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This classic science fiction tale explores mankind’s first contact with an alien race from different viewpoints, including a group of researchers and average middle-class father Roy. The aliens, unlike in many science fiction films, are not filled with malice or out to destroy the human race. The sentiment is much more hopeful. The aliens reveal, whether by accident or on purpose, something to a select group of humans. There is some sort of subconscious drive that brings them together at the end of the movie. In addition, a group of scientists discover odd phenomenon that lead them to the same place. Everything is linked through patterns for the researchers, and anyone that has seen the small lights that act as probes for the aliens are affected to varying degrees by the subconscious drive.

The researchers and scientists find a group of World War II era planes that look as though they were brand new. In addition, they seem to belong to a squadron that went missing years ago. They also detect a pattern of numbers being relayed as musical notes on a radio frequency. These numbers are coordinates, leading the researchers to a mountain. At the same time, Roy is building his infamous mash potato sculpture.

But what exactly does all this result in? Roy appears to be going insane to his family. He starts displaying symptoms of being bipolar and possibly even schizophrenic. His wife is exhausted and finally takes the children away. This man gives up his whole life. He loses his job, his family, and the respect of his friends and neighbors. So in the end, it has to be real, has to all be worth it. As the government clears out the area the aliens have revealed to the researchers, the location makes the news, and Roy sees it. He now has a destination, and some proof that his failed marriage wasn’t for nothing. This film is widely regarded as Spielberg’s culminating vision of humanity’s readiness for these close encounters. It was unique in how the aliens chose to interact with humans, not just attacking or probing, but greeting us, testing to see if we are ready to join them. They return several pilots and other people they have gathered through the years (none of whom have aged), and take on more volunteers to join them. It is not scary to think of ourselves as part of a greater universe.

Science fiction usually involves an ideal or a dystopia. It shows humanity’s potential and superiority, or it shows humanity’s flaws and its destructive tendencies. I have always preferred to see our potential. We can’t be blinded to the damage this can cause, just as Roy lost his family. But progress continues to be made. There are instances of remarkable people, flawed though they may be, increasing our sum of knowledge or pushing us to higher standards. An alien race, far ahead of us, would be the ultimate goal to achieve. They give us nothing, but instead show us what we could be.

–        Josh

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