independence and his resourcefulness outside of Earthly and national considerations.
In this reading, the “leap of faith” of taking off the gas mask is actually the dawning awareness that — because of Watergate and Vietnam — the U.S. Government could no longer be trusted, or be considered an agent for honesty.
But again, in this reading of Close Encounters, one must reckon with Neary’s pure selfishness, his very questionable decision to leave his children and wife behind for his own individual “self-fulfillment.” And again, one must note that very idea of “sweet fulfillment” is explicitly voiced in the lyrics to the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Yet I would suggest that Neary’s act of leaving his family (and his government, and his job…) behind in 1977 would not have been looked at by many audience members as purely a bad thing.
One must recall that the 1970s was determinedly the decade of the “self,” a fact reflected in the hedonism of disco music, and the blazing ascent in popularity of the “self-help” book genre. Popular buzz-words of the day included “self-realization” and — sound familiar? — “self-fulfillment.”
Yet as the movement of “self” grew in the late 1970s, many people were concerned that the new ethos was merely one of “self-involvement. The consumption-oriented life-style of immediate gratification soon gave rise to President Carter’s notorious 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech, which warned against judging success on material wealth rather than intrinsic human qualities of character and morality.
Meanwhile, the nation kept building more shopping malls, and imagined worlds futuristic (Logan’s Run) and apocalyptic (Dawn of the Dead) set at these new shrines to materialism. he 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake deals explicitly with this notion too, of the idea of people “moving in and out of relationships too fast” because they wanted to be happy and fulfilled, all the time.
But in a way, this is what Close Encounters concerns as well. Roy Neary helps himself, finally, to achieve his “dream,” even if his family can’t share in that dream. He gets what he wants — to go with the benevolent aliens to the stars — and in the late 1970s, this result is what qualified as a happy ending.
In his text How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity (Three Rivers Press, 1997, page 291) author Bruce Bawer wrote of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that “salvation, meaning, and transcendence come down from the Heavens in a spaceship.” The question to ponder today involves the brand of salvation and transcendence.
Is it a spiritual reckoning, or a secular one that the alien spaceship brings with it?
It is a testament to Spielberg’s skill, perhaps, as a filmmaker and storyteller, that Close Encounters can be interpreted through two such opposite lenses or world-views.
ON this day in history – 1970: John Lennon performed his solo single Instant Karma! on Top Of The Pops.
“WHEN I entertain formally, it’s a place-card affair,” said Natalie Wood in 1966. She’d just finished filming Penelope. She was between her to marriages to Robert Wagner. Talking to The Press Courier, she added: “I seem to do most of my cooking on boats… I often whip up eggs ranchero.” In 1981, Natalie Wood drowned when she fell from a boat.
But at her Bel Air mansion, Wood made splendid dinners served in the buffet fashion. There were tiny quiche lorraine, piroshki and pelmeny. And there was her famous beef stroganoff:
WHEN Pussy Riot members got arrested and sent to prison, simply for mocking President Putin and his goons, right minded people were up in arms. ‘What? You can’t even protest in churches while making pretty awful, but fun music, while wearing a balaclava?’ Nope. And three members were sent off to jail, resulting in hunger strikes, celebrity endorsements and worldwide media coverage.
Putin’s Russia needed to do something to try and divert attention away from this PR disaster. Remarkably, they went after the gays and made everyone hate Putin’s Posse even more. The stupid idiots.
Either way, Pussy Riot were admirable and steadfast, refusing to budge and delivering scathing putdowns of Russian powers with the kind of eloquence that makes the rest of us sound like our tongues have swollen up through our nostrils.
EVERYBODY knows that Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt. Except she didn’t. In reality nobody really knows for sure who produced the diminutive garment first. Some say it was John Bates, famous for dressing Diana Rigg so memorably in The Avengers, while others say it was the French designer Andre Courreges, although Quant would later write: “Maybe Courreges did do mini-skirts first, but if he did, no one wore them.” There’s no doubt, however, that skirts were getting shorter each year in the early to mid-sixties but this was almost certainly to do with technological advances that enabled tights to be produced relatively cheaply more than anything else. Although Mary Quant is often credited with inventing, or at least popularising, coloured and patterned tights too.
Checking The Mail: Jan Moir’s dating advice
I’D take dating advice from the reanimated corpse of Lucretia Borgia before I turned to Jan Moir for lessons in love. Still, it doesn’t stop Dacre’s most delightful attack dog from offering unwanted advice to the great and not-so-good. This week’s instalment is Ms Moir pontificating about the alleged peccadilloes of Wendi Deng who apparently went ding dong for Tony Blair’s…legs.
What Moir can’t get her head around is why women would ever be attracted to Tony Blair or Bill Clinton. Fairs fair she does also mention Francois Hollande and Silvio Belusconi who look like muppets made out of old leather offcuts from a furniture warehouse. However, is it really so surprising that women go for Blair and Bill? Both men are charming, powerful and uber-rich, hardly a combination that has proved unpopular.
AS BERKSHIRE residents deal with flooded homes and raw sewage (think of the rats) Chris Spence @tophlammiepie spots a note pushed through his through his postbox this morning in Datchet (see photo above). It’s a “special appeal to the people of Berkshire from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution:
The RNLI has four lifeboat stations along the River Thames: Chiswick; Gravesend; Teddington; and Tower.
ONCE the Atari 2600 hit its stride in ’81, there was simply no stopping the tsunami of video game offerings. The transition from coin operated arcade games to systems you could play in your living room can’t be overstated – it was revolutionary. But with this influx of new entertainment came a cornucopia of bad games. Here are five of the worst offenders.
This TRS-80 game basically was about preventing other people from using up your toilet paper. Think about this for a moment: It was the dawn of the video game revolution, the prospects were limitless, the future full of possibilities…. and they make a video game about preserving toilet paper?
TO Baghdad, where the Suicide Bombing Class has ended:
A group of Sunni militants attending a suicide bombing training class at a camp north of Baghdad were killed on Monday when their commander unwittingly conducted a demonstration with a belt that was packed with explosives, army and police officials said.
THE Anorak’s pictures of the day brings you the very best images of February 10, 2014, from around the UK and the rest of the world.
THE greatest unanswered question of human life is, paradoxically, about death.
What follows our duration on this mortal coil?
ON January 19, 1984, 16-year-old Tracy Nolan met top pop act Duran Duran. Smash Hits magazine was there to record the “Special Night Out”.
Things we learn:
HOME Movies. Not the sort you record on your smart phone and show off to strangers in Facebook. We’re talking about those 8mm home movies filmed on clunky, whirring cameras. YouTuber Lance R has compiled some old homemade films into Scary Home Movies.
The story is that where I used to work, we did home movie transfers. After the film transfer, we would add classical music to the videotape. For this particular one, we only listened to the beginning of the CD, and didn’t realize that later in the album the music turned…shall we say, a bit “dark.” The combination of the music and the film content made for a very interesting result. Needless to say, the customers came back in and demanded to know if we thought this was “funny.” I don’t know if they believed us when we said it truly was just an unfortunate accident.
Moments of note:
GOLF is so very popular because there is always a golf sale on. It’s a bargain too good to resist for many of us who spot men holding signs advertising “GOLF SALE’ and a large arrow pointing towards a shop. Derek Poe hoped the approach would sell his guns.
THE Anorak’s pictures of the week brings you the very best images of February 10, 2014, from around the UK and the rest of the world.
FOR some reason, it became a thing of pride for 1970s rock musicians to look as homeless and ungroomed as humanely possible. We may have chided the ’90s grunge bands for wallowing in filth, but that was nothing compared to the unwashed hordes of unkempt ’70s rock bands.
THIS might be the world’s worst Beatles tribute. In 1977, Rolling Stone Magazine booked Ted Neeley (Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar), Patti Labelle, Ritchie Havens, Yvonne Elliman (she was Christ’s Mary Magdalene) and more for A Day In The Decade, a rendering of A Day In The Life. The show begins with Neeley (bigger than Jesus?) singing about himself getting out of bed, dragging a comb across his head, looking up, realising he was late…
Keep Your 95 Krone: You Lucky People Can See Marius The Giraffe Murdered And Chopped Up For Free (Video)
MARIUS the 18-month-old giraffe was murdered at Copenhagen zoo this morning. He was shot.
Marius was killed because he was deemed to be useless for breeding. His genes, you see, were too common. Having been killed. Marius was chopped up as a crowd looked on. Bits of Marius were fed to the lions, who gobbled him down.
On This Day In Photos: Nottingham Forest Make Birmingham City’s Trevor Francis British Football’s First £1Million Player
ON this day – February 9, 1979: Trevor Francis became British football’s first £1m transfer when Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest sign him from Birmingham City.
THIS is the sculpture entitled Sleepwalker stood in the snow on the campus of Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Mass. It’s part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at the college’s Davis Museum. Says Matelli:
“This is a person who is an outsider, he’s displaced. So I thought the reaction would be empathy.”
It’s the kind of nightmare all of us bar David Beckham have: walking in public in your knickers. But some don’t approve, like the student who old WBZ-TV:
“I don’t know if it’s exactly appropriate for a college campus. I would rather the statue of like Washington or Abraham Lincoln you know something more formal.”
Washington in his undercrackers could work. But what about Bill Clinton in his silk kimono? Or Lincoln in a vest?