Steven Spielberg’s iconic masterpiece, E.T., is the heartfelt story of a little lost alien. The scientific specifics about him and his people are kept a mystery, enticed with a quick view of misty mushrooms on his ship. We are just shown that he and other aliens were exploring the forests and had to take off without E.T. when a group of men came upon them. Alone and scared in a new world, he happens upon a family and forms a bond with a young boy.
The story is just as much about the boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas), who seems lost as the middle child of his changing family. He is often counted out and the butt of the joke to his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his friends. With his parents recent separation, he knows just how to push his mother’s buttons. When no one believes him about the alien he just found in the back yard, Elliot retaliates, making sure everyone remembers that their father is gone with another woman. Childish, but Elliot is just a kid.
He sneaks out that night to stay up and look for the alien, lures it into his room with Reese’s Pieces and then fakes a fever to stay home from school with his new friend, he names E.T. When Michael and their little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), get home, they make a pact to keep E.T. a secret, especially from grown-ups. They soon figure out that E.T. is a very intelligent creature and wants to contact his family. If it were not for Halloween coming up, these kids might not have had a good opportunity to be out so late helping their new extra terrestrial friend. But they are not the only ones who know E.T. is here.
E.T. is one of those rare science-fiction films that puts the emotional response before the visual aspects, both of which are perfect and spellbinding. During the iconic flying bike scene, we are swept up in the wonder and freedom Elliot feels and the beautiful score by John Williams only amplifies this. Then the shot in front of the moon sends our hearts soaring, but it would not have done so on its own. Later, when E.T. is in peril at the hands of adults, we see the tearful reactions of the kids. The defibrillator scene seems especially traumatizing for little Gertie, and we can’t help but feel heartbroken for these kids. And no matter how many times I see this movie, I always get so excited and happy when E.T.’s heart starts glowing while Elliot is saying goodbye.
One of the things I find most fascinating about this movie as I get older, is the culture the kids share, but the adults have no part of. As we first see the family, Michael and his friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons, the mom does not understand the game and the kids don’t try to explain very well. The division is understood. Later, E.T. uses the stuffed animals in the closet as camouflage and starts to talk while watching Sesame Street with Gertie, the mom is present in each of these scenes, but either too busy to notice the alien she just opened the fridge door on or just doesn’t notice the odd face among the plush.
When Elliot tries to explain things like wars and the food chain to E.T. in his room, he uses his Star Wars action figures and other toys, “Fish eat the fish food, and the shark eats the fish. Nobody eats the shark.” Elliot starts using the toys as tools first, and E.T. builds his device from them later. It’s like toys are a different medium that kids use to communicate. And their main modes of freedom are on bikes, the best time to find escape is on Halloween.
The way I see it, every kid should see E.T. before age ten. The movie was created to lift kids up through that culture they have that parents aren’t a part of anymore. Getting lost and left behind by your family is really scary only up to a certain age. Only as a kid do old toys have infinite possibilities. And once you can drive a car well, that sense of freedom and escape you once found on a bike just isn’t the same.
“I’ve never driven forward before!”