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Directed by Steven Spielberg, E.t. -The Extra-terrestrial is told mostly through the eyes of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a middle child in a single parent home having trouble fitting in, too young to spend time with his fifteen-year-old brother and friends and too old for his five-year-old sister. One evening he hears noises from the backyard as he goes outside to pick up a pizza, finding a small creature hiding in the tool shed. Both initially frightened, Elliott eventually uses candies to lure the being into his bedroom and quickly establishes an unspoken bond with the alien, whom he names E.T. Soon after, they learn to communicate and Elliott realizes that E.T. is trying to get home and needs his help. A powerful parable on imaginary friends, the film is a meticulously crafted work that is a genuinely affecting work of art as it inspires child watching and touches adults who long remember days of innocence. Beyond it technical achievements for the time, the narrative is a wonderfully spliced patchwork of many important stories coming together in a thrilling and emotional ending that is both immensely satisfying and beautifully told.
Early in the story, E.T. is housed and hidden in Elliott’s large closet, which is connected between rooms, shared with Gertie (Drew Barrymore), his sister. One night, Gertie and her mother (played by Dee Wallace) are on Gertie’s bed reading Peter Pan. E.T. is tucked into the shadows, peering through the slot of the closet door blinds, watching and listening as Elliott silently enters with a box of gadgets he hopes can be assembled into a makeshift radio device to contact E.T.’s friends and rescue him. One of these parts is a serrated buzzsaw blade on which Elliott accidentally cuts his finger, causing him to bleed and say, “Ouch.” E.T. recognizes this as pain and uses his one elongated finger, now lit with a glowing tip, to instantly heal the small wound.
The suspension of disbelief is a necessary component of many films involving science fiction, and one that is the easiest to break if handled poorly. If we are to believe in the universe created on screen, we must be made to believe that the things existing in it make sense and conform to the rules it establishes. Often in science fiction, elements are introduced that task us with accepting or denying these behaviors or characteristics, and their success stems from how well the story allows ‘the thing’ to be integrated and used. With many sci-fi films, stories rely on things that are not familiar to us, or at least would seem as if they were impossible. Writer and futurists Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote as one of his laws of technology that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ To us, E.T. appears to be magical, a purposeful intent by Spielberg, which serves two-fold in the context of the story: a) the alien possesses abilities beyond human progress or evolution by which we can, at our present development, not duplicate nor understand and b) re-inforces the position that E.T. is ‘magical’, thereby enhancing the fantastical precept of the imaginary friend. The wonder of the moment is its sheer simplicity, the point of a finger, something we can all identity with as an instrument for engaging technology, for E.T. the same, Basically, in modern times, it’s point and click. This is overplayed by the clever insertion of the Peter Pan reading in the background as Elliott’s mother enthusiastically reads a significant passage of the story where a sick Tickerbell is dying and the reader/audience (for the stage play) is told to clap their hands if they ‘believe’ in order to make her well. This Tinkerbell Effect has long been known to actually existence in a number of disciplines, and in psychology is most prevalent where people can be made to believe that something they believe in will occur. Little Gertie is told to clap her hands to believe in fairies while at the same time we are watching a being from another planet instantly heal a wounded boy. Spielberg makes no effort to mask the inference and yet it’s handled so well, we gleefully accept the ‘magic’ as real, and better yet, believe it.
Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Dee Wallace