This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback series
– By Sam Hendrian –
“I’ll be right here.” Such are the simple but transcendentally comforting words that any of us would love to hear from someone we cherish. A promise of spiritual companionship even when worlds apart, they are the last lines the alien creature E.T. speaks to the human boy Elliott in Steven Spielberg’s touching classic E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Released in 1982, it is one of Spielberg’s most personal films, as it poignantly speaks to the loneliness and isolation he felt as a kid, two painful feelings that were exacerbated by his parents’ divorce. An ode to the beautiful human need for close friendship, it also salutes motherhood and the vital role it plays in every child’s life.
As the film opens, E.T. and his family of otherworldly creatures have landed on the planet Earth to collect plants for food. Their trip is cut short when over-curious human scientists, though not intending a physical threat, intimidatingly appear in the woods and scare the creatures back into their spaceships. E.T. is the last to make it back to the ship, and his family is in such a rush that they close the doors and accidentally leave without him. Alone in a foreign land, the lost and frightened creature wanders aimlessly into the suburbs of northern California, where he soon will encounter another creature who feels alone in a foreign land.
Ten-year-old Elliott has a nice home and loving family, but a crucial person is missing: his dad. Moving to Mexico with another woman, Elliott’s dad cast a shroud of bitter abandonment over the home, and each member of the family is emotionally wounded in his or her own way. Elliott feels acutely lonely, and as we watch him wash dishes while staring up at the starry sky outside, it is clear that he longs for a caring friend to fill the deep void in his heart.
When E.T. and Elliott first encounter each other in the field outside of Elliott’s home, they are mutually terrified. Fortunately, they soon warm up to each other via the world-bridging ice breaker known as Reese’s Pieces, and Elliott smuggles the lost alien creature into his home. It is here that their friendship begins to blossom, as they quickly realize how similar their souls are. Both are pining for the home that they have lost, E.T. for his physical home and Elliott for his emotional home that was severely damaged by his dad’s departure. Elliott becomes committed to helping E.T. find a way back to his home, and E.T. does the same for Elliott, albeit in a much subtler way.
Through some inexplicable cosmic force, E.T. and Elliott’s souls literally become connected. When E.T. feels sad or sick in any way, so does Elliott, and vice versa. They understand each other in a profoundly personal and unique way, and in the famous scene where they fly through the moonlit sky together on a bicycle, they experience a pure joy that they have never known before in their lives.
When E.T. temporarily dies from a homesickness that has taken a physical toll on his body, Elliott is absolutely heartbroken and feels numb. He tearfully tells the alien corpse:
“You must be dead, ‘cause I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore. You’ve gone someplace else now. I’ll believe in you all my life. Every day. E.T., I love you.”
These poignant words capture the essence not only of E.T. and Elliott’s relationship, but also the essence of any close friendship that connects two souls in a mysteriously ethereal way. Fortunately, Elliott’s words of love and the impending arrival of E.T.’s family revive the sweet creature, and during an exciting and gravity-defying bike chase, Elliott smuggles his friend away from government scientists/policemen and to the forest where a spaceship has landed to take him back home.
As E.T. prepares to board the spaceship and reunite with his family, he and Elliott say goodbye to each other in one of the most tear-jerking exchanges ever put on film. While Elliott pleads for E.T. to stay, and E.T. pleads for Elliott to come, both know that this cannot be. In an attempt to heal his human friend’s broken heart, the wise creature places his glowing index finger on the boy’s forehead and simply but profoundly assures him, “I’ll be right here.”
These words carry a deep significance, as they imply not only that Elliott will always be able to see his best friend in his memories, but also that he will always be able to remember his friend’s love. When his father abandoned his family, Elliott began to feel lost and unloved. E.T. has shown him that he is most certainly loved and can find his way back home despite his father’s selfish act, and this comforting truth will remain in his mind long after E.T. himself has departed.
While E.T. has a huge, almost Christlike significance in the lives of Elliott and his two siblings, their strong and loving mother is an equally important force in their lives. Despite feeling broken after being ditched by her husband, she nevertheless perseveres in caring diligently for each of her children’s needs and making her home as warm and welcoming a place as it can be. One of the film’s most moving moments is when Elliott tearfully throws himself into his mother’s arms after E.T.’s apparent death. She just holds him tight, and while his tears continue to flow, the warm embrace of the woman who carried him in her womb bears an inexplicably healing power. This brief moment perfectly captures why strong motherhood is so beautiful and needed in human society.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is a family classic that continues to move and inspire even 36 years after it was released. A masterful ode to the healing powers of intimate friendship and strong motherhood, it reminds us that no person is ever really alone in the universe. Even when no fellow human is close by with an outstretched hand, our Heavenly Friend is always present and will never abandon us. In many ways, E.T. is representative of this Heavenly Friend, a friend who is always more than eager to help us find our way home.
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.