For the first time in my life, I was finally able to sit through a viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind without getting freaked the fuck out. Finally, I was able to follow the plot, feel something for the characters, and get thrilled at the end sequence instead of averting my eyes every time one of those aliens appears on screen, like I had all my other viewings during my childhood and adolescence.
You don’t understand — aliens freak me out, and this movie is what did it. It struck a five-note chord in my soul because it hit right fucking home with me. Spielberg managed to put as many aspects of modern life into the movie as possible, and it hit my life so perfectly that it became too real for me to understand. At that age, I could not seperate fact from fiction.
When it debuted in 1977, I was a scant 5 years old, and my mother, my infant sister and I were living in the flat but sometimes arid and foothills-ish land of Lubbock, Texas. Mother was in the Air Force, stationed at Reese AFB. We spent a lot of time on base, hanging out in the squadron headquarters, walking on the tarmac during air shows, hearing the planes fly overhead all day and most nights, hiding from tornados in the NCO club. It was a military life for my mother, and as her son I got to experience every week the same kind of military environment you see in the movie.
Secondly, like the kid in the movie, I had toys. Battery operated toys that made noise. Record player. I had a toy xylophone, and our trailer had floor vents, and the TV was on a lot showing soaps during the day, news at night, Budweiser ads. We drank Coca Cola and shopped at Piggly Wiggly. Ate at McDonald’s and bought our gas at the nearby Shell station. Watch the movie to catch all these references (and boggle at the incredible amount of product placement, thank you Spielberg). It was too, too close to real life.
Third, and this is most important, I kinda looked like the kid in the movie. Had a big head and everything, and tottered along when I walked. My bedroom was at the back end of our trailer, with a hallway on the side connecting my room with the bathroom, a second bedroom, and the kitchen. Built into the wall of my room was a vanity with a huge mirror. If you stand in the kitchen and look down the hallway, you can see a reflection of yourself looking back.
So one night, shortly after watching the film, mother sent me to my room to prep for bed. My room, the hallway, and the kitchen lights were off, and as I began to go down the hall with only the light from the living room behind me, I saw a silhouette in the mirror and I freaked. It looked just like one of those aliens, big waterhead and all. Apparently I let forth a blood-curdling scream because mother ran over to see what the matter was, and I pointed crying. Can’t remember if she laughed (probably did), but she held my hand, pulled me down the hall, turning lights on all the way down, and proved that there was nothing there, that it was just me. It’s all a blur after that.
And there it is. A five-year-old’s freakout that stayed around for a lifetime. All through my adolescence, I tried sitting down and watching the movie whenever it’d come on TV, just to shed myself of the phobia. Even though some of the “fright” sequences would spook me a little, it was the final contact sequence at the end that would make me cover my head, change the channel, turn off the TV, or look the other way. I just couldn’t get over it…until tonight.
Now that I’m an old man, I get it. I can handle it. Yeah, there’s still some residual creep-factor; always will be when I think of the lights in the sky and the waterheads on the ground. But this time, I was able to judge the movie on its merits, philosophically, technically, cinematically. I was able to keep in my mind that those aliens are kids in rubber masks. That the big aliens are puppets. That the big-eyed kid wasn’t me. It finally makes sense. This finally means something.);