Maybe it’s just me.
Maybe I just have kooky associations that run through my head. I don’t know.
Okay, yes, I know, I just admitted to listening to Foreigner. Since I’ve already established that I like science fiction, it’s safe to assume I’m a bit socially awkward. The “Foreigner” confession just seals the deal. I still managed to move out, get married and have four kids. So there.
But truth be told, Feels Like the First Time harkens me back to 1977, when both Foreigner and Close Encounters arrived from some far distant place and emblazoned themselves on the world consciousness in an array of light and sound. (Actually, Foreigner formed in New York, but that’s a pretty alien place in its own right. And don’t aliens technically qualify as “foreigners”?)
Sitting here, listening to the amorous musical odyssey of Lou Gramm and his perm, I find myself waxing philosophical about Mr. Holland’s other Opus, Close Encounters. It had going for it the three things every American filmgoer was clamoring for in the Me Decade: Aliens! Outer space! François Truffaut!
So, the question dogging me is this: What happened when Roy Neary came home?
You know, I had never really considered the ramifications of his departure until I watched Spielberg discussing the film on a documentary. In that, he famously said that if he made Close Encounters now, as a father, he wouldn’t have had Roy leave Earth and his family behind.
It’s an emotionally rich situation, and one that I hadn’t really considered before. I suspect that, like most audience members of the time, I didn’t factor that. I mean, c’mon, I was eight years old. I wanted Roy to take the ride.
These days, with a family of my own, I’d be fascinated to see how the drama would play out if Roy returned.
Picture a kind of “Next Encounters of the Third Kind.” Here we are, 33 years later, and erstwhile Muncie electrician Roy Neary turns up to close the loop with the people he left all those years before.
His long-suffering wife Ronnie and their kids Brad, Sylvia and Toby, all now older than their father was when he left.
Can you imagine the emotional baggage being carried around by that group?
When the Neary clan last saw Dad, his passion for experimental gardening had gotten the better of him. Mom trundled the kids into the Vista Cruiser in a mad dash to get away from the old man for the safety of grandma’s. But at some point, they would have to return – and they would never know what became of their father.
Perhaps the government would feed them a line about how he perished in the toxic nerve gas spill in Wyoming. Perhaps not. Perhaps the family would simply think Dad flipped his cracker and disappeared forever. There’s a lot of unresolved pain there that we, as an audience, are oblivious to. But if we project forward along the narrative lines of those characters lives, we can certainly imagine the difficulties left behind in the wake of Roy’s decision to hitch a ride. I think it’s been said by others that Close Encounters of the Third Kind serves as a parable for divorce in the 1970s. That seems right to me.
So imagine Roy showing up now. Let’s say for argument’s sake he gets dropped off in a low-key affair. No government agents. No Devil’s Tower. No witnesses.
What kind of reception would he get when he found his way back to his family? Could he even find them? How could he explain himself to his wife and to his kids? How could he prove his story?
What if Ronnie was remarried? And what about Brad’s, Sylvia’s and Toby’s spouses and their kids? How would all those people deal with Roy’s re-entry?
And what about Roy’s somewhat-surrogate family, Jillian and Barry Guiler? What is his emotional responsibility, if any, to them? You would assume that, having shared the monumental emotional experience that an alien close encounter would conceivably entail, they would have some kind of bond that would necessitate Roy bringing some closure to them as well.
Further complicating matters, how would Roy’s wife Ronnie feel about Jillian? Would she be jealous? We can presume that Roy’s kids wouldn’t have strong feelings about Barry, being they would likely be overwhelmed with issues about their long-lost absentee father, but what if Roy and the now-adult Barry shared the bond of their abductions? Would Roy’s kids understand why Dad seemed to favor this stranger?
And what about Roy himself? What kind of emotional turmoil would he be dealing with?
Conversely, what if Roy returned with the aliens in a grandiose, media-saturated manner? Everyone in the world hangs on his every word as Roy relates his experience on CNN. But what do his wife and kids think of the man who left them behind so he could boldly go where no Neary had gone before?
There would be a myriad of emotional dramas and issues to be dealt with by the Nearys and the Guilers, regardless of the manner of Roy’s return.
Admittedly, these are interior dramas and not the stuff of massive CGI budgets, but I think for me this is the kind of stuff that is important for science fiction, nonetheless. It’s what makes it real.
They say you can’t go home again. But I think it would be neat to try.