I am standing in a field, alone but for the hulking, impeccably shaped and utterly inhuman craft resting before me, utilitarian and yet awesome to behold at the same time. How did I end up in this field? I’m not even cognizant of the steps I took to get here, or the reasoning behind my nighttime jaunt. But here I am, sole witness to the arrival of this technological and artistic wonder; its engines still whisper gently, no longer issuing the cacophonous hum that emanated from the vehicle as it made its rapid and yet perfectly smooth descent to the Earth’s surface. I’m frozen to the spot. I could not move even if I wanted to.
A door opens, unfolding quietly to the ground. I couldn’t even perceive it as a door at first; it’s as though the ship itself determined that a door should be there. No sooner does the door touch the surface than five tall, slender beings emerge from the craft, bedecked in outfits defined by both supreme elegance and strict functionality. I am the first man on my planet to see these humanoids with my own eyes. First contact. Why me?
They’re approaching me at a mercurial gait. They do not walk so much as they appear to glide. One of them breaks out from the pack; he must be their leader. His skin is a pale blue; he appears to be hairless. His eyes are as black as pitch. Before I can observe his other features, he speaks. “Human,” his airy, ephemeral voice declares, “take me to your cinema.“
…hey, it could happen. And if it does happen, I’ll be ready with five movies that I think best characterize the best and worst sides of the human spirit. Special thanks to the incisive and buoyant Sam Fragoso of Duke & The Movies for putting this whole blogathon together (the blog post can be found here)— here are the five films that I’d present to alien visitors if fortune pegged me as the Earthling to make first contact:
Ratatouille, 2007, Brad Bird: Humans are often inspired to create, whether for purposes of utility or out of aesthetic reasons. If Ratatouille is about anything, it’s that inherent creative drive. Of course, our hero, Remy, is a rat, but he happens to be one of the most human characters in the entire story; he’s a non-conformist motivated by an inexplicable desire to cook, something that goes against his very nature as a member of a species that follows the pack. But that creative side proves to be a force more powerful than any cultural directive– more than anything else, he’s a chef.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, 2002, Park Chan-wook: There’s ugliness in the human soul; sometimes it’s rank, base, and wholly without logic, but sometimes, we do ill upon one another intentionally and with a goal in mind. None of the characters of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance can be called evil, but they inflict spiritual and physical harm on one another and forge an unending cycle of misery and injury and bloodshed. The tragedy is that if circumstances altered ever so slightly, not a single one of these people would ever dream of harming each other, but they get hurt– and so they cause hurt in return.
Bicycle Thieves, 1946, Vittorio De Sica: For all of Bicycle Thieves‘ inherent bleakness, the film builds to an affectingly hopeful climax. As Antonio merges with a passing crowd, choking back tears, his young son, Bruno, catches up to him and takes his hand in an earnest gesture of affection; though Antonio has lost almost everything, including his own sense of dignity and honor, he still has his family, and more than anything the will continue on. Bereft of his most essential material possessions at the end, Antonio’s spirit remains salvageable.
The Exorcist, 1973, William Friedkin: Nothing frightens us more than that which we don’t understand, or whose existence we cannot prove. Pazuzu gladly helps us resolve that second concern, but does nothing to assuage us of that first fear; what does the being gain by possessing a young girl and tormenting her and her mother? Why pick Reagan in the first place? The rampant amorality of the demon’s activity proves to be just as terrifying as the acts it perpetrates from within its host’s young body.
The Abyss, 1989, James Cameron: Is it gauche to show a greeting party of aliens a movie that’s about aliens as a means of introducing them to humanity? Maybe. But aliens here are something like window dressing; the real pull of The Abyss lies in the wonder of discovery. Humans are, after all, endlessly curious, ever endeavoring to peel back the layers of the world we inhabit and find out the secrets of Earth and the universe and the laws that govern them both. Perhaps more apropos to the idea behind this blogathon, we want to know not just what else is out there, but who else is out there, and The Abyss is about that journey and the experience of encountering something new.