Happy Endings Preview: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

What would happen if that sound you heard in the back yard as a kid couldn’t be chalked up to something “normal.” Not the wind. Not some kind of animal. No, this time it’s really something from another world.

That’s the opening conceit of director Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. What follows has delighted audiences for over 30 years.

No doubt that the imaginative element has something to do with the attraction. Who hasn’t occasionally wondered what a visitor from outer space might be like? As one adult character in the film puts it after E.T. is discovered: “I’ve been wishing for this since I was ten years old.”

But of course a lot of movies give us “close encounters” with aliens. What helps to separate E.T. is just how human a movie it is. That’s to say, the story speaks to things that that are integral to who we are as human beings: kindness, hope, love, longing.

That last item might be particularly germane for viewers like myself. I first saw the film when I was about nine or ten. Watching the it recently for the first time in probably 25 years, I experienced a powerful feeling of what might be called nostalgia. Still, I couldn’t help but think that the following quote from C.S. Lewis might be a better explanation of the experience:

I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence: the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only a scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (“The Weight of Glory”)

Your experience in watching E.T. might not produce the reaction that Lewis speaks of, but I’m betting it will be enjoyable nonetheless. Join us at Ragtag Cinema tomorrow (Thursday, 8/1) at 6:00 p.m. as E.T. closes out our “What’s So Wrong With Happy Endings” screening series. Tickets are free and available at the Ragtag box office beginning at 10:00 a.m. on the morning of the showing. Please try to arrive by 5:45 so we can seat those who may still be waiting to get in.

E.T. is rated PG for language and mild thematic elements. For more information about the content of the film, visit IMDb.com and kids-in-mind.com.

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