In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.
Two parallel stories are told. In the first, a group of research scientists from a variety of backgrounds are investigating the strange appearance of items in remote locations, primarily desert regions. In continuing their investigation, one of the lead scientists, a Frenchman named Claude Lacombe, incorporates the Kodály method of music education as a means of communication in their work. The response, in turn, at first baffles the researchers, until American cartographer David Laughlin deciphers the meaning of the response. In the second, electric company lineman and family man Roy Neary and single mother Jillian Guiler are among some individuals in Muncie, Indiana who experience some paranormal activity before some flashes of bright lights in the sky, which they believe to be a UFO. Roy becomes obsessed with what he saw, unlike some others, especially in some form of authority, who refuse to acknowledge their belief that it was a UFO in not wanting to appear crazy. That obsession ... Written by
An amazing film, one of my favorites. I watch this regularly, especially at times when the reality of life is overwhelming, just to refocus and regain some sense of perspective.
Everything in this film works toward one end: to transform the adult sense of fear back into the childlike sense of wonder at the world. From the very opening moments of the film, designed to create confusion and startlement, this movie creates a sensation of dread and foreboding. The dissonance of the soundtrack, the juxtaposition of images, they all are working to build into the viewer a feeling that something just isn't right, that something out of the ordinary is taking place, and underscoring this all with a sense that this is something to resist, to pull away from, to not allow it to affect one's "ordinary life."
But as the movie progresses, the tone begins to shift, and the true intent of the film begins to peek through. This isn't about being afraid of the unknown, but rather embracing it. Paying attention to the "subliminal images" in life, allowing them to lead you into something unknown and perhaps dangerous, only then can one be open to wonder and experience the world through the magical eyes of a child.
Dreyfuss' character takes us on this journey, met with resistance all along the way. His wife, his neighbors, his job, his community, all are working against him, and it's only when he's reached his craziest that he truly gives in and begins to stop trying to understand and instead embraces the experiences in store for him. The scientific community is seeking to understand, but without having any personal calling to be involved. Only Barry is truly able to throw himself into the strangeness that is taking place, and his enthusiasm is greeted by both the characters and the audience as somehow alien and threatening.
The ending of this film, when all the fear is finally stripped away and the sense of amazed wonder overtakes everyone on the screen and in the audience, brings about an amazing catharsis. Discarding all the "adult" sensibilities and being able to approach life once again with a sense of innocent amazement for the Strange hidden amongst the Ordinary, one can begin again to approach life from a fresh vantage point.
Powerful, mystifying, and rejuvenating. I highly recommend this film for anyone jaded with life and seeking a sense of renewal.
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