As fredy Buchet wrote about the film Love Story, the reaction of the public was far more interesting than the movie itself. Something similar can be said of Steven Spielberg’s film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Columbia Pictures) and the accompanying “novel” (Dell, 1977). Francis Schaeffer predicted in the late 1950s that the last third of the twentieth century would be characterized by “contentless mysticism.” This prediction was to some extent confirmed by the phenomenon of Star Wars, which began a spectacularly triumphal tour of the world’s movie houses in mid-1977 and generated a host of commercial byproducts (see September 23 issue, page 28). Close Encounters appeared too soon after Star Wars to be an imitation. In fact, it would appear that if Star Wars accidentally capitalized on the tremendous public readiness for some kind of moral-seeming mysticism (the “Force” of Obi-Wan Kenobe and Darth Vader), Steven Spielberg has consciously addressed himself to that readiness and indeed tried to present a message to it.
The motto of both the movie and the book, “We are not alone,” is more than a sub-title. It is as it were a scriptural verse of which the movie is the exegesis and interpretation. The fact that it is not Holy Scripture as we know it does not mean that it is not deliberately religious. It is evidently a religious counterfeit, intentional or not. Star Wars too involved a certain amount of spiritual counterfeiting with its apostrophization of the “Force,” as nearly as one can tell, a sort of pantheistic élan vital indwelling and in a sense governing the universe. But in Star Wars that was very subliminal, perhaps not even intentional on the part of George Lucas. In Close Encounters we are not confronted with ...1
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