Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

After rendezvous-ing with Gertie at the lookout, Elliott rides his bicycle into the woods with his white-sheeted friend E.T. in the handlebars' basket. With his magical telekinetic powers, E.T. soars the bicycle over the edge of a cliff into the air, flying silhouetted against the face of the moon. Elliott is frightened by their elevation and cries out: "Not so high!" But then he also laughs with exhilaration as they drive over the tree-tops, until they experience a rough landing.

Although everyone was told to return home no later than one hour after sunset, Elliott and E.T. remain long after dark in the forest, worrying his mother. Upset and annoyed that her children are still out at 9:45 pm, she blows out many of her lighted Halloween candles.

In the forest close to the spaceship's landing site, E.T. sets up the transmitter mechanism to begin signaling. The saw-blade sits flat on the platter of the phonograph. The open umbrella (lined with aluminum foil) is pointed toward outer space. A rope is tied between a tree branch and the saw-blade/fork/coat hanger mechanism with nails above the saw blade, that is plugged by cable into a lantern battery to activate the Speak 'n' Spell device.

Exasperated, Mary drives off to alert authorities about her missing children, muttering to herself: "Their father's gonna hear about this one. Mexico!" Unidentified men get out of their parked surveillance car as she drives away and walk up the driveway toward the house.

E.T. places the transmitter contraption in an open space - the landing site - in the wooded forest with help from Elliott. As they stare towards the stars and scratch their faces, the device begins to transmit signals into the heavens:

  • the wind moves the branches
  • the rope is pulled
  • the fork mechanism (attached to the rope) grabs the individual sharp points of the saw blade and rotates it on the phonograph platter
  • the rotation of the saw blade causes the hanger and nails to scratch the flat surface of the blade and send signals through the Speak 'n' Spell into space through the open umbrella

Elliott is ecstatic: "It's working!" And E.T. says: "Home."

Meanwhile, the government officials have now targeted Elliott's home and their dark, shadowy figures have entered, searching with flashlights in each room. Inside the house, they find the greatest radiation readings from a Geiger counter coming from Elliott's room (hung with a modified sign, "DO NOT ENTER").

In the forest in the cold and damp air, it has become very late and a return signal has still not been received. E.T. sadly looks up at the sky, saying "ouch," signifying his pain (physical and emotional). Both Elliott and E.T. are beginning to become ill. Elliott feels the effects of night air. Besides depression, poor diet, and homesickness, the effects of gravity on E.T.'s body are taking their toll. With tears in his eyes, Elliott senses that E.T. may be leaving him soon - one of the most touching scenes in the film:

You could be happy here. I could take care of you. I wouldn't let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.

E.T. only responds by saying, "Home," but he notices that Elliott is crying, and touches one of the tears on his cheek. By early morning, Elliott awakens from his sleep next to the communication machine, but E.T. is gone.

The Next Day:

In the kitchen, a policeman questions Elliott's mother about the possible reasons for her son's disappearance: "Is there anything to indicate that he might have run away, any family problems or recent arguments?" Mary explains that she has recently separated from her husband "and it hasn't been easy on the children." Gertie adds: "My father's in Mexico." When Mary shuts the refrigerator door, Elliott is revealed standing behind her. Sick, feverish and depressed, Elliott is safely back home, and learns that he has been the object of a search.

When Elliott learns that E.T. has not returned to the house, he pleads with Michael to find the lost creature near the "bald spot" in the forest. Michael is followed by a government vehicle through the neighborhood as he rides furiously toward the forest. After finding the abandoned communications device, he discovers E.T. moaning and dying in water next to a flowing stream, weakened with a pale white color. Sounds of an unseen government helicopter are heard overhead. Away from his natural habitat, E.T.'s health is rapidly worsening and deteriorating.

Michael brings the extra-terrestrial home - now both Elliott's and E.T.'s lives seem to be draining away. They both experience the same physical symptoms and are expiring together as a result of their symbiotic relationship. Michael fetches his mother, swearing her to absolute secrecy before revealing the 'goblin' from the shed to her:

Remember the goblin...just swear the most excellent promise you can make.

Unaware of the creature until now, she views the whitish-skinned creature lying on the bathroom floor next to Elliott. The drained-of-life alien moans with his left arm extended toward her: "Mom." Shocked, her cup turns over in her limp hand and spills coffee onto the floor. Elliott clothed in white long-john underwater (looking remarkably similar to E.T.'s whitish pale color) tells his mother:

We're sick. I think we're dying.

Although her first thought is to get her children downstairs and out of the house to protect them, Gertie insists that E.T., "the man from the moon" is harmless. After Mary carries Elliott (protesting that they are leaving E.T. alone) down the stairs and the front door is opened, she encounters a real lunar explorer/astronaut - a man in a space suit. Other space-suited men enter the house from different directions blocking their flight as she screams:

This is my home.

A row of men wearing helmets and uniforms march toward the street in the dusk's light; some of them are rolling a large, cocoon-like plastic tunnel toward the house. E.T. is discovered on the bathroom floor crying: "Home."

That Night:

Outside, the house is surrounded by trailers, vehicles, floodlights, and workmen. Scientists have enveloped or enclosed the quarantined house in an air-tight, cocoon-like plastic tent to either protect or decontaminate it. The man with the jangling keys, scientist Keys (Peter Coyote), wearing a blue jumpsuit with hood, enters the house through a van attached to the transparent, plastic tunnel. He makes his way inside the house, through a sealed entryway, to a makeshift emergency room or laboratory where scientists are studying the alien with sophisticated machinery. They prod, poke, and stick EKG sensors on him.

Family members are questioned by scientists about E.T. - his sleep patterns, surface sweating, hair loss, his building or writing capability and his ability to manipulate his environment. Michael explicitly describes Elliott's and E.T.'s merging:

Michael: He's smart. He communicates through Elliott.
Scientist: Elliott thinks its thoughts.
Michael: No, Elliott - Elliott feels his feelings.

Both Elliott and E.T. are stretched out on long tables alongside each other within another quarantined and plastic-enclosed room. The two are connected to life-support equipment that registers similar graphing results. Elliott protests their treatment:

You have no right to do this. You're scaring him. You're scaring him! Leave him alone. Leave him alone, I can take care of him.

With two fingers (like E.T.), Keys taps on the clear cover surrounding Elliott's oxygen tent and speaks, the only doctor or scientist to directly talk to Elliott and identify with him, becoming a friend [he's an adult version of 10 year old Elliott]. They are also identified together by Elliott's reflection on Keys' transparent face gear:

Keys: Elliott. I've been to the forest....Elliott. That machine. What does it do?
Elliott:...Is it still working?
Keys: It's doing something. What?
Elliott: I really shouldn't tell. He came to me. He came to ME.
Keys: Elliott. He came to me too. I've been wishing for this since I was 10 years old. I don't want him to die. What can we do that we're not already doing?
Elliott: He needs to go home. He's calling his people and I don't know where they are. He needs to go home.
Keys: Elliott, I don't think that he was left here intentionally. But his being here is a miracle, Elliott. It's a miracle. And you did the best that anybody could do. I'm glad he met you first.

A doctor announces that E.T. has DNA. As E.T. begins to approach death, his blood pressure sinks, while Elliott's condition stabilizes. Elliott holds his hand out to E.T., tearfully asking him to stay connected:

Elliott: E.T. Stay with me. Please...
E.T.: ...stay.
Elliott: Together. I'll be right here. I'll be right here.
E.T.: Stay, Elliott. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.

E.T.'s life fades away. Elliott loses his telepathic connection to E.T. and miraculously comes back to full life: "The boy's coming back. We're losing E.T." The boy stretches his arms out to his dead friend, pleading for him to answer:

E.T. Answer me, please. Please.

In another part of the house, Michael goes into the closet (E.T.'s home) and huddles down among all E.T.'s possessions until he falls asleep, saddened by the apparent loss of the creature.

The Next Day:

By the next morning, the geranium plant has withered in E.T.'s closet home, signifying his death. A distraught Elliott screams to E.T. as doctors and scientists rush en masse to E.T.'s bedside and tear open the plastic coverings around him. Realizing that E.T. has no blood pressure, pulse or respiration, they make frantic efforts to revive the alien, administer CPR and other life supports - as Elliott reaches out:

E.T. Don't go!...Leave him alone. You're killing him. Leave him alone.

Elliott is wheeled out from his spot next to E.T. Gertie holds her doll - and jumps when electric shock is applied to E.T.'s body. Elliott embraces his mother as E.T. expires around 3:36 in the afternoon. None of the government's medical technology can save the expiring alien. Outside, Mike's friends realize that "something's happened" in the house when a group of officials depart in their car.

Clad in a blanket, Elliott stands inside the isolation room. Keys understands Elliott's need to have a few moments with his dead friend, now placed in a metal casing (coffin) packed with dry ice:

Keys: They're gonna have to take him away now.
Elliott (fearing what was to be executed in the frog dissection scene): They're just gonna cut him all up.
Keys: Would you like to spend some time alone with him?

Elliott doesn't answer. Tearful and sorrowful, Elliott keeps a vigil next to E.T. and speaks lovingly to his dead, extra-terrestrial friend (covered in a zipped-up plastic bag within the lead casing):

Look at what they've done to you. I'm so sorry. 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.

While viewing his friend for the last time, Elliott's heart-felt love revives his friend. E.T.'s red heartlight glows through the glass window when the lead, tomb-like container enclosing E.T. is shut. So bereaved, Elliott doesn't realize his companion has been reborn until he notices the dead geranium plant has come back to life and is blossoming. He quickly rushes back to the casing, opens E.T.'s enclosure, unzips the plastic bag which encases his friend, and finds E.T. (with wide open eyes) miraculously resurrected and repetitively bursting out: "E.T. Phone home." [The religious symbolism is fairly striking in E.T.'s death and resurrection.] "Phone home, phone home."

Suddenly realizing that E.T. is going to be retrieved by his space ship ("Does this mean they are coming?") when the alien tells him so, Elliott knows that he must help his friend to escape from the cold and hostile government workers and scientists so that he can return home. So Elliott tells E.T. to "shut up" and be "quiet" to avoid detection, and he covers the red-glowing heart-light with a blanket.

Pretending with feigned sorrow that E.T. is still dead in the lead coffin when Keys appears, Elliott lets his overjoyed brother in on the secret and they follow E.T.'s container through the plastic tunnel to a waiting van. They leave a written message for Mary, delivered by Gertie, informing her of E.T.'s resurrection and their rendezvous plan. In the driver's seat of the van holding E.T., Michael tells his friends to meet them on their bikes at the top of the playground hill. Then, he sheepishly admits as he drives off in the scientists' van:

I've never driven forward before.

He zooms off, ripping out and dragging behind him about twenty feet of the plastic tunnel with workers still inside.

As they drive through the neighborhood, Elliott unfastens the plastic tunnel, dropping the two workers into the middle of the road. Mary backs the family car out of the driveway just when Keys approaches. Gertie blurts out that they're going "to the spaceship - to the moon." At the playground, Elliott releases E.T. from his metal tomb inside the van, still smoking from the dry-ice lining. Standing in the van with a white blanket draped over him, E.T.'s red heartlight glows brilliantly. Elliott identifies E.T. and tells Mike's friends what they're doing:

Elliott: He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship.
Greg: Well, can't he just beam up?
Elliott: This is reality, Greg.

Covered with a white blanket, E.T. is placed into Elliott's bicycle basket and they all race off on their bicycles. The plainclothes policemen and US government officials in pursuit of the van carry guns - as Mary worriedly warns: "No guns, they're children." [The guns were digitally removed from the 20th anniversary print of the film, as was this line of dialogue.]

The final climax is the dramatic, frantic chase as the kids on their bikes flee the cops and other officials and attempt to get E.T. to a pre-arranged rendezvous with his spaceship so he can return home. U.S. government vehicles and police cars give the cyclists a chase, trapping them with a roadblock guarded by armed men with shotguns. E.T. makes the phalanx of bikes magical, outwitting the pursuers' blockade by flying the bicycles off the ground against the bright reddish sky of the setting sun, Peter Pan-style.

When they reach the bare spot landing site in the forest where the transmitter was left, the alien space ship descends into view. E.T. exclaims "Home" as the spaceship lands - his heartlight flashing red at the lights of the great ship. They are joined in the forest by Gertie and the two most important adult role models in the film, Elliott's mother and Keys.

At the rendezvous site, the hatch of the ship opens, and in a touching, goodbye ending, E.T. leaves his earthbound friends. The scene is portrayed with awe, wonder, and amazement:

Gertie: I just wanted to say goodbye. (Gertie hands E.T. the resurrected geranium plant.)
Michael (telling Gertie that E.T. won't understand the word 'goodbye'): He doesn't know 'goodbye'.
E.T. (to Gertie, using his favorite expression for her): Be good.
Gertie: Yes. (She kisses E.T.'s nose.)
(Michael gently strokes the side of E.T.'s flat head in his farewell gesture. E.T. responds: "Ahh.")
E.T. (to Michael): Thank you.
Michael: You're welcome.

Standing in the spaceship's hatch is another creature - is that E.T.'s mother? Michael's friends, Mary, Keys (Elliott's new 'father' ?), Michael and Gertie watch as Elliott bids his friend goodbye. E.T. has brought all of them together to look on:

E.T. (to Elliott): Come.
Elliott: Stay.
E.T. (after touching his heart where there is a ruby-glowing light and then touching his lips, expressing his pain over leaving and separating): Ouch.
Elliott (after repeating the gesture): Ouch. (Then they embrace in the blue light of the spaceship.)
E.T. (after touching his long finger lightly to Elliott's forehead, his fingertip glows and he indicates that he will be kept in Elliott's memory): I'll be right here.

Elliott: Bye.

E.T. would remain in or share in Elliott's thoughts, or perhaps they would communicate telepathically in some way. [Note: To some viewers, this gesture was analogous to the Christian religious doctrine that Jesus would be with his followers forever, and it also opened up the possibility of a lucrative film sequel.]

And then E.T. waddles up the spaceship's gangplank ramp with the potted geranium plant in his hands (a plant sample - the original object of his journey). He enters his "home" to depart from planet Earth, leaving a rainbow streak vapor trail in the sky as a symbol of his promise to Elliott that he will be "right here" in his thoughts and dreams. The alien creature has been the catalyst to add the very ingredient missing in the family's household: a strong center capable of holding everyone together.

The final shot is a low-angle zoom closeup of Elliott's suddenly much older, less lonely and wiser face - healed by the 'touch' of the alien - as he looks up into the sky. Through his contact with a benevolent alien, Elliott will grow up into adulthood with greater compassion, wisdom, and capacity for emotion in his life.

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