Pop Culture Case Study – Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Search for Meaning

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Once again, David from Pop Culture Case Study was kind enough to have Andrew on his show. This time to discuss one of Andrew’s favourite films – Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In this episode, David and Andrew discuss the film at length, but they also discuss the search for meaning.

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Moving to first person now – we recorded this episode a couple of weeks ago, before the results of the US election, and while this is not an episode that is directly about that, the ‘case study’ discussion that David delves into in this episode does cover a lot of the themes and ideas that many people may be questioning after the election results. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is partially a film about a man searching for purpose in the world, and within it there are themes that helped shape me as a person.

The theme of blindly following something intangible is one that I may not have been fully conscious of as a kid when I watched it, but certainly on repeat viewings as an adult I am more acutely aware of what the subtext of the film is. Whether it be religion, political views or just the way you perceive the world – we all have ideals that we aim for, or that guide us, and often that may mean questioning the ideals of others in the world. Through Close Encounters of the Third Kind I gained a greater understanding of what it means to be tolerant and accepting of others point of views.

While the film is not directly about tolerance, it is a film that guided me as a person to seek out stories of alien abductions and fueled my interest in worlds beyond our own. I didn’t grow up religious, and it wasn’t until later in my teens that I truly started to question religion and what it meant to be a religious person. I questioned the fear that religion could inadvertently encourage, while being aware of the joy and power of faith; most importantly, through questioning religion I gained a further understanding of what tolerance was.

My love of Close Encounters of the Third Kind pushed me to seek out films like Communion and Fire in the Sky, as well as (naturally) fall in love with The X Files. In these films and shows, the people who had been abducted were often denounced as liars and ridiculed. Their stories were not listened to or believed, and due to that they were pushed away and made to feel insignificant. Through reading stories of real life alien abductions – (sidenote: whether the alien abduction is real or not, the people who have ‘experienced’ alien abductions feel they are real, they becomes either victims of trauma or have believed they have experienced a truly ethereal event) – I further gained an understanding of what it means to be tolerant of those who may see the world differently.

For a long while, it was popular to paint ‘space’ or ‘aliens’ as an element of terror. People were ‘abducted’ and countless, nameless experiments were enacted on them. They returned to earth with missing time, implanted memories of events that may or may not have happened. The fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar is one of the greatest fears that people have, and it’s one that provides fuel for a world of hatred.

As I grew up in the nineties I became aware of the way that alien abductees were treated in the media, in countless late night ‘documentary’ shows that delved into their events or through many books which were riding on the success of The X Files. There was an easy level of derision pointed at abductees in these texts – laughing at them for feeling, saying, or doing strange, uncommon things. And yes, it appears easy to paint those who believe alien abductions are real as tin foil hat wearing mad folk who talk endlessly about crop circles and abducted cows; but to do that is rejecting what they are saying as some kind of truth. Others may not accept what they are saying as the truth, but that does not stop the people who are saying these things from feeling that is the truth, or that it is the way they see the world.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Over the past eighteen months, the media (social and journalistic) has regularly laughed at the words of Donald Trump. There has been shock at what he has said, and regular derision. To make a parallel between alien abductees and Donald Trump is unfair to those who believe they have been abducted – but it is a parallel I am making. While I am not suggesting we tolerate a Trump presidency, I am suggesting we try and search for meaning and understanding as to why half of America voted for an outwardly sexist, racist, homophobic and xenophobic man to rule their country. We cannot simply discount his views as the ramblings of a madman – even if it is what our heart says we should do – because they are views that half of America has openly supported. We need to find a reason as to why they feel this way – this is not the article to discuss that, and I am certainly not the person to write that piece either. There are many more eloquent people in the world who can provide reasoning behind the Trump voter mentality.

I’m not saying we need to tolerate the actions of those we fundamentally oppose (whether you skew right or left or center), I’m saying that we as a society need to become more inclusive of others opinions and actions. We need to move towards a more understanding and progressive society – (yes, I’m well aware that these are predominantly ‘left leaning’ stances).

For me, what I have taken away from a film like Close Encounters of the Third Kind is that of unending curiosity and questioning. At once, Close Encounters is about family (Barry & Jillian), while it is also about searching for a greater purpose/meaning in life (Roy’s journey), while it is also about those who dedicate their life to a sole purpose (Lacombe) – it is a film about many things, but it is also a film about one thing in particular – one event that unites us all. In a rapidly changing world with endless news cycles and ‘always on’ mentality, it’s easy to be distracted by minute things, or to want to shut off from the world and ignore everything outside our own echo chambers.

For me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a film that helped inform my understanding of the world, it was a launching pad for appreciating what the world is capable of. When people ask whether a film can be transformative, I say yes, it certainly can. A film can shape your world views, and can change who you are as a person.

I hope this extended digression has been worthwhile reading. I don’t feel I have the answers as to how to deal with the next four years of worldwide politics, but all I can say is that for me, cinema has provided a beacon through the darkest times in my life. I am certain it will continue to provide that beacon.

I am eternally thankful to David for allowing me to discuss films with him on his show. I have long been a fan of the work that David has put out on Pop Culture Case Study, and am proud to call him a friend. Through his show, I have looked at films in different ways than I would normally have. I have also learned about psychological studies and events that have helped inform my world view, and have encouraged further reading and delving into topics I would never have imagined I would be reading about.

While your reading of Close Encounters of the Third Kind may be greatly different from mine, there is one thing we can all agree on – our life experiences inform the way we consume entertainment. What David does with Pop Culture Case Study is help provide a psychological perspective to themes within films. So, please, head over if you haven’t already and subscribe to his show and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Andrew has been a film lover all of his life. For a while now he's been talking about how great films are and usually that's been directly to his wife, Bernadette. Now with AB Film Review everyone else in the world can listen to what Andrew has to say to his wife. Bernadette grew up renting videos from a Plains Video. She mostly hired out Cry Baby and wore the tape thin learning the lines to the John Waters classic. After a series of arguments in the car ride home with her husband, Andrew, the two decided to record their arguments and launch them into the world for everyone to listen to.