Headscratchers: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  • If you think about it too much, Roy Neary is a terrible parent. The film tries to alleviate this by making his family unlikeable, but he still runs out on his wife and children to gallivant with aliens.
    • To be fair, his wife ran out on him and took the kids with her. He tried to convince her to come back with the kids over the phone, but it sounds like she wouldn't take him back. So in the end he really had nothing left to lose by getting on the mothership.
      • There's also the fact that Roy does try to reconcile things with Ronnie twice in the film but she rejects him both times. There's the phone conversation, but earlier when they had their fight in the bedroom, Roy actually says to Ronnie "I'm really scared, I want you to help me". At this point Roy has understandably become frightened of his own behavior and the fact that he has no idea what's causing it. He reaches out to Ronnie in a literal cry for help, but what does she do? She yells at him about how he's ruining their lives then runs away and locks herself in the bathroom. At that point I think anyone with any kind of compassion would have accepted Roy's plea and gotten him help. Not to mention that throughout the film she's completely dismissive of him, makes virtually no attempt to reach out to him or understand where he's coming from and what he's going through, and just tries to ignore the situation. Ronnie was ultimately self-centered. She was more concerned about her shallow suburban life and keeping up appearances for it than the state of her husband's mental health, and lacked the fortitude to deal with the situation constructively when she was finally forced to confront it: In the end she just yelled at him about it, blamed him for it, and finally, left him. This is why it annoys me when people say that Roy simply abandoned his family: It's an oversimplification of what actually happens in the film.
      • FWIW, their social standing was about all Ronnie had. These are blue-collar people, relying on knowing what to expect from neighbors and friends. This was not about losing a country-club membership, it was more having everyone you knew talking behind your back, no longer giving even cursory moral support. All of a sudden her stable husband no longer goes to work, starts obsessing over building odd shapes, collecting UFO clippings (it was the 70s, no-one took that stuff seriously). Sure Ronnie is shallow, but from her POV, she sees her husband ignoring his family duties, sinking into something he can't or won't explain. Even alcohol or drug addiction was still something iffy back then, and mental illness much moreso. Ronnie had probably been hearing a lot of gossip about her crazy husband, been trying to shelter her family from his behavior, would not have believed the truth had he told it to her; she just did not have it in her to deal with it any more.
      • You're insinuating that Roy was withholding the truth from Ronnie, he wasn't. It's not that he wouldn't explain to her what was happening to him, he couldn't. He was just as clueless about the truth behind his bizarre behavior as she was. He flat out tells her "I don't think I know what's happening to me".
      • Exactly my point. Roy was too afraid of himself to be able to tell her coherently; Ronnie was eventually too burned out to understand.
      • Tell her what though? He didn't know what was happening to him. There was nothing he could have told her outside of what he already did ("I can't describe it- What I'm thinking, and what I'm feeling". And later: "I don't think I know what's happening to me"). Again, you're statement implies that there was something he could have explained to her but did not because of his mental state. What I'm saying is that he literally had no explanation to give her regardless of his mental state, because had no understanding of what was happening to him. He didn't understand it himself, thus, he couldn't explain it to her.
      • It's just from her POV it would be like watching someone with a mental breakdown; it made little sense and after a certain point it was just too much. Maybe if one of the scientists had reached her...
      • Spielberg himself has said he would be unable to film Close Encounters nowadays, after experiencing being a father he simply couldn't stomach to make a film about somebody leaving their family behind, no matter the circumstances.
    • There's also the problem of the aliens kidnapping people at random (and at least one child while the terrified mother fought to keep him), then studying them, then casually dropping them off years after they'd picked them up-with nary a word of consent from the abductees or news to their loved ones. Sure, they haven't aged, but that would almost make it worse if you were gone long enough for a significant other to be on death's doorstep...or beyond.
      • They're aliens. They may not have any understanding of our family concepts. Perhaps they didn't know how devastating such a kidnapping would be. Hell, maybe they didn't even know we'd interpret it as a kidnapping. For all we know, these sorts of things happen all the time between planets and it's generally understood that those taken will be willing to go along for the ride because they know what's in store, and the aliens had no idea that the people on this particular planet were ignoramuses who would object.
      • Then why aren't we kidnapping any of them off of their planet?
      • Because (1) the ending made it very clear that the humans are now at peace with them, (2) we don't know how dangerous they would be if not peaceful, and wouldn't want to find out, (3) we have enough problems of our own, and (4) we are aware of the family concept and probably most humans would think twice about kidnapping an innocent young creature that may have loved ones. Maybe not in some militaries, but #1 covers that.
      • Also, we don't have spaceships.
      • If the aliens have no concept of human concepts, they shouldn't be interfering with the lives of humans. That is just irresponsible.
      • This troper muses that the aliens are on the level of Victorian explorers, who thought nothing of picking up a few living specimens here and there to take home. At least they had the decency to give most of them back.
      • One of the major problems when you start dealing with the question of Blue and Orange Morality is that, realistically, you have no freaking idea what aliens would consider "proper" or "improper." I mean, how could you? So, if you treat the question with the kind of intellectual rigor in your fiction that you would in real life, you don't have a lot left to work with to make the story relatable to your audience, if you follow me. If you want the story to be accessible, you have to disregard the notion of alien ethics to at least a certain degree.
      • The whole purpose of the project (theirs and ours) was to establish communication. Now that they've got Roy and the other astronauts on their ship there'll be an opportunity for that kind of cultural info exchange. They should work out a simple code with those musical tones so that people can be invited (and be able to RSVP) and not simply snatched.
      • Assuming the other astronauts even got on the ship with Roy. Though they're not seen when the Mothership is taking off, we never see them board it either; and Roy was the only one of them that we actually see the aliens take and embrace.
  • Why is this movie so long? The story takes about 80 minutes or so to tell and yet this lasts over 2 hours.Nothing is added by the extra length. It's all just padding.
    • Well. Besides story the film has to succesfully convey the varied emotions, impulses and reactions of the people affected by the phenomenon.
    • I'd like to point out that the "Why is this movie so long?" Troper above is obviously invoking the trope Just Here for Godzilla.

You need scenes of excitement, confusion, anger, wonder, anticipation, fear, resentment, distrust, curiosity, denial and faith. To give an epic movie which is trying to depict an epic and momentous event the appropriate emotional and experiential core, then you need scenes to explore all these aspects to be given all the time that they need to be authentic and to transcend the story itself at the same time as providing an emotional counterpart to the plot detail.
  • This movie got a lot of people killed in Independence Day.
  • Here's something that has always annoyed me. The iconic five tones (Bah bi bah bom baaaaaaa.) are sung early in the movie by a crowd of Indian(?) people who heard it. Here's the problem: It isn't the right notes! Editing them with TV Tropes coding is a bit weird, but it sounds like they are singing Bah Da (pause) Bah Yah Tay. What makes it even more confusing is that in the next scene, when the guys play back the Indian chanting, they play the correct five notes, so suddenly their recording is Bah Da bah Yah Tay. It's a minor thing, but it drives me up the blippin' wall.
    • You're not the only one. Ethnomusicologist head explody time.
    • I worked this one out. Remember, the song is repeated over an over again, so the starting note is arbitrary. Take the standard notes but start on the 4th note as you transcribed it: bom baaaaaaa Bah bi bah. There you are: sing it with a Hindi accent and you've got it's Bah Da (pause) Bah Yah Tay.
  • Does Jillian really expect the government will let her keep those photographs she took of the aliens?
  • Why do these aliens, who randomly kidnapped people for years, think they can drop everyone off at once with nary a slap on the wrist?
    • They a) might not consider worthy of note (they are aliens, after all), b) are in a position where humanity can't really give them much more than a slap on the wrist.
    • Maybe all those kidnapped people were taken by a rogue faction of the aliens. Off-screen during the film, the alien leaders found out and decided to return everyone as a peace gesture. Maybe what the mothership was trying to explain during the "wild signals" scene was that they had punished the aliens responsible for the kidnappings. Maybe the alien responsible for the kidnappings was Loki, in which case the alien Lacombe signaled with was Thor.
    • I always assumed that shortly after the kidnapping, the aliens asked the humnas if they wanted to stay or be returned immediately. Of course, giving that they also kidnapped children makes the whole thing seem less benevolent, but perhaps they didn't quite understand that a small human child isn't quite capable of making such decisions and isn't yet fully mentally developed.
    • I get the blue and orange morality of the kidnapping a human from the aliens perspective. I DON'T understand why - knowing the aliens were capable of such a thing - the government would willingly hand over more people to the aliens, when those people where obviously acting under some type of compulsion. What's to prevent them from doing something equally heinous to the new recruits because they don't know any better? And the recruits are clearly not able to give informed consent to the risk.