Close Encounters of the Third Kind Themes

17 October 2023
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind," directed by Stephen Spielberg and released in 1977, stands as a timeless masterpiece in the realm of science fiction cinema. While the film is celebrated for its stunning visual effects and gripping storyline, it also delves into profound thematic elements that continue to captivate audiences.

In this detailed essay, we will embark on a comprehensive journey to analyze the themes that make "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" an enduring classic. From communication with the unknown to the consequences of obsession and the role of government secrecy, each theme will be explored in depth, shedding light on the film's enduring impact on the science fiction genre.

themes of close encounters of the third kind

Communication with the Unknown

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" places a significant emphasis on the theme of communication with the unknown. At its core, this theme explores the fundamental human desire for contact and understanding with extraterrestrial beings or other mysterious forces. Spielberg skillfully portrays this theme through several key elements in the film.

One of the most striking ways Spielberg addresses this theme is through the character of Roy Neary, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss. Roy's character arc is pivotal to understanding the film's exploration of communication. Initially, he is an ordinary electrical lineman, but as he experiences inexplicable visions and encounters with alien spacecraft, he undergoes a transformation. His obsession with these encounters leads him to sculpt a model of Devil's Tower, a location of great significance in the film, out of mashed potatoes, attempting to communicate with the unknown.

Music also plays a vital role in illustrating the theme of communication. The iconic five-note musical sequence, first heard during the encounter at the power plant, serves as a universal language between humans and aliens. The film's use of music as a means of communication underscores the idea that some things can transcend language barriers.

Furthermore, the film raises questions about the nature of communication itself. How do humans interpret the unknown, and how does that interpretation shape their actions? Spielberg challenges the audience to consider the limitations of human understanding when faced with the incomprehensible.

Obsession and Sacrifice

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" portrays the theme of obsession and sacrifice as central to the narrative, creating a profound exploration of the human psyche and the pursuit of the unknown.

Roy Neary's transformation from an ordinary family man to an obsessive seeker of the truth is a captivating character study. Initially, Roy's obsession is triggered by a close encounter with an unidentified flying object. His life unravels as he becomes increasingly consumed by the need to understand the visions he experiences. This obsession leads him to build a replica of Devil's Tower in his living room and ultimately to journey to the real location, driven by an irresistible inner force.

Spielberg masterfully captures the toll of Roy's obsession on his personal life. His marriage crumbles as his wife, unable to comprehend his obsession, leaves him. His children are left bewildered by their father's inexplicable behavior. This theme highlights the sacrifices individuals are willing to make when consumed by an insatiable desire for knowledge and connection with the unknown.

The film also explores the idea that obsession can lead to self-discovery. Roy's journey of self-discovery through obsession, while tumultuous, ultimately reveals hidden aspects of his character. This transformation is symbolized by his physical and emotional journey to Devil's Tower, where he undergoes a profound change.

Government Secrets and Conspiracy

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" also delves into the theme of government secrecy and conspiracy, adding a layer of intrigue and complexity to the narrative.

The character of Claude Lacombe, portrayed by François Truffaut, represents the government's involvement in investigating and concealing encounters with extraterrestrial beings. Lacombe is a French scientist who collaborates with American government officials to decipher the mysterious events occurring around the world. His presence underscores the idea that governments possess knowledge about extraterrestrial encounters and are actively involved in managing these phenomena.

Throughout the film, Spielberg raises questions about the extent to which governments may hide the truth from the public. The audience is left to wonder about the motives behind the secrecy and the potential implications for society at large. This theme taps into the broader cultural fascination with government cover-ups and conspiracies regarding UFOs and extraterrestrial life.

The tension between government secrecy and the human desire for transparency and understanding forms a central conflict in the film. It invites viewers to contemplate the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by those who hold the knowledge of extraordinary phenomena and choose to keep it hidden.

The Human Spirit and Curiosity

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" celebrates the indomitable human spirit and the innate curiosity that drives individuals to explore the unknown.

The character of Roy Neary, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, embodies the theme of human curiosity. Roy starts as an ordinary working-class man but is transformed into an avid seeker of the truth when he encounters extraterrestrial phenomena + they abduct his kid. His relentless pursuit of understanding and his willingness to follow his instincts exemplify the power of human curiosity.

Jillian Guiler, played by Melinda Dillon, is another character who embodies this theme. She is a mother whose child is taken by the aliens. Her determination to find her son and understand the mysterious events unfolding around her showcases the unwavering human spirit in the face of the extraordinary.

Spielberg's portrayal of these characters highlights the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for personal growth through curiosity. The film suggests that it is our innate curiosity that propels us forward, pushing the boundaries of what is known and driving us to explore the mysteries of the universe.

The film's narrative also underscores the idea that curiosity transcends age, occupation, and societal norms. Both Roy and Jillian represent everyday people who are drawn to the unknown, challenging the notion that curiosity is the domain of scientists or experts alone.

 Family and Personal Transformation

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" explores the profound theme of family and personal transformation in the context of extraterrestrial encounters, highlighting the impact of the unknown on individuals and their relationships.

The character of Roy Neary, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, undergoes a remarkable transformation in the film, one that extends to his family. At the beginning of the story, Roy is a dedicated family man, but his obsession with the mysterious visions he experiences strains his relationships. His wife, Ronnie, and children are bewildered and ultimately leave him due to his erratic behavior.

This theme emphasizes the sacrifices and challenges that individuals and their families face when confronted with the inexplicable. The film portrays the emotional toll of Roy's journey and the strain it places on familial bonds.

However, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" also suggests that encounters with the unknown can lead to personal growth and transformation. Roy's journey to Devil's Tower is not just a physical one but also a spiritual and emotional odyssey. He undergoes a profound change, finding a sense of purpose and fulfillment in his quest for understanding.

Similarly, Jillian Guiler's character experiences personal transformation as she searches for her abducted son, Barry. Her determination and resilience as a mother lead her to confront the extraordinary and discover hidden strengths within herself.

Spielberg's portrayal of family dynamics and personal transformation in the face of the unknown adds depth to the narrative. It underscores the idea that while encounters with the mysterious can strain relationships, they can also lead to self-discovery and personal growth.


In Stephen Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," we have journeyed through a cinematic masterpiece that not only dazzles with its visual effects but also resonates profoundly through its exploration of timeless themes. From the longing for communication with the unknown, the consequences of obsession, and the shadowy realm of government secrets, to the celebration of the indomitable human spirit and the transformative power of personal encounters, this film delves into the depths of the human experience.

Spielberg's deft storytelling and character development make "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" a hallmark of science fiction cinema. It challenges us to contemplate our insatiable curiosity, the sacrifices we make in its pursuit, and the transformative potential of the extraordinary. As we navigate the unknown alongside characters like Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler, we are reminded of the profound capacity for growth and understanding that lies within us all.

For those who found "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" enthralling, there are several other science fiction films worth exploring. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," also directed by Spielberg, offers a heartwarming tale of friendship between a young boy and a stranded alien. "Contact" (1997), based on the novel by Carl Sagan, delves into the scientific and philosophical implications of first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. And "Arrival" (2016), directed by Denis Villeneuve, explores language and communication in the face of alien visitors, delving into themes of time, perception, and human understanding.

As we continue to venture into the realms of science fiction, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" serves as a beacon, guiding us to ponder the mysteries of the universe and the infinite potential of the human spirit.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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