May 11, 2013

Second chances


Cinema can resurrect the dead: Solaris, Vertigo, both love stories and fantasies. In the John Carpenter film Starman (1984), an alien crash lands in Wisconsin and assumes the form of Jenny Hayden’s (Karen Allen) dead husband, Scott. This is a shock; is it even a dream? The alien, naked, is played by Jeff Bridges, whose face as a younger man was harder and less friendly than now; he plays a na├»ve being rapidly schooled in the ways of being human as he and Jenny travel to Arizona by car for his alien rendezvous, via Las Vegas (which is only one of the ways in which it resembles Rain Man). The moment this got me: the alien sees a dead deer strapped to a car as he and Jenny enter a restaurant; later, a shot from inside the restaurant towards the carpark has the alien bringing the deer back to life and setting it free. In the 1980s, Starman – with its gentle alien pursued by an aggressive military – was taken as a post-ET film, but I see it as closer to an alternate version of another sci-fi film from the same year, James Cameron’s The Terminator. Like Sarah Connor in that film, pregnant with John Connor, Jenny is pregnant at the end of Starman, aware that she is carrying a child who will have an important role. Messianic Christian imagery overlays it all – how many JCs are floating around? – but The Terminator anticipates war while Starman has a more romantic vision. This is also a genuinely touching love story in which the grieving Jenny’s second chance lets her say the things that were unsaid.