Steven Spielberg’s made five movies featuring aliens: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I., The War of the Worlds, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…But the really important alien movies are Spielberg’s first two: Close Encounters and E.T. Like Spielberg’s other early films, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, these movies refined a B-movie genre into critically acclaimed gourmet popcorn. Close Encounters and E.T. raised the bar for cinematic science fiction. They also did something unusual, which few alien movies that followed, including Spielberg’s own, have attempted: the early alien movies function as moral metaphors. The encounters with aliens imaginatively exercise our hearts and minds, and may help to exorcise our worldly wisdom. These movies are good for the soul and more people should watch them (or rewatch them). Two of the best reasons for art criticism is to get people to watch the good stuff and to help them see why it’s good. This may seem a bit obvious, but the most important things in life are usually obvious. People need to be reminded more than they need to be taught. Aristotle said that all philosophy begins in wonder. American philosopher Martha Nussbaum has said that compassion is the basic social emotion. Close Encounters and E.T. remind us of the value of wonder and compassion.
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Philip Talon about his online-exclusive feature article “ClearSkies, Hurt Hearts, Can’t Lose: Why Spielberg’s Aliens Help Make us More Human.”
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