Originally published on Frags and Beer on September 28, 2020
I saw Starman many years ago, and I don’t think I’ve seen it since. Watching this movie as an adult gives an entirely new perspective, and appreciation for the story. Not only that, but new appreciation for Jeff Bridges as well. What I remember as a mysterious science fiction thriller is so much more through the eyes of an adult who has lost people close to him. Through the eyes of a husband and father the movie isn’t really about an alien visiting Earth, not entirely anyway.
Starman is a 1984 movie starring Jeff Bridges as simply Starman, an alien who crashes on Earth while observing us. His mission was in response to the golden record invitation we sent up on the Voyager 2. After being shot down he finds himself at the home of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). After viewing photographs in her home he takes the form of her dead husband, Scott. Authorities are closing in on the area and the alien, appearing to kidnap Jenny, directs her to drive him west to the Barringer Crater in Arizona.
The movie is part E.T. for adults, but also very much a love story about a woman getting to say goodbye to her husband. Scott was killed in an accident, and the movie opens with Jenny trying to deal with that grief. We get the impression that they were not married long, and were very happy. It also seems like his death was sudden. Jenny didn’t get any closure. That subplot is huge in the movie, and not something I would have picked up on as a kid. It made the ending of the movie so much more meaningful. It wasn’t about Jenny falling in love with an alien who looked like her husband. It was very much about Jenny getting that final moment with Scott.
One of the scenes that struck me as well was when SETI agent Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith), who finally got to smoke his cigar, caught up to them in the diner. By this point, Mark has seen the ‘alien autopsy’ room and the plans his boss has for Starman. He’s not about to let something like that happen. Before he makes his decision, Starman asks Mark if he wants to know what the alien finds beautiful about Earthlings. Starman says that his people have no war, the strong do not victimize the weak, but they have lost something. We (humans) are at our best when things are at their worst. Movies have been talking about how much damage we do to ourselves and Earth for a long time. Something that seems lost in modern movies is to see the good in humanity. Anymore we’re told that we’re a plague on this planet. No redeeming qualities, just greedy, dirty, violent, awful creatures.
Starman is a great movie, appropriate for kids, but one that would be appreciated more as an adult. There’s such a deep story about love and loss, masquerading as a cross-country adventure with an alien playing stranger in a strange land. It’s heartbreaking and touching, and well worth the rewatch if you haven’t seen it in a long time. To me, it’s one of John Carpenter’s best, and Bridges deserved the best actor nomination. Karen’s performance as Jenny hit home, especially right at the end. Her compassion, grief, love, and humanity made the movie what it is.
We watched the movie while enjoying white russians, in honor of “The Dude”. Simple mix of 1/2 oz each of vodka, kahlua, and heavy cream over ice. It was a first for both of us, and I suspect we will be having them again.