Study Guide

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Fear

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[After Roy's close encounter with the UFO, he sits dazed in his truck. When the flashlight turns on, he jumps and lets out a scream.]

Roy is obviously freaked out over his close encounter. Of course, it doesn't help that the aliens said, "Howdy" with all the subtlety of a tornado. But Roy's fear of the unknown quickly changes into a desire to understand what he saw.

BARRY: You can come and play now. You can come and play now. Come in through the door.

Barry's an innocent child. At three years old, the whole world's a new and unknown place to explore and figure out. How's he supposed to know aliens aren't typical visitors? He's Spielberg's prototype of the innocent, open-minded seeker of knowledge with a sense of wonder uncorrupted by fear. The grownups "know better."

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: If this mission fully develops, I get white knuckles just thinking about what might be ahead for those folks.

Those "folks" are the ones chosen for the Mayflower project. Again, the fear here originates entirely from the unknowns they face. For all anyone knows, once the aliens arrive, their guts will be sucked out and used for fertilizer.

BRAD: You crybaby! [Starts slamming to door.] You crybaby! You crybaby!

RONNIE: Get out of here! Get out!

ROY: Come on, you guys.

BRAD: Crybaby! You crybaby!

SYLVIA: Be quiet!

RONNIE: Stop it! I don't understand what this is!

ROY: Neither do I.

Ronnie and the children are afraid of what's happening to Roy. They know him as their Dad but now he's an unknown to them. And that scares them.

ANCHORMAN: At the top of the news tonight, a rail disaster. At Devils Tower, Wyoming, a train loaded with a dangerous chemical gas went off the rails and has forced the widest area evacuations in the history of these controversial Army rail shipments.

Governments know that it's easy to manipulate people's fear. In this case, it's probably for their own safety—to keep them away from the landing site—as well as to keep people from compromising their operation. But fear's a powerful motivator, which is why it's such a popular political tactic to stoke fears.

ROY: Jillian! Jillian!

OLD MAN: Don't! You'll get poisoned!

ROY: Listen. There's nothing wrong with the air around here. The Army is getting us out of here because they don't want any witnesses.

OLD WOMAN: But if the Army doesn't want us here, then it's none of our business.

Despite fear over the chemical spill, Roy takes the plunge into the unknown and discovers the truth. With the exception of Jillian and Larry, the other helicopter passengers remain fearful, acquiescing to the authorities and losing the chance to understand what they've been experiencing.

[One of the technicians at the landing site sees the mother ship approach and practically knocks Roy over to get to the Porta-Potty.]

Even though the feds and the scientists have prepared for the alien craft landing, no one knows what the aliens might be planning. It's not all just wonderment and awe here.

[Roy stands in line with the other Mayflower Project astronauts in front of the mother ship. The aliens choose him from the line up and usher him into the ship. As Roy looks back at the people he knows, he smiles with anticipation and excitement. He's totally unafraid]

Spielberg's ultimate message is that when the unknown becomes the known, it's no longer a source of fear. And fear can get in the way of learning and growth.

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