Study Guide

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Keys (Peter Coyote)

Keys (Peter Coyote)

Keys—he of the big flashlights and even bigger ring of, that's right, keys—represents the adult qualities of suspicion and detachment. He also wields a lot of power, as he quarterbacks a team of menacing, single-minded federal agents in a fleet of vehicles that practically have "E.T. or Bust" printed on their sides.

Adult Science vs. Kid Science

For Keys, E.T. is less of something to marvel at or learn from than he is something to be dispassionately probed and analyzed, just like the frogs in Elliott's science class. He represents the adult version of science, which can be summed up as "science equals death."

Too dark? Let's go back to those frogs for a second. To adults like Keys and Elliott's science teacher, you learn about frogs by killing and dissecting them. For Keys, that same attitude essentially applies to E.T. When Keys finally catches him, he immediately has him hooked up to machines so tests can be run and his team of doctors can poke and prod E.T., without empathy and seemingly to death.

Kid science is different. It's rooted in wonder, compassion, and doing no harm. That sure doesn't sound like Keys and his team's method of operation.

Unlocking Keys' Compassion

Keys wasn't always so cold and detached, though. As E.T. nears death, he tells Elliott that E.T. came to him, too. "I've been wishing for this since I was ten years old," he divulges. "I don't want him to die." This seems sincere.

When Keys was a kid, an alien held the same sense of awe for him that it does Elliott, and Elliott reawakens that sense of amazement in Keys by the end of the film. "His being here is a miracle," Keys confides in Elliott. "I'm glad he met you first."

Now, we know what you're thinking, Shmooper. You're thinking, "Come on. He's just saying that because it's what Elliott wants to hear. If Keys really cared about E.T., he wouldn't have spent the whole film chasing him and generally being a huge creep." Fair point.

However, it's worth noting that at the very end of the film it's within Keys' power to stop E.T. from getting on his ship and returning home. He's right there in the forest, perched next to Elliott's mom. But he doesn't intervene. Instead, he stands by and marvels at what's happening in front of him, in the moment, just like all of the children. He even places a sympathetic hand on Mary's shoulder. Thanks to Elliott and E.T., there may just be hope for Keys yet.

And a date with Mary. (Okay, probably not that last part.)

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