A man comes home in the middle of the night, agitated and incomprehensible, dragging everyone out of bed to go outside and look for something that isn’t there.
The next day, he is fired from his job and responds by throwing everything in his garden into his living room and fashioning a fifteen-foot model of a mountain there, driving his distressed and confused family out of the house in the process.
Then he drives off and eventually disappears altogether.
His wife and his three children never see him again, with at least one of them quite likely to end up in prison, on drugs, or in therapy, if not all three.
Elsewhere, a small child is violently kidnapped in the dead of night, leaving his shocked mother behind, wailing in his wake.
Told like that, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind sounds like an awful story of mental illness, family breakdown, child kidnap and abandonment.
But for me, it’s my favourite fairy tale of them all – and the film that made me properly fall in love with cinema.
I think I was nine when I first saw Close Encounters, slightly illegally, at a small cinema in Plymouth. A friend had already seen it and he got a few of us together to see it on a Saturday afternoon, even though all of us were officially too young to see it.
Somehow, that didn’t stop the guy in the ticket booth from taking our pocket money and off we went, Kia-Ora in one hand, Butterkist in the other, into the dark.
Two hours later, I emerged blinking into the daylight, forever changed, somewhat stunned by the dazzling conclusion and probably more than a little confused by what I had just seen.
What did it all mean? We’d have to go and see it again – and we did. I think it took about three viewings before I thought I really understood the story properly, but the images and the music had seared their way into my mind and that was all that really mattered.
Since then, forty years have passed and I still watch this film again at least once a year, if not more.
Only “Jaws” comes close to earning that level of continued devotion.
Every little detail from the film is hardwired into my brain, from the Zoltán Kodály hand signs to the John Williams five-note musical motif that features throughout, which remains the only music that I can play on the piano to this day.
It’s a modern-day Odyssey, following characters on a quest, driven by an unexplained obsession, towards an unknown outcome.
This is cinema as comfort food, a spellbinding Spielberg spectacle, a sense memory that somehow recalls a gentler time.
Time to watch it again, methinks.