“It always stuck with me, the ending from ‘2001.’ I don’t know what it’s really saying. I know it’s beautiful, it’s telling me many things, I don’t quite understand it, but I know it gets me thinking. When I look at ‘Close Encounters,’ there’s a perfect ending: the door opens, and that great sort of Preying Mantis Silhouette figure comes out. Cut to black, folks! Don’t let the little kids with the rubber suits come in! That’s a really fucking awful answer!”
Speaking at the Cape Town Film Fest, Terry Gilliam criticises Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s lack of ambiguity.
This isn’t the first time Gilliam has criticised Spielberg (he’s also said some disparaging things about Schindler’s List), and it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that I disagree with him.
Firstly, to compare Close Encounters and 2001 is utterly pointless. They are two very different films aiming for two very different goals. The fact they are sci-fi films is their only connection.
Secondly, the suggestion that ambiguity is superior to providing answers seems deeply misguided to me. A film that provides answers can offer inspiration and life lessons, and those things can be as significant as the deep thoughts provoked by an ambiguous film.
Case in point, Citizen Kane. Welles is hardly ambiguous in his point here - at the end of the film, he nails his colours to the mast pretty firmly. Does Kane’s lack of ambiguity make it any less of a masterpiece? Of course not. In fact, its moral is one of the many reasons it’s a classic film.
Ambiguity has its place, proving answers has its place too. Many different people go to the cinema, some who respond to ambiguity, some who respond to answers, and they should all be catered for. One approach is no more superior to the other than one person is to another person.
Looking at it in any other way seems, to me, insulting, counter-productive, and downright wrong.