E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) dir. Steven Spielberg

8/4 @Coolidge at the Greenway


The outdoor screen lights up at sunset, and the price of admission is showing up, so everybody had better grab a bike and ride over to the Greenway for this one! You may or may not achieve flight along the way, but you’re guaranteed lift-off upon arrival. An adorable, if incorrigible, alien has an important phone call to make, and he needs our help to make it. Fasten your seat-belts! Or else, no, that’s not quite right. Wear a helmet, I guess. The point is: get going already. Unless, of course, you have some time to kill, in which case I offer the following remarks:

There’s an old saw according to which “the golden age of science fiction is twelve,” but I’d extend it a few years further back. These are the last years we have in which our intelligence is rapidly maturing free of the confusing, exciting, hideously embarrassing distractions of puberty. As we attain a greater grasp on reality we also become capable of a deeper, fuller sense of wonder; more so, perhaps, than we ever will again. Some of us were lucky enough to be just so optimally positioned when Steven Spielberg gifted us all with E.T., and its place in our hearts is permanent.

“Back to the river! Back to the forest!”

Sublime hokum from the — yes — golden age of science fiction, otherwise known as my own childhood (maybe yours, too), E.T. overwhelms the wonder receptors in the brain, turning susceptible viewers into weeping, grinning, dopey miracles of the human spirit. Along the way it deals thoughtfully — but above all tenderly, and with a lightly worn cleverness — with themes of friendship, loving the Other, the ominous intrusiveness of big science, the loneliness of the long-distance anything, and the resourcefulness that derives from self-belief.

It manages all this despite being set in a very commonplace suburban housing development in California (it could have been almost anywhere in the country), within a family broken by divorce and presided over by a single mother. This context, so deftly drawn and so immediately recognizable to a great many of the film’s viewers, is essential to the eventual, and supremely successful, melding of heartbreak and uplift with which E.T. concludes.

The story itself? A brilliant little stranger arrives on our planet from another one very far away, loses track of his friends just as they depart, then makes new ones among the aliens (us!), friends who finally help him to return home. Simple? Simple.

Bring your kids and your parents, bring your friends and random strangers, bring even landlords and Republicans out to the Greenway tonight to see a true masterpiece of late 20th century popular art, as free as the air and twice as fair.

Part of the ongoing series: Coolidge at the Greenway.
Rain date: August 11.

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