- Marc Turtletaub
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 27 minutes
I am like a desert owl[a] of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
Director Marc Turtletaub’s film is a modest tale about a 79-year-old widower living in a small western Pennsylvania town. With a plot similar in some ways with E.T. or Close Encounters…, it is less a science fiction film than it is a parable of aging and loneliness.
Milton Robinson (Ben Kingsley), a widower suffering from early onset of dementia, lives alone. His daughter, Denise (Zoë Winters), a veterinarian, drops in often to help him with household chores and to help him pay his bills. She is worried about his increasing confusion and forgetfulness, such as finding a can of green beans stashed upstairs in the medicine cabinet rather than in the pantry. He also has a son somewhere, with whom he has not spoken for a long time because of some estrangement.
Milton regularly attends the open midweek town meeting, always presenting the same recommendations—install a crosswalk and change the town’s slogan. These are always ignored by the mayor and board, as are the concerns of two elderly women who also are invariably present– Sandy (Harriett Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin).
One night Milton is drawn by a loud disturbance in his back yard and discovers that a flying saucer has crashed there, breaking his birdbath and destroying some of his flowers. He dials 911 but hangs up when the operator responds to what she thinks is a crank call. Venturing back and forth, he discovers a small humanoid alien lying unconscious on the ground. Eventually bringing the light-blue -gray skinned alien into his house, he discovers that from the variety of possible foods offered it, the alien chooses water and apples. Because of the way the 911 operator had reacted to him, Milton tells no one about his guest. Not even his daughter, when she comes by but does not go into the living room where the alien is sitting.
Sandy discovers the alien and agrees to keep Milton’s secret. During one of Sandy’s many visits, the nosy Joyce peeps through the window, spying the alien. Now there are three in on the secret. It is Sandy who decides to name their friend Jules. Not once does the little alien attempt to speak, though he does present Milton with a small piece of paper on which he has sketched drawings of a number of cats. He continues to try to repair the motor of his UFO but seems to be getting nowhere because of a lack of something.
Then Sandy becomes endangered, and Jules saves her by his seemingly miraculous powers. This scene is disturbingly violent, seeming like it belongs in a horror film, rather than this gentle tale of senior loneliness and mental decline. This incident sets into motion a major trope of sci-fi films, the attempt of government agents to capture the alien for national security reasons. They are listening on Jules’ phone line and have the police keeping a watch on their activities. How the three help the alien find what he needs to repair his ship is funny, even silly—though maybe cat lovers might not think so. And when the alien offers to take the humans with him, they are faced with a difficult moment of decision, one which is settled in a satisfying way.
Though Milton is neither a praying man nor as threatened with enemies as the psalmist, he is just as lonely. This is a quirky little film.
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