ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

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Close Encounters & War of the Worlds - Cont.

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This is not to point a misogynistic finger (it is such fingers that are to blame more than the feminization of the workplace) at feminism, for the decline of the masculine in contemporary culture is a long complicated story with many victims and no winners. This being the tale of two Spielberg movies, the only culprit worth examining here is Spielberg movies themselves, which have had a huge effect in shaping our culture's self-perception. Just pop in the Close Encounters 30th Anniversary DVD and instantly you are made to believe that this film is probably second only to the fourth of July as far as lauded all-American celebrations. With its thunderously self-congratulatory John Williams score, and a menu of highlights from the film (which telegraph and destroy all the "peak" moments for first time viewers), the menu assumes one is "on board" in seeing this film as some sort of national treasure with a subtext as simple as the wave of a red white and blue sparkler.

 

Tom Cruise was 15 at the time Close Encounters came out and could have easily been influenced by the "anal father" behavior of Roy. His character of Ray seems like he could be modeled after Roy, the sort of man who holds the nameless "men at work" in the shadows of the government in contempt and yet is completely dependent on them.  This identification as being "not with" the government extends even to TV government ops, like Fox Mulder on the X-Files.

 

Though an FBI agent, Mulder's juvenile obsession with aliens keeps him from valuing his own experiences as legitimate; there is always some greater truth "out there." (in this light it becomes clear why he never had a girlfriend or could bust a move on Gillian Anderson).  Were he mature enough, there is no doubt the elder statesmen of the bureau would have opened up all their files to Fox. He refuses to stop his panicking and so it is ultimately Mulder's refusal to accept the terms of their limits of enjoyment that keeps him out of the loop; but this is read by the narrative as proving that "adults" are not to be trusted. In fact, it is Mulder's own refusal to accept the symbolic castration offered by the social order that ensures he will never be able to "believe" in aliens, no matter how much tangible evidence is thrown his way. He can see them, touch them, get probed by them, but until Zizek's "big other" government says they exist, Mudler can't accept them.

 

By the time of War of the Worlds, there are no Claudes or sinister conspirators anywhere to be found. The only adults in the film leave at the start, dropping off the kids with Ray. Of course the minute they are gone, freak electrical storms waken a giant sleeping Martian pod on stilts which starts vaporizing people right and left, and that's why Ray/Roy everything got smashed up (Ray didn't do it, he swears!), and why he has to grab the kids and go racing after mom and step dad to return them. It's not because he just can't handle the responsibility; it's these Martians! Anyone's whose dealt with two bratty kids for more than a few hours can probably understand why a normal working guy would want to get his kids off to the safety of some responsible adults if the Martians came, thus freeing him to roam the wasteland or whatever it is young turks like Cruise do in post-apocalyptic disaster films.

 

We can’t imagine it now—largely because of the previous generation's inability to stop the Vietnam War--but college-educated youth used to be a respected political force in this country. The demoralization at being unable to stop the Vietnam War was something the "youth" have never really recovered from. The drugs also had a factor in separating the olds' power and the young’s idealism even further, paving the way for even “insiders’ like Mulder to be on the outside as “free thinkers.” Now to be on the team and to be “square” are synonymous. But as War of the Worlds shows, we can fence off our values all we like as far as the Martians are concerned; it’s all just one big lot of blood-watered grass for them.

 

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