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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • 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 both for Roy and Jillian is ratcheted up a notch when they begin to have a vision of a mound with vertical striations on its side as a key to what is going on. While the obsession negatively affects Roy's life as he knows it in its entirety, Jillian knows she has to find the answer as to its meaning, especially as it relates to her only child, three year old Barry Guiler, who may be more attuned to what is happening than the adult figures around him. These two stories have the potential to intersect if Roy and Jillian can discover where they've seen that mound before, and if they can overcome what they believe to be the lies perpetrated by those in authority in covering up what is going on.

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  • Roy Neary sets out to investigate a power outage when his truck stalls and he is bathed in light from above. After this, strange visions and five musical notes keep running through his mind. Will he find the meaning of the visions, and who - or what - placed them in his mind?

  • Planes reported missing in 1945 suddenly appear in the Mojave desert. A commercial flight is buzzed by a 'bright' object that the pilot 'wouldn't know how to describe'. Roy Neary, while working one night, has a Close Encounter... The US Government determine where the visitors plan to land and create an elaborate cover-up to keep people away. However, a group of people, including Neary, share a vision which draws them to the place and a meeting with new, and old, friends.

  • Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.

  • After an accidental encounter with otherworldly vessels, an ordinary man follows a series of psychic clues to the first scheduled meeting between representatives of Earth and visitors from the cosmos.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In what appers to be the Sonoran Desert; in or near Mexico, a cartographer named David Laughlin (Bob Balaban) is introduced to a French-speaking man named Claude Lacombe (renowned French director François Truffaut). Though David has been hired as Mr Lacombe's interpreter, he explains that he is actually a cartographer (a mapmaker). The two men along with a crew soon find a strange sight: a circular ring of airplanes in brand-new condition, with fuel still in the tank. The planes are identified as belonging to 'Flight 19,' a group of US Naval planes that were reported missing off the coast of Florida in 1945. The men soon after find a local who reported the planes. David and Claude find the man has red sunburned marks on the side of his face. Through an interpreter, the man claims the sun came out that evening, and talked to him.

    In an air traffic control tower in the US, some of the air traffic controllers receive reports of unidentified aircraft flying dangerously an commercial flight. When the tower requests that the pilots wish to report a 'UFO (unidentified flying object),' both planes decline, primarily because they're so confounded, they feel they wouldn't know what to report.

    In Muncie, Indiana, a strange power outage blackens the area. This incident affects two different families of people. The first is Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon). When she wakes in the middle of the night and finds her son Barry (Cary Guffey) missing, she wanders off into the countryside to find him.

    The second person is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss). Roy gets a call from the power company he works for, and goes out to answer a service call. However, stopping at a railroad crossing, a number of metal objects in the vicinity (including Roy's truck) begin to act strangely. A strange craft appears overhead, and flashes bright lights at Roy before flying off. Once the craft has disappeared, Roy races off, almost hitting Barry on a hillside road.

    As Jillian appears, several strangely-lit craft fly by, along with a bright red light at the tail end. Entranced by the strange objects, Roy gets back in his truck and gives chase, along with several local police cars, all of them passing through a toll booth at the border of Ohio. The strange objects fly off over the edge of a cliff, and as Roy and the officers watch, ascend into some thundering storm clouds overhead, as the darkened city underneath them regains power.

    Roy returns to his family eager to tell of what he saw, but his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) refuses to acknowledge her husband's flights of fancy. Even though Roy has red sunburns from being flashed by the craft he saw, she still doesn't 'believe.'

    Some time afterward, Roy meets up with Jillian and Barry, and Jillian relates how there seems to be a melody and an image of a mountain she cannot get out of her mind. Roy soon finds himself obsessing over the same mountain image, carving it in mashed potatoes as well as sculpting it out of putty or shaving cream.

    Meanwhile, Bob and Claude have gone around the world and observed other strange phenomenon: A group of people in India have been chanting a strange 5-note sequence that they claim came from the sky. A missing ship named the Coat Appoxi has appeared in another desert region. Information gleaned from the musical notation sequence and a message indicates that there appears to be plans for extraterrestrial life to descend to Earth. The military and NASA coordinate a plan to create a false scare in the landing region, northwestern Wyoming, that a toxic spill will make the area dangerous.

    Back in Muncie, Jillian is shocked one evening when the same lights as before descend towards her home, and soon after abduct her son Barry. Still in a state of shock, Jillian takes her story to the news outlets.

    Shortly thereafter, a person from the US Government sits down for a town hall chat with several locals in attendance (including Roy and his family), denying that there are UFO's, or that the government is covering up any such incidents.

    Roy is slowly losing his mind over the strange images in his head. One morning he begins to throw dirt, plants, bricks and chicken fencing into the kitchen window. His behavior finally drives Ronnie to take their kids and leave. After they have left, Roy constructs an enormous miniature of a flat-topped mountain in his family's living room. After an argument with his wife on the phone, he sees a news report on the television, showing Devil's Tower...the same structure he's been obsessed with.

    Roy heads off towards Devil's Tower, only to encounter everyone leaving in the wake of a (fake) chemical spill warning. Roy also finds Jillian there, and the two attempt to get to Devil's Tower, but are captured by some military men.

    Roy and Jillian are separated, with Roy brought before Bob and Claude. The two listen to Roy's story...a story that sounds similar to several other people who have been drawn to the mountainous structure nearby. The two make an impassioned plea to the Military Director at the base, but he refuses to believe their 'theory' that these people were 'invited,' and attempts to fly the civilians out.

    Jillian and Roy manage to escape with another man named Larry, making it to the other side of the mountain before night settles in. The Army sprays the area around the mountain with a sedative dust, putting Larry to sleep. Roy and Jillian evade the choppers, finding an enormous landing strip constructed on the east side of the mountain. The two secretly make their way down as several smaller lit ships appear, before a giant 'mother ship' hovers down. The scientists in the compound attempt to communicate with the aliens, first with the smaller ships and then with a much larger "mother ship" which dwarfs the mountain itself. After a few moments of musical exchange, the bottom of the ship opens and dozens of people abducted by the aliens are returned, seemingly unharmed and having not aged a day. Among them his Jillian's son. A few minutes later, the bottom of the ship opens again and the aliens reveal themselves to the scientists: they are humanoid in appearance, but very small, no larger than 3 feet, with large eyes.

    When Claude sees that Roy has witnessed the exchange, he asks if Roy would be willing to join the dozen people that have been selected to leave with the aliens. Roy willingly accepts. When they line up to enter the ship, one of the aliens walks down the line of volunteers and chooses Roy. (In a deleted scene, Roy enters the ship and sees a cavernous room with 1000s of the aliens and vegetation.)

    In a final exchange, one of the aliens gives the hand salute interpretation of the 5 note musical tone to Claude himself, who smiles.

    After Roy and several others board the ship, it takes off for distant space.

    • Done by KrystelClaire:


    Strange events are happening all over the world: a UFO is said to have appeared in the Mojave desert in New Mexico, a long-ago lost ship appears in the middle of the Ghobi desert, many Indian people start to chant a tune they have heard coming from "above", and some airplanes have sights of flying saucers. A team of people are investigating all these phenomena, specially Claude Lacombe (renown French director François Truffaut) and his interpreter Jean Claude (Philip Dodds)

    In the USA, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is trying to find his way at night. He's close to home, but is looking for the place he has to go to in a map. He is an electric company technician who has to solve a problem with an electrical blackout. While waiting at a railroad crossing, everything seems to go crazy around him -- his flashlight won't work, the radio in his truck goes haywire, and some mailboxes along the road open themselves. Suddenly, a bright light lands on the truck. Looking out of the window, he is flashed several times by what seems to be a UFO. Roy then attempts to drive after the three small flying saucers and a small red light.

    Mainwhile, Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), a little boy of around 6, wakes up because all his toys start playing themselves and making noise in the middle of the night. He goes out of home on his own. He lives in a cheap home nearby a forest. Dressed in his pyjamas, he goes out. A toy police car wakes up his mother Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) as well. From her window, she calls out for him, but Barry enters the wood anyway, laughing alone. Jillian runs after him. When she catches up with him, Barry is standing up in the middle of a curvy town road. He seems stunned, dazed. Jillian arrives just in time to save him from being run over by Roy.

    The UFOs disappear among cloudy and stormy weather. Many people have seen them, and they wait all through the night in the same curve of the same road for the UFOs to appear again, hoping for a friendly sign. Roy, Barry and Jillian are among those people.

    During daylight, they all try to go on with their lives. However, it seems that they can't cope. Barry repeats a lullaby over and over again. Jillian tries to draw a mountain she has never seen, and Roy seems to have gone crazy. He makes all kinds of strange attemps to create a sculpture of the same mountain than Jillian. First with shaving foam, secondly with mashed potatoes. The three children of the couple, Brad, Sylvia and Toby (Shawn Bishop, Adrienne Campbell and Justin Dreyfuss), become silent and frightened as well, after a terrible row with plenty of shouting on everybody's part. As a higher level of Roy's brand-new eccentric behaviour, he starts pulling out some small trees from his home garden in a frenzy, and also he steals his neighbour's duck pond metal rail in plain daylight. His wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) is getting more and more frightened because of her husband's hectic behaviour. She cannot take it anymore and leaves him. She takes her children with her, while neighbours stop doing their everyday chores to look in amazement at the final row of the couple.

    Now Roy can create his mountain sculpture without being disturbed. He makes it so huge that it occupies all the kitchen. While he is talking on the phone, he finally realises what he is so obsessed about. The famous anchorman Howard K. Smith (himself) is announcing on TV that Devil's Peak is being evacuated, because there is a deadly gas leaked in the atmosphere. They show some images of the place, so Roy decides to make the journey there immediately.

    At the same time, Barry has disappeared. He had been kidnapped by the supposed energy of a UFO. Jillian had tried to prevent it, closing all doors, windows, and even the chimney place, but it is useles. Barry feels attracted by the lights and he goes into them through the dog trap in the main door. Newspapers will laugh about Jillian's evidence before the police, claiming that she alleges that "some clouds kidnapped my son", and treat her like a demented person.

    The following day, Roy is driving in the opposite direction. He arrives at the nearest train station to the mountain, where hundreds of people are boarding a train in panic, climbing into the wagons through the windows and even getting on top of some coaches. The military police are watching all the operation. There, Roy finds Jillian, who wants to go to the same place than him. They get out of the station quietly helped by the chaos. Jillian is carrying two pigeons in a small cage, in the hope that, if there is any poisonous substances in the air, the birds will die before she does so. They drive together across fields and empty roads with many cows and horses dead along the way. They get close to their destination, but they are stopped by the miliatry police and the two French investigators dressed in white, astronaut-like outfits and gas masks. One of them forces Roy and Jillian to get into a white van, while taking the cage with the two birds, now completely dead. Jillian, Roy and another man jump off from the helicopter which was going to take them out of the area. They had taken off their masks, proving that there is no real danger in breathing the alledgedly deadly air. The three runaways make it to the mountain, being followed by armed soldiers and several helicopters. The third man gets gassed out and passes out so the two main characters are the only ones who make it to the other side of the mountain.

    There, Jillian and Roy find a kind of runway lane surrounded by scientifical devices and cameras by all sides except one. There are people all over the place, some of them armed with heavy weaponry, and the two Frenchmen are also there. Jillian and Roy look at the sudden weather changes hidden behind some mountain rocks. The UFO's appear, altogether with the smaller red light. They fly so close to them that they could have almost touched them.

    The UFO's and the official people maintain a kind of dialogue: they play the tune which Barry and the Indian people sang. They use a kind of huge keyboard and a screen with light and colours. Everything is successful. Roy goes down the mountain after having kissed Jillian but she prefers to stay hidden behind a rock. He thinks he is going to be captured by an army officer, but the man is running away, hiding himself on the portable toilet facility, a scene which will be repeated later on Spielberg's Jurassik Park film. The UFOs go away. The French people see Roy, but they let him be.

    The scientists are going to start to analyse all the materials they have recorded. All of a sudden, the hugest UFO of them all appear, and they all go back to their positions. Again, there is the tuned music conversation, accompained by coloured lights. The music moves faster and faster until it dies out. Everybody is watching, breathless.

    The UFO is opened. Through the below part of the device, several people (and a dog) who had previously disappeared, walk out of the UFO. They are all healthy and calm. One of the last ones is Barry. Jillian leaves her hiding place and goes running to him, hugging and kissing her son while crying tender tears. Barry does not look traumatized or hurt in any way.

    The UFO door opens again. First, a long-legged and long-armed creature appears. The next instant, some twenty grey-skinned aliens appear and get out of the UFO. They have got no hair, they are naked, and they are as tall as a child. One of the aliens repeats the hand movements which represent the music tune.

    Some volunteers, including Roy, decide to go into the UFO with the aliens. No aliens stay on Earth. The spacecraft and their occupants fly away from planet Earth into the million-starred celestial copola.

    --originally written by KrystelClaire

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