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 the FIRST manifestation of 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 argues with Roy's boss: ("Roy's not like that. He loves his work. Don't say that! What did he do? He was with us all night!...He is not like that at all! Stop yelling at me! Can't you tell him about this? Hello?"); she 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: "I can't believe it. Roy. You got fired. He didn't even want to talk to you."

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: Demandez-lui d'ou viennent ces sons. (Translation: I want to know...from what direction did your people hear these sounds?)

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.

Back in Muncie, Indiana the next evening after the witnessing of the UFOs 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. [Note: This is the SECOND manifestation of the imprinted image.] 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. In shaving cream and pillows...Damn it! 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!" Bright 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!" The lights are from two helicopters sent to disperse the people on the hillside.

Eighth Close Encounter:

At a top-security missile tracking complex (Station 14) using the Goldstone Radio Telescope, one of the specialists excitedly shares with a colleague the newest deep space transmissions that have been received, after broadcasting the five-note musical phrase to outer space:

Specialist: Here are the patterns. 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 signals here?...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.
Specialist: There's still so much that we don't know.
Another specialist: How about where the signals originate?

Lacombe and Laughlin have already arrived at the complex and are trying to decipher the readouts of the two repeating patterns of three numbers (104, 44, 30, and 40, 36, 10), in addition to following up on alien encounters. Suddenly, Laughlin's training as a cartographer proves useful, and he interprets the number patterns as geographic coordinates on Earth:

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 heavy and awkward $2,500 globe is rolled up and carried 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 an electronic piano keyboard and plays back the five-note sequence in response.

Ninth Close Encounter:
A Close Encounter of the Third Kind

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. [Note: This is the THIRD manifestation of the imprinted image.] 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, as Barry calls out: "Toys! Toys!"

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, as Jill threatens: "Go away!" 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.

In the lobby 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 today! 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.
Farmer (Roberts Blossom): 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 listens to another Indiana resident discussing another sighting: "I was sitting on the porch one night, looking through the screen. I seen this big white dot in the sky. It turned red and blue and green. And of course it got away. It just kept pulsating more and more and more." 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 (sic) - 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 [Note: This is the FOURTH manifestation of the imprinted image.] - 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, a planned, official US military and governmental mission to a "wilderness area" in Wyoming is being executed. 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. The white-haired Team Leader (Merrill Connally) expresses his nervousness about the mission to the back country area:

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. Four Dirty Tricks specialists (John Ewing, Keith Atkinson, Robert Broyles, and Kirk Raymond) and others discuss fanciful possibilities and excuses they could use to evacuate the quarantined top-secret area around Devils Tower:

  • flash fires, forest fires
  • virus (dyptheria, unknown strains)
  • flash-flood
  • bad or contaminated water
  • a plague epidemic ("Nobody's gonna believe in plague in this day and age")
  • anthrax

Major "Wild Bill" Walsh (Warren Kemmerling) 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 on their outsides with commercial-products' camouflage: Piggly Wiggly, Coca Cola, and Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream.

At the Neary's home during dinnertime, Roy heaps his plate with a large spoonful of mashed potatoes - [Note: This is the FIFTH manifestation of the imprinted image.]. 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, though. I'm still Dad. I can't describe it - what I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. This means something. This is important." Later that evening, Roy sculpts a clay mountain in the middle of the train set landscape, again striving to reproduce the elusive, malleable shape which has possessed his mind since the alien encounters. [Note: This is the SIXTH manifestation of the imprinted image.]

Sweating and troubled, he becomes more and more frustrated because the strange-looking mountain is still not right: ("That's not right. It's not right!"). He runs outside and screams to the heavens: "What is it?" At about 4:10 am, Ronnie finds Roy locked in their bathroom and in the tub with the shower water spraying down on him, wondering: "I don't think I know what's happening to me." With all the children now awakened, Ronnie suggests family therapy, while Brad screams at his father: "You cry-baby! You cry-baby!" Ronnie is distraught also: "I don't understand what this is!" When Roy asks for supportive help from Ronnie: "I'm really scared. I want you to help me," she is completely fed-up with him, and refuses to hug him:

All this bulls--t! It's turning this house upside down!...I just hate you! That's why!...Listen! Listen! Listen! Don't you see what's happening? None of our friends call us anymore...You're out of work. You don't care. You're wrecking us! You're ruining us!

Restless, Roy sleeps by his creation until awakened by daylight and the sound of early-morning cartoons on the television, being watched by his daughter Silvia.

[Note: She is watching a Chuck Jones Merrie Melodies' Daffy Duck-Porky Pig short cartoon on TV titled Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953). In the dialogue, space hero Duck Dodgers (Daffy) threatens an alien rival named Marvin the Martian with an Acme Disintegrating Pistol. When he pulls the trigger, the gun disintegrates as advertised, and he wonders to himself: "Well, what do you know? It's disintegrated" - a reference to Roy's condition.]

Roy's 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, Roy 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 - it resembles 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:

Ronnie, if I don't do this, that's when I'm gonna need a doctor....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 - [Note: This is the SEVENTH manifestation of the imprinted image.]. 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 (Days of Our Lives) and advertisements (Budweiser) 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 on-site reporter Charles McDonald) interrupts programming and fills his 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 evacuation 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. [Note: 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...

While searching for her abducted son somewhere out West, Jillian is listening to a similar news broadcast about the catastrophe in a New Mexico-styled Hopi Motel room: "Thousands of civilian refugees are fleeing the area, spurred on by rumors that the seven tanker cars that overturned at Washakie Needles Junction were filled to capacity with GM nerve gas...." [Note: Washakie Needles in Wyoming is over 300 miles to the west of the Devils Tower area.]

In her motel room decorated with watercolor paintings of the mountain, Jillian recognizes the familiar mound (almost 900 feet tall) - she etches its outline with her finger on her TV screen. Roy has the same awakening when he focuses on the TV broadcast:

...boasts 400,000 vacationers, and fortunately during this mishap, there have been no fatalities...In a few minutes, it's going to be forced to evacuate this area, which soon will become 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... Due to a strong prevailing north-south wind, the Army's Chemical Engineers and the Wyoming National Guard are making every effort to both 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.

Previous Page Next Page