E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

by | Jun 4, 2013 | - 3 - Keep Stories

A young boy attempts to hold onto a friendship that he forms with a creature from another planet.

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Melissa Mathison

Director: Steven Spielberg

Production Co.(s): Universal Pictures; Amblin Entertainment

The Story on the Screen

In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the main character, Elliot, is a young boy who lives in a nondescript suburban California house with his older brother, Mike, younger sister, Gertie, and divorced mother, Mary. Although Elliot is not portrayed as a loner, he does not seem to have any close friends outside his family, and he appears to long for the sense of camaraderie that Mike enjoys with his own friends. On the night that we first meet him, in fact, he is attempting to gain admission to a role-playing board game that Mike and his friends are playing in their home.

The main character, Elliot, lives a nondescript suburban California life—until a late-night investigation of a disturbance leads to his encounter with an extraterrestrial alien being (E.T.).

When the older boys send Elliot outside to receive a pizza delivery, he stumbles onto a discovery that will change his young life. Specifically, he hears a disturbance in the backyard shed, and when he tosses a ball into the shed to investigate the disturbance, the ball rolls back to him, revealing the presence of something or someone inside. The event leads to a flurry of activity as Mike and his friends scramble to search for Elliot's "goblin"—as well as a late-night investigation by Elliot himself that results in a frightening face-to-face encounter with the creature, an extraterrestrial alien (whom Elliot later names "E.T.") who was left behind when the spaceship that was carrying him and his fellows made a hasty liftoff that night in the face of discovery by government agents.

The next day, Elliot goes in search of E.T. and lures him (it) back to his house with candy, eventually leading E.T. into his bedroom, where, the following day, he proceeds to introduce E.T. to elements of his everyday world as an Earth boy. And when Mike and Gertie finally encounter E.T., their initial shock dissolves quickly into sympathy and fascination, and the trio become clandestine helpers for the alien creature.

Events in the story cement the friendship between Elliot and E.T. in a bond that is psychic as well as psychological.

Ensuing events cement the developing friendship between Elliot and E.T.—a bond that appears to be psychic as well as psychological. And when E.T. expresses the desire to contact his alien cohorts, Elliot and Mike provide him with the materials he needs to do so, devise a ruse to get him safely out of the house, and help transport him to a nearby forest clearing where he can send a clear signal unseen to probing eyes.

The attempt, which does not appear to succeed, takes its toll on the health of both E.T. and Elliot, whose health has been declining since E.T. arrived. And when Mike finds E.T. lying helpless in a gully the next morning, Elliot and E.T. soon find themselves quarantined together in Mary's home by the government agency that has been searching for E.T. ever since the night that he was left behind by his fellow aliens.

E.T.'s health degenerates until he "dies" and then is awakened by a call from his alien cohorts.

As E.T.'s health degenerates further in captivity, so does Elliot's, owing to the psychic bond between them. But when E.T. "dies," the bond is broken, and Elliot's health is restored—as is E.T.'s shortly thereafter when, after Elliot mourns the loss, E.T. receives word from his alien cohorts that they have heard his call and will return for him.

Elliot and his friends must carry out a daring endeavor to return E.T. to his friends.

With E.T. restored suddenly to health (unbeknownst to the government agents), Elliot, Mike, and their friends carry out a daring escape and take him back to the forest clearing to rendezvous with his fellow aliens. The final parting is bittersweet for Elliot, who is happy to see E.T. returned to the safety of his ship but sad at the thought of losing the friendship he's come to treasure. But with the simple touch of his finger to Elliot's forehead, E.T. assures Elliot that the friendship will never be lost.

Behind the Scenes

Because the most famous line from the film involves an utterance from E.T. (in human language) regarding his desire to contact his alien cohorts—presumably to help bring about his return to their fellowship—it is easy to imagine that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a regain story that involves the quest of its main character to return to his home world. In point of fact, however, the main character of the story is Elliot, not E.T., and his intent lies firmly in the realm of keeping, not regaining.

It is Elliot whose journey we follow, not E.T.'s.

It is Elliot whose journey we follow in the story as he attempts to discover, lure, engage with, and educate E.T.—to form the bond of friendship with the alien. These are all gain actions that serve to create the treasure for Elliot's intent by establishing the friendship that he hopes to keep. But after the bond has been established and the friendship has been attained, his intent becomes directed clearly toward keeping it.

Throughout the story, Elliot's true type of intent is hinted at via seemingly minor expressions and actions. For example, when Elliot introduces Mike to E.T., he notes specifically that he intends to keep E.T., uttering the statement as he would if he had found a stray cat. And although he is comfortable introducing E.T. those whom he considers non-threatening—such as Mike and Gertie—he is careful to keep E.T. protected from those he considers to be a threat, which include Mary (at first) and then the government agents whose interest in E.T. appears to of a purely analytical nature.

Even when Elliot assists E.T. in attempting to contact his alien cohorts, he does so out of a sense of commitment to the friendship, not a personal quest to send E.T. back to his home world. In fact, when the contact attempt appears to fail, he appeals to E.T. to stay on Earth and grow up with him (to keep the relationship) and assures E.T. that he will protect him (keep him from harm). And it is the perceived threat to E.T.'s well-being posed by the government agents that prompts the daring attempt to smuggle E.T. to the clearing, where he can be rescued by his fellow aliens. The attempt is made for the sake of transporting E.T. to a place of safety, not specifically to return him to his home world.

Elliot's actions throughout the story indicate that he is a keep character.

And in the final moments of the story, when E.T. stands on the threshold of leaving the planet and invites Elliot to join him on the journey into space, Elliot responds by urging E.T. to remain on Earth—an appeal to keep alive the friendship that they have formed, and one that E.T. answers by assuring him that the friendship is and always will be safe.

The advisability of Elliot's endeavor in the story stems not from the particular focus of his intent—to keep a friendship that he values—but from the manner in which he goes about making the attempt. There are many ways to attempt to keep a friendship, and not all of them are admirable—for example, by the use of psychological or physical tethering or imprisonment. But Elliot's efforts involve self-sacrifice, even to the point of assisting his friend in fleeing to a place that he will be safe.

The issue of the story involves exercing selfless devotion to keep a valued friendship.

The issue in the story, therefore, may be said to involve "exercising selfless devotion to support and maintain (keep) a valued friendship" and appears to be one that the storytellers consider advisable. Therefore, it is possible to state the proposition as:

  • One should attempt to exercise selfless devotion to support and maintain a valued friendship, because success in the attempt will preserve, solidify, and enrich the friendship and those whom it involves.

Although E.T. leaves Elliot (and Earth) at the end of the story, he commits a final, gentle action that assures Elliot that their friendship and connection will always be preserved. In doing so, he signals clearly that Elliot has succeeded in his attempt to preserve the friendship. Because we-the-audience are led to hope for that success, we are pleased. Consequently, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial serves as a fine example of a succeed/pleased story—and because neither Elliot nor any of those whom he cares for suffers collateral damages from his quest, the ending can be said to be happy.

For More Information

For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).

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