Filmsite Movie Review
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The following morning, Ronnie cuts out a middle column comprised of two articles in THE MUNCIE STAR newspaper: "State Police See Lights Too, Fail to Cite Sky Speeders," and "UFO's Over Five Counties - Indiana Buzzing." [Note that on both sides of the two articles are columns with continuing stories, labeled WARS - a reference to Star Wars (1977)?] Knowing that the articles are intriguing - and that they confirm what Roy saw, she has second thoughts and crumples up the clipping. Because one half of his face is burnt red in color, one of the family's children thinks he looks like "a 50-50 bar." After spraying a mound of shaving cream into his hand, Roy stares at it and begins his obsession with the recurring, imprinted image of the shape of a huge mountain. [Note: This is a mysterious vision that has been implanted into his mind.] His mad pre-occupation with the late-night experience alienates and strains his family life and drives a wedge between Roy and his wife:

Roy: Ronnie, all I wanna do is, is, is know what's goin' on.
Ronnie: But nothin's going on. It's just one of those things.
Roy: Which things? Which things?
Ronnie: I don't want to hear about this anymore.
Roy: Ronnie, this is very important. I'm not just gonna let it lay here. I'm gonna call somebody about this...I saw something last night that I can't explain.
Ronnie: I saw something last night I can't explain.
Roy: I'm going out there again tonight, you know.
Ronnie: No, you're not.
Roy: Yes, I am.
Ronnie: No, you're not.
Roy: Yes, I am.
Ronnie: No, you're not. (She smashes his cupped hand with shaving cream into his mouth)

Ronnie takes a phone call, and is told, unexpectedly, that Roy has been fired because of his irresponsibility - he didn't call in to the department to report. She relates the call to him: "Well, can't you tell him about this? [The boss hangs up] I can't believe it. Roy. You got fired. They didn't even want to talk to you. I mean, I don't understand this, Roy. Roy? What is happening here? We were up all night. I'm not getting a job you know. I'm not getting a day job..." As Roy lies on his bed and listens to Ronnie, he becomes more and more withdrawn into his own world. Her voice is muted in the background as he turns his face away and looks at an upright pillow - again seeing the familiar shape and image of a contoured mound. Instinctively, he reaches out toward the outline of the shape to understand it - he tells her: "That's not right..."

That night, at the bend in the hill-top country road - Crescendo Summit - Neary, with his Kodak Instamatic, joins a large group of sight-seers who have been spurred on by newspaper reports of the sightings and are waiting for another encounter. Disturbed yet fascinated by the UFO objects like he was, Jillian is there and introduces herself to Roy. Each of them were burned by the vision, and Roy jokes about his uneven facial burn: "It's better on you. You got it all over. I've got to tan the other side tonight." When Roy looks at Jill's son Barry playing with a pile of mud shaped like a mound, the boy pats the wet dirt into place to form it. Kneeling down beside the boy and the mound, Roy realizes that the boy shares the same imprint of the shape. In a reverie, he talks of the significance of the visions:

I know this sounds crazy, but ever since yesterday on the road, I've been seeing this shape. Shaving cream, pillows...Dammit! I know this. I know what this is! This means something. This is important.

Suddenly, a shout erupts from the crowd: "Here they come! Out of the northwest!" Lights are spotted in the hazy sky above the horizon.

Jillian: It's like Halloween for grownups.
Roy: Trick or treat!

As the powerful lights grow in intensity and approach closer, a staccato, vibrating roar becomes deafening. The brilliant lights of the UFO's are haloed by the haze in the atmosphere. The head of the family from the previous night's sighting holds up a sign: "Stop and Be Friendly." Expectantly, everyone in the crowd cranes their eyes toward the skies. Roy senses that the lights are not UFO's when the air is suddenly churned up into clouds of dust and debris and a loud chopping noise breaks the silence: "Wait a minute!" They are helicopters sent to disperse the people on the hillside.

Seventh Close Encounter: Dharmsala, Northern India

In remote Dharmsala in Northern India, Lacombe and a team of foreign visitors arrive in the heat, buffeted by a multitude of worshippers (wearing white, saffron, and ecru robes) gathering to rhythmically chant five notes over and over again:

Lacombe: Mais, c'est la guerre pentatonique...cinq notes au lieu de sept. (Translation: It's the pentatonic war. That old musical controversy between the five and seven note scales.) Demandez-lui d'ou viennent ces sons. (Translation: I want to know...where are the sounds coming from?)

A group of five leaders (including Lacombe) climb to a nearby hillside, an older Hindu man turns to the crowd below and repeats the question: "Where did these sounds come from?" In unison, the thousands respond with one gesture and voice, pointing skyward.

Before an assembled group in the U.S. about one week later, Lacombe speaks in broken English about a "breakthrough":

I want to share with you now the breakthrough that happened in India. We think it means something. We think it is important. To help you learn, I am using the hand signs created by Zoltan Kodaly. Kodaly developed these signs to teach music to deaf children.

One by one, at Lacombe's signal, each of the five notes in the Indian chant are played over the auditorium's sound system for the audience. And then, all five tones or notes in the riff are played - in sequence. Lacombe gestures with the hand signals for each tone. There is evidence that a certain musical pattern can be linked with the aliens' efforts to communicate.

Eighth Close Encounter:

At the Goldstone Radio Telescope (Station 14), a top-security missile tracking complex, one of the specialists excitedly shares with a colleague the newest deep space transmissions that have been received:

Specialist: We just received two fifteen minute broadcasts...104 rapid pulses. After a five second interval, 44 pulses. Another five second break and 30 pulses. Sixty seconds of silence and then an entirely new set of numbers. 40, break five. 36, break five. 10. A hundred and four rapid pulses...Wait sixty seconds and the whole doggone thing repeats.
Another specialist: Where are these signals coming from?
Specialist: Right in the neighborhood. Light travel time, roughly seven seconds. It's well within the plane of the ecliptic.
Another specialist: Are these non-random?...40...36...10...In response to that?
Specialist: No. They should be. We've been sending out this musical combination for weeks. But all we're getting back are numbers.
Another specialist: This could mean the Indian sounds reached a dead end. They don't mean a thing.

Lacombe and Laughlin have already arrived at the complex and are trying to decipher the readouts of the two repeating number patterns, in addition to following up on alien encounters. Suddenly, Laughlin's training as a cartographer proves useful:

Laughlin:...Excuse me. Before I got paid to, uh, speak French, I, uh, I used to read maps. This first number is a longitude...Two sets of three numbers. Degrees, minutes, and seconds. The first number has three digits and the last two are below sixty. Obviously, it's not in the right ascension and declination on the sky. These have to be earth coordinates.
Other specialists: Surely, somebody has a map...There's a globe in the county supervisor's office.

Clumsily, the $2,500 globe is rolled up into the mobile glass cubicle crammed with telemetry tracking hardware, command consoles, and an ARP synthesizer. A finger traces the longitude and latitude lines of the coordinates, one from the south to the north, one from the east to the west. The two fingers (and lines) meet in the U.S. western state of Wyoming. "We're going to need a Geodetic Survey map of Wyoming. I want this down to the square yard." Lacombe listens at the receiving console, shouting above all the other voices for everyone to listen: "Ecoutez!" (I'm getting some information now.)

Lacombe sits down at the synthesizer and plays the five-note sequence in response. Back in Indiana at the Guiler farmhouse, Barry repeatedly taps out the same five notes on his rainbow-colored, toy xylophone. An intent, serious look of concentration comes over his face. And Jillian sketches a charcoal drawing of a mountain, similar in shape to the one which Barry formed of mud. Jillian's boy stares out through the porch screen to listen to ominous rumbles of thunder, and looks entranced at the turbulence developing in the cloudy sky. A magnificently-beautiful, yet disturbing light grows in the rolling sky.

Ninth Close Encounter:
A Close Encounter of the Third Kind

In one of the film's most effective special-effects sequences, Jillian becomes fearful of being besieged by an impending attack of moving lights approaching the farmhouse. She grabs Barry, props a chair against the porch door, and locks the windows and pulls down the shades in the living room. As Jillian runs into the kitchen to lock another door, Barry is irresistibly drawn to the front door, where the alien power intrudes through the keyhole with a reddish beam of radiant light. The young boy is beckoned to open the door. Jill dashes toward her boy as he opens the door and reveals a blinding, beatific sun-like light approaching. Jillian shuts the door and snatches him inside. Trapped and helpless inside the house that is enveloped by the light, a deafening rumbling noise grows in strength. Barry is unperturbed, encouraging the unknown force: "You can come and play now." Jill shuts the damper on the fireplace just before the light penetrates.

Knowing that she is powerless, Jill can only hug her boy - and wait. Inexplicably, the phonograph player starts playing a 'Johnny Mathis' record, Chances Are ("...cause I wear that silly grin, the moment you come into view"). A rug covering a ventilation grating on the floor blows over. The metal screws holding the vent grating to the wooden floor slowly turn open and the vent cover blows off. Smoke penetrates through the opening until Jill throws the rug over it. The vacuum cleaner and other electrical appliances (stove, refrigerator, washing machine) are activated by the alien power and explosively vibrate. When she dials for help on the phone, she hears the five-note sequence. Barry crawls through the miniature pet door toward the outside. She exerts all her effort to grab his legs and pull him back, but his tiny frame is ripped from her arms by the overwhelming force. Jill rushes outside, yelling "Barry!" but the lights of the glowing spaceship have already begun to recede among the clouds - he has been invisibly kidnapped by the extra-terrestrials and whisked away in a UFO.

Outside an Air Force press conference assembled in Muncie to allay fears of the public following numerous sightings, Jillian is distraught over the abduction of her son. She refuses to answer questions for six-o'clock news-TV reporters and cameramen. She sees Roy in the crowd and tells him: "They got him!" Once the conference is started, uniformed Major Benchley (George DiCenzo) holds up a large colored photograph of a flying saucer to demonstrate how people have been deceived:

Ladies and gentlemen. This is a flying saucer. It's made of pewter, made in Japan, and thrown across the lawn by one of my children. I just wanted to point that out to you to show that we're not all polished brass about these things. Also to make a point that last year, Americans shot more than seven billion photographs at a record of 6.6 billion dollars for film, equipment and processing. Now with all those shutters clicking, where is the indisputable, photographic evidence?

One of the newsmen argues against Benchley's reasoning: "I've been in the news business for a long time and our cameras have never been able to take a picture of a plane crash as it actually happened, or an automobile accident and get it on the six o'clock news." Another official spokesman tries to divert suspicion of official complicity and secrecy by easy assurances, catch-phrases and platitudes:

Spokesman: Now, there are all kinds of ideas that would be fun to believe in. Mental telepathy, time travel, immortality, even Santa Claus. Now I know it's no fun to go home and say: 'Guess what happened! I was in a shopping center. There was this tremendously bright light and I rushed outside - and it was an airplane.'
Roy: Excuse me, sir. I didn't want to see this.
Spokesman: I sure wish I had. You know, for fifteen years, I've been looking for these damn silly lights in the night sky. I've never found any. I'd like to, because I believe in life elsewhere.
Audience member: Why don't you guys just admit that the Air Force is conducting secret tests in the foothills area?
Spokesman: It would be easy to say yes to that. But I'm not going to mislead you. This is not the case. To tell you the truth, I don't know what you saw.
Roy: You can't fool us by agreeing with us.
Another witness: I saw Bigfoot once. 1951 back in Sequoia National Park. Had a foot on him thirty-seven inches heel to toe. It made a sound I would not want to hear twice in my life.

Roy knows that he saw the lights of UFOs and can't be persuaded otherwise by official bylines. He looks down at the latest newspaper heading:

COSMIC KIDNAPING - Indiana Woman Blames Disappearance of Three Year-Old Son on Clouds - Guiler Says She will Search Out of State if Indiana Police Discontinue Their Efforts

With a pencil, he unconsciously sketches the familiar mound-shape onto the news article - his pencil point breaks to accentuate the improbability of the spokesman's final platitudes: "UFO's do not represent a direct physical threat to our national security. We do not support them, and we encourage you not to."

In a distant, unidentified location, an official mission to Wyoming is being executed and planned. Faceless men wearing identical sunglasses and red uniforms [a team chosen to go onboard the alien ship on a space expedition] board a chartered Greyhound bus on a highly-classified trip to the geographic focal point (of the longitudinal and latitudinal line crossings) of the radio transmissions in a place near Devils Tower, a national monument:

Let's get in touch with those Forest Service people. We're gonna end up in a wilderness area with vehicular traffic. And that's strictly sacred cow stuff for those folks in Wyoming. If this mission fully develops, I get white knuckles just thinkin' about what might be ahead for those folks.

Lacombe and Laughlin will also be flown to the location to prepare for the visitation. To convince the 'folks' in Wyoming - a population of 28,000 people - that they must evacuate the quarantined top-secret area, planners discuss the fanciful possibilities: flashfloods, forest fires, viruses (dyptheria, unknown strains, bad water, the plague): "Nobody's gonna believe in plague in this day and age." Major Walsh proposes an even scarier military alternative:

What I need is something so scary it'll clear three hundred square miles of every living Christian soul!

Vehicles in the caravan are outfitted with commercial-products' camouflage: Piggly Wiggly, Coca Cola, and Baskin-Robbins.

At the Neary's home during dinnertime, Roy heaps his plate with a large spoonful of mashed potatoes - the second manifestation of his internal vision. As his family watches him intently piling up spoonful after spoonful of potatoes and toying with the sculpted shape, they believe he has begun to lose all sense of reason and sanity. His older son looks on with pain and sadness covering his face, and Roy shame-facedly acknowledges their strained, alienated looks: "Well, I guess you've noticed something a little strange with Dad. It's OK. I'm still Dad. I can't describe it - what I'm feeling." Later that evening, Roy sculpts a clay mountain, again striving to reproduce the elusive, malleable shape which has possessed his mind since the alien encounters. Sweating and troubled, he becomes more and more frustrated because the strange-looking mountain is still not right. He runs outside and screams to the heavens: "What is it?"

Restless, he sleeps by his creation until awakened by daylight and the sound of early-morning cartoons on the television. [The words "Watch the skies" - the final words in the film The Thing From Another World (1951) - are heard in the cartoon.] His daughter fearfully asks: "Are you going to yell at me?" The living room is littered with colorful charts of the heavens and articles and other clippings on UFOs. Determined to be cured of his obsession and restored to normality, he rids himself of all symbols of extra-terrestrials and space by crumpling and tearing up all evidence. He grabs at the clay mountain and rips off the top of the mound. He is stunned by what is left - the flat-topped shape of Devils Tower.

Now completely crazed, Roy begins tearing plants out of the ground in the garden and heaving them through the kitchen window into his suburban home. After throwing more shovelfuls of dirt through the window and gathering bricks and chicken wire scavenged from his neighbor and the garbage, he excitedly explains:

I figured it out, that's all. Will you just listen?...Have you ever looked at something and it's crazy and then you looked at it in another way and it's not crazy at all?...Don't be scared. Just don't be scared. I feel really good. Everything's gonna be all right. I haven't felt this good in years.

Ronnie pulls the children with her to the car to get away from him and take them to her sister's place, thinking that he has become dangerous. Left alone during the day, Roy works feverishly to construct a man-made, ceiling-high replica of Devils Tower - a third manifestation of the shape. The sculpted model of the visions he has seen of a flat-topped mountain fills his entire living room. It is built of mud, shrubbery, chicken wire, rocks and other materials.

The television's soap operas and advertisements provide background during his obsessed work on the artistic creation. After a long day's efforts, an ABC-News bulletin broadcast (with broadcaster Howard K. Smith and a cutaway to an on-site reporter) interrupts programming and fills the TV screen - he is first distracted by an overlapping, pleading phone call to Ronnie and doesn't pay attention:

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. Fortunately, much of the surrounding area has been closed to the public for three weeks for renovation to the national park there...The Army and National Guard units are supervising the evacuation. It is estimated that from 35 to 50 thousand people are affected. The families that have been dislocated have been assured that the danger will be over within seventy-two hours. We've seen the Army here, the Corps of Engineers, and the Chemical Engineers...Once the toxic concentration is down to fifty parts per million, then the danger will be past. This means that the park's residents will be back in their own homes by the weekend. Of course, it's small consolation to the livestock in the area, although ranchers have been notified...This means, order your steak well-done, Walter. [The scene was originally to be shot with CBS's Walter Cronkite, but then switched to ABC's Howard K. Smith - therefore, the confusing reference.] Devils Tower, Wyoming was the first National Monument erected in this country by Theodore Roosevelt in 1915...

Jillian is listening to the same news broadcast several miles away: "Thousands of civilian refugees are fleeing the area, spurred on by rumors that the seven tanker cars that overturned...were filled to capacity with GM nerve gas...." In a living room decorated with watercolor paintings of the mountain, she is awakened by the familiar mound - she etches its outline with her finger on her TV screen. Roy has the same awakening when he focuses on the broadcast:

And fortunately during this mishap, there have been no fatalities...In a few minutes, it's going to be known as the hot zone depending on the prevailing winds. But as it is, this is as close to the disaster as we've been allowed to get...the Army's Chemical Engineers and the Wyoming National Guard are making every effort to contain the leaking toxins and evacuate an area of almost 200 square miles. Everyone is being warned - stay out of the area. Everyone please, stay out of the area.

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