Elliott is a typical ten-year-old boy growing up in early '80s suburban California with his siblings and his mom, who's raising them on her own. He likes baseball and Star Wars, has a pet dog named Harvey, and knows how to rock a red hoodie.
Oh, and one more thing: His best friend is an alien being pursued by the federal government.
The Ballad of the Middle Child
Elliott's a classic middle child. He's not the take-charge first-born who looks out for Mom, like Michael, and he's not the adorable baby who doesn't know where Mexico is, like Gertie. Elliott's just stuck in the middle.
But before you pull out your handkerchief and have a good cry, consider how Elliott's middle kid status shapes his personality in positive ways. For starters, he's diplomatic, which comes in handy when he's introducing E.T. to his skeptical siblings, distracting his mom from the alien in his closet, and negotiating with pesky federal agents.
Elliott's also independent. Whether he's liberating frogs in science class or venturing out in the forest to track an alien, he remains self-determined and doesn't have to rely on others for approval. Being a middle child even drives Elliott to his friendship with E.T. Since middle children often feel left out, they tend to find friends outside of their family.
And you can't get much further outside of the family than an extra-terrestrial. As the middle child, Elliott's also able to handle disappointment well. When E.T. has to return to his home planet, telling Elliott, "I'll be right here," Elliott mans up and understands.
Columbus… Magellan… Elliott?
As a child, Elliott is a natural explorer, and like the best explorers you've read about in history class, he's inquisitive and resourceful—even if his methods may be, at times, unorthodox (luring an alien with candy, anyone?). Whether he's doggedly pursuing the weird noises behind his house or chucking his beloved baseball into the toolshed to test the "What's in there?" waters, Elliott is unafraid to investigate the world around him—particularly the unknown.
As luck would have it, the wilds of his backyard and, especially, the nearby forest are both primo backdrops for exploration and discovery.
Elliott's also a dreamer. Early in the film, we twice see him staring off into space with a faraway look on his face: once after he's narrowly missed E.T. dashing through the backyard, and gazes after him through the open gate; and once as he fills the kitchen sink and stares at the cosmos.
But don't get it twisted: Just because Elliott's a dreamer doesn't mean that he's not determined. When he hears mysterious noises coming from behind his house, he can't sleep, and he parks it in a lawn chair in the backyard in his pajamas, trusty flashlight in tow.
When E.T. needs to build a device to communicate with his home planet, Elliott rounds up supplies and sees it through to completion. Then he risks his health, and probably some major punishment from Mom, to deliver the communicator and make sure it works.
The Young and the Fearless
A large portion of Elliott's intrepid spirit can be chalked up to his age. He may hold his own against shady gun-toting government agents, but don't forget that Elliott is still a kid who does kid things and has kid values. His youth informs all of his actions, reactions, and interactions.
Check it out: He gets around by bicycle. He wants to be accepted by morons like Michael's friends solely because they're older. He spends his first communicative moments with E.T. explaining the intricacies of Pez dispensers and action figures. His uses childish insults like "penis breath." He laughs loudly and often, like when he learns E.T. can talk and when he discovers that E.T. is still alive. When E.T. first flies him across the night sky on his bike, Elliott is exhilarated, but also a little scared, screaming, "Not so high!" and "Don't crash, please!"
These juvenile engagements aren't flaws. Youth is a time of discovery, amazement, and awe; Elliott experiences all three. A lot. Whether he's searching for aliens in his pajamas, smuggling E.T. out of the house on Halloween, stealing a government van, or soaring through the air on a bike, Elliott is open to adventure, and much of that openness is because he's a kid.
In the Wise Words of Dionne Warwick, That's What Friends Are For
Perhaps more than anything, Elliott is defined by his compassion, and that makes him an awesome friend to E.T. He hides him in his enormous closet to keep him safe and brings him food. He defends his unattractive feet to Gertie and his intelligence and motives to Michael when Michael suggests that E.T. may just be a simple "worker bee" sent to threaten the human race.
He brings him supplies for his communicator, and when the communicator actually works, Elliott is so ecstatic that you'd think he was the one trying to contact another planet. "It's working!" he shrieks. "You did it! It's working, E.T., it's working!"
Oh, and let's not forget that Elliott literally feels what E.T. feels. They share a psychic bond. "What's he feeling now?" Michael asks when E.T.'s health begins failing. "He's feeling everything," Elliott replies. He and E.T. take friendship to a whole 'nother level.
And if Elliott was a good friend when everything was going well, he really shows his true, compassionate colors when E.T. gets sick. "You're scaring him!" Elliott screams, as government doctors poke and prod at his pal. "Leave him alone! I can take care of him," he insists. It's worth noting that at this point in the film, when the government has taken over Elliott's house and hooked him and E.T. up to a bunch of chirping hospital machines, Elliott himself is dying. Still, he consistently puts E.T.'s wellbeing ahead of his own. In short, Elliott is E.T.'s advocate and protector, which is pretty cool.
The Student Has Become the Master
It's also pretty remarkable given the fact that, when the film begins, Elliott is a kid in need of a protector himself, specifically a male role model. Think about it: His dad has abandoned him for Mexico and he can't get in touch with him. His older brother, for the first half of the movie, is his tormentor, not his protector. He mocks Elliott and the "goblin" he found in the yard and generally treats his little brother like a nuisance.
Sure, Michael comes around eventually and turns out to be a pretty solid guy, especially when E.T. is missing and he races off to find him, but by that point, Elliott has learned, with the help of E.T., that he is strong and can take care of himself.
Our little Elliott is growing up, and because of that he's able to put E.T.'s needs ahead of his own one last time and let E.T. go. As he and E.T. say goodbye in front of E.T.'s spaceship, Elliott tells him, "I'll believe in you all my life. Everyday. E.T., I love you." Um, yeah. If love is sacrifice, then Elliott loves E.T. big-time.