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Close Encounters of the Irritating Kind



April 4, 2014

This rant comes from the sweat-soaked horror in which I awoke the other night upon realizing that one of the best movies of my young adulthood was responsible for the destruction of the American family and the emasculation of two generations of men.

runawaydads

Don’t be deceived by the title of this post. No, it’s not about encountering Liberals at commie pinko coffee shops and having to hear them rave about how Joe Biden is a statesman of great stature. No, it’s not about encountering self-loathing Atheist trolls on Twitter. No, it’s not about encountering young liberal parents who let their toddlers run amok in a restaurant because they believe they should “chose their own way.” This rant comes from the sweat-soaked horror in which I awoke the other night upon realizing that one of the best movies of my young adulthood was responsible for the destruction of the American family and the emasculation of two generations of men. That subversive, toxic flick is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

During that chilling dip in my stream of consciousness, I wondered to myself if Steven Spielberg realized that when he wrote and directed Close Encounters that he would be giving middle-class American guys carte blanche to abandon their roles as husbands and dads when the wives and kids get annoying and run away with the spaghetti-necked aliens. The central character, Roy Neary–played by Hollywood progressive, Richard Dreyfuss–is a stressed-out working hack married to Ronnie Neary, played by the bouncy Teri Garr, who has some close encounters with strange atmospheric phenomena, and sets out on a journey to understand why a tree stump-shaped something or other captures his imagination. Strange manifestations, and weird lights, and impressions of tree stumps in mashed potato mounds grip him in an obsessed mania as his wife and three kiddos slowly fall apart, wanting Roy’s attention but getting only his increasingly preoccupied and irritable rebuffs.

You guys have all seen this movie–which at one time seemed to me a clever and human science fiction romp–so I don’t want to parse the entire plot. Suffice it to say that Neary, played comically and sympathetically by Dreyfuss, melts down in his own home and walks out on his family so he can slip the chains of fatherly responsibility, flee to Wyoming, hook up with another woman, and join the Jiminy Cricket space and time-traveling aliens in the shadow of the gigantic tree-stumpy volcanic mountain and leave forever his burden of suburban angst. You got it! Men across the world were handed justification to leave their naggy wives and whiney kids if they felt “called” by something other-worldly such as a giant tree stump in Wyoming, or a supernatural stirring in their pants.

Although, by that time, children, families, marriage, and fathers were already under attack by pop culture and lawmakers, divorce rates in 1977-78 were 700% of what they were a century earlier. Spielberg and Dreyfuss may not have been responsible for the decline in esteem for husbands and fathers as providers and protectors, but Close Encounters of the Third Kind painted an American man who abdicated his responsibilities as a hero whose wife and children deserved abandonment because they were demanding and irritating.

That’s what got stuck in my craw and interrupted my otherwise peaceful night. I was deceived by this movie. We were ALL deceived. And you, like I, probably remember the clapping and soft cheers which arose from cinema audiences the moment Richard Dreyfuss walked out of his chaotic house, got in a car, and left his irritating wife and kids to satisfy his vague compulsions and absurd spacerific wanderlust.

Well, there you have it. Happy dreams.

by Marjorie Haun  4/4/2014



  1. Scott Yagemann

    I’m sorry you had a nightmare. Spielberg is a product of divorce and probably didn’t think anything of a story about a father who deserts his family. Then again I don’t know if Spielberg’s parent divorced amicably. I’ve heard him mention his father, who fought in WWII, when he was making “Private Ryan” and his WWII series but that’s about it. Anyway. You have to remember that the Dreyfus character was a good provider at one point. When he went on his jaunt he didn’t have any idea he would end up leaving the planet. I agree he should have been more responsible but movies are about conflict and that’s what Spielberg chose to do. I agree it wasn’t a good example of being a good father and husband. There are plenty of other movies by lefties that show strong fathers however, like “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “The Champ.” But, come to think of it, those movies are about broken families. You have a point. Rarely is an intact family shown in movies anymore. I have been guilty of this myself in the past. I’m working on something right now where a famous father, who is thought to be dead, is really still alive. But he still has relationships with his daughter and ex-wife. Hopefully it won’t give you nightmares.

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