Close Encounters of the Third Kind depicts the events of Roy Neary, an electrical lineman, who experiences an irresistible impulse to visit an isolated area that he receives in a vision after an encounter with UFOs. In planning our 52in52 itinerary, I should have visited Wyoming before Montana (Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, 1998) to have remained loyal to J. Allen Hynek’s classification of close encounters with aliens. In ufology, the 3rd kind of encounter is defined when an animated creature is present while the 4th kind is an event in which a human is abducted as the McPhersons were in Week 12.


Two iconic monsters that represent our culture’s fear of the unknown are the Zombie and Alien Beast. While zombies relate to Mood Disorders (but we’ll have to wait 2 weeks for The Crazies), this week’s film highlights aliens and their role in reviewing Bipolar and Related Disorders.

We are first introduced to Roy Neary and his family around the dinner table during a discussion of their planning a family event. Roy’s insistence on seeing Pinocchio is characterized by irritability and verbally abusive language. While we aren’t provided a recent history that allows us to determine if his behavior is a change from previous functioning, the events that will unfold will frame this early scene as a prodrome to bipolar illness.

Following a close encounter with UFOs (rule-out perceptual disturbance) while in his truck, Roy’s behavior becomes erratic, and results in significant impairment in interpersonal (his wife and children leave him) and occupational (he is fired from his job) functioning. Initially, he becomes obsessed with a vision he receives. His belief that he must visit an isolated area in the wilderness to see something spectacular becomes fixed. His grandiose delusion is initially mood-incongruent when he experiences a major depressive episode culminating in his crying inconsolably in the shower. Thereafter, Roy switches to the opposite pole and manifests grandiosity, a decreased need for sleep, pressured speech, and an increase in goal-directed activity in constructing an 8-foot replica of Devil’s Tower in his living room (the precipitant for his wife leaving him).

It is unclear to the audience if the people Roy meets who confirm his reality are themselves products of his own mind. When such is the case in film, it’s interesting to uncover aspects of the movie that are physically impossible, therefore supporting the notion that only in one’s mind can the events be explained.

Type I error: Supporting a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
Type I error (interestingly called error of the first kind) is the conclusion that a supposed effect exists when in fact it doesn’t. In the climactic scene at the end of the movie, the alien mothership flies over Devil’s Tower. We see the ship’s shadow creeping along the ground despite the fact that there’s no light source above the ship. Similarly, when the brightly lit alien mothership passes directly over Devil’s Tower, the rock formation remains dark despite having the leviathan light source directly above.

Type II error (almost): Supporting a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
Type II error (interestingly called error of the second kind) is the conclusion that something does not exist when in fact it does. For example, Roy’s joining the aliens is critical in realizing that his behavior is significantly impacted by his delusions. Despite this, Spielberg has expressed that if he were to make the movie over again, he would delete this scene. Additionally, Spielberg intended to cut the entire manic (garden) episode from the Special Edition despite it arguably being the most defining scene in the movie.

Last week’s movie: Carnival of Souls (1962)
Next week’s movie: Badlands (1973)



Incident in Lake County is a larger-budget version of The McPherson Tape which originally aired on UPN on January 18, 1998. Despite The Blair Witch Project (our February 27 destination) having been credited with the found footage explosion, Alien Abduction actually predates SaI?nchez and Myrick’s work.

Alien Abduction is presented as a video tape made by Tommy, a teenager in Lake County, Montana, during his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. This week’s 52in52 blog will focus on Tommy and his family’s close encounter with an alien invasion as well as the original mockumentary which is purported to be from the Northwoods, Connecticut U.F.O. Case 77.


Classified as “Alien Beast” on Joss Whedon’s Big Board in Cabin in the Woods (2012), the alien invasion/abduction subgenre captures our culture’s universal fear of the unknown. This archetypal fear can be traced as far back as the 17th-century when Charles Perrault wrote his folkloric tale, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), a prosocial warning not to wander into the unknown. Its alien inclusion occurred in 1938, when H. G. Wells’s novel, The War of the Worlds, was broadcast on radio on “Devil’s Night” (October 30). The beginning of the radio drama was presented as a series of news bulletins reporting the invasion of Martians. Similar to the radio broadcast by Orson Wells, which threw the town of Grover’s Mill, NJ into widespread paranoia, The McPherson Tape also created controversy, as it was created to appear as a genuine home video.

Like the zombie, alien beasts evolve along with a culture’s fears. Therefore, a post-World War II variation of the “unknown” theme includes the idea that “they are among us.” This is depicted in Who Goes There?, a novella by John Campbell that was adapted to the screen as The Thing from Another World (and remade in 1982 as John Carpenter’s The Thing). In Carpenter’s film, members of an Antarctic research station battle an alien life form that was awakened from its dormancy deep within the ice. Since the alien can assimilate at the molecular level, the researchers grow paranoid of each other, any one of whom can be the alien, phenotypically disguised.

This week’s movie also depicts extreme denial best demonstrated by the family’s intention to leave the house – “will you be by tomorrow for breakfast?” – despite just having spotted a gray in their backyard.

Men in Black (1997) merges this ego defense with the above “they are among us” theme: “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they Do… Not… Know about it!” (Agent K).

Another ego defense, dissociation, is manifested by Rene (then the grandmother) when she’s described, “like you were sleepwalking” and doesn’t remember how she got from the kitchen to the door. Interestingly, it is during one of these dissociative episodes that the grandmother attempts to open the door for the aliens (paralleling having to invite a vampire into the home). This scene further pushes the “aliens are among us” narrative forward as it implicates us as an active participant in our own demise (abduction).

The film ends with an announcement to contact 800-555-7070 with any information of the McPhersons’ whereabouts.

Last week’s movie: Leprechaun (1993)
Next week’s movie: Idaho Transfer (1973)