The Vast of Night (2019)

The Vast of Night is a film that went somewhat unnoticed since its release, on the Amazon Prime platform (is that why?) during 2019, but it certainly stands out for its cinematography, production design, and snappy narrative, despite the large amount of dialogue that makes it up. Within the narrative possibilities within the film genre, I believe that films like The Vast of Night (as well as Hereditary, a film we reviewed previously) fall into what I would call “punitive films”, I mean films where the protagonist has to pay a high price for his moral and psychological failures (as opposed to a normal film, where the protagonist ends up learning a lesson and overcoming the difficulties). In this sense, the film directed by Andrew Patterson follows the ancestral logic of “curiosity killed the cat”, with negative consequences for both the protagonist and his loved ones (John Truby would be proud of this story).

Okay but… What is “The Vast of Night” about? The story centers on one night in a small town in America during the 1950s. The main characters are, Everett Sloan, who is the local radio announcer and his friend (love interest?) Fay Crocker, a radio operator (she actually communicates phone calls). The thing is, Fay intercepts a strange sound that is sneaking in between the phone conversations, causing the communications to be cut off. The same strange sound is picked up on Everett’s radio transmission, which is why Fay decides to warn Everett about the noise. When Everett hears the strange noise, which is disrupting communications, he decides to record it and broadcast it on his radio program, with the intention of arousing the interest of someone who knows where the sound is coming from. This action prompts an ex-military man to contact the radio and deliver information about the sound, it is visitors from another world and they are in the sky over the town tonight. The news adds to a slew of people calling Fay, warning about something strange they’ve seen in the sky outside of town. Initially, Everett thinks it’s either Soviet Union planes or spy satellites, and it piques his interest, as he wants to become famous enough to leave town and pursue a radio career in California. It is for this reason that Everett embarks on a hunt for information, along with Fay (who wants to be with Everett and support him) that leads them to find a secret tape, to retransmit a message similar to the sound of the transmissions, to make “contact” thanks to the retransmission and then, inevitably, to learn the truth and to pay a high cost for their curiosity.

Beyond the science fiction aspects, which are interesting in themselves, I think the story rests mostly on both main characters, a duo that at times can remind us of a young Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (The X-Files), they show a similar couple dynamic, although Everett has less empathy for his partner than Mulder (at times his lack of concern is annoying), although he makes up for it in charisma and enthusiasm. This character arc is extremely interesting, especially as it takes place in the space of an hour and a half, which is the length of the film and also the actual time within the story, which occurs during a basketball game, where most of the people in town are gathered in one place. Everett starts the story as a kind of teacher for Fay, teaching him the art of being a radio announcer while they go around the basketball stadium interviewing people, then they head to town, which is practically deserted because of the basketball game and they say goodbye to each other to go to work. However, since Fay intercepts the strange noise, Everett appears again and again (each time worse and worse) as a person blinded by the desire to get an exclusive regardless of the consequences (which Fay asks about several times). During the midpoint of the story, which is when Everett rebroadcasts the signal and the aliens cut the power at the radio station (in what is clearly a warning of the danger of the whole thing), Everett reacts by grabbing a portable recorder and continues transmitting, leaving Fay behind and showing no concern for her or the situation. It is not until Everett and Fay interview Mrs. Blanche and get the truth about what is going on that Everett realizes the gravity of the events, although, by that point, he can no longer back off (in part because he has managed to bring more people into the affair) and this leads him to inevitably fall into the clutches of the aliens.

As I said before, the events that are recreated in the film are presented with a great emphasis on dialogue, it is a constant and frantic search (mostly because of the fear and strangeness of the situation) to know what is happening, for the opportunity presented to an ambitious but irresponsible character, to make contact with forces that are beyond the ordinary. I think the film is 80% expository dialogue, something that all screenwriting gurus have pointed out ad nauseam as an amateur mistake, but which here works to perfection. What does this tell us? Well, to me it means that the problem is not in writing or not writing expository dialogues, but that there are situations in which it works and situations in which it doesn’t work. I mean that there are types of information that can be interesting to hear in expository form, such as paranormal events that provoke the imagination, which is different from when a character tells us about something he has just done (explaining it), which is the most common way to use expository dialogue wrongly.

That’s all I’ll say about The Vast of Night, one of those films that stand out only for the masterful narrative work, in the dialogues full of sense and humanity, in solid performances that deliver all the necessary information, in the minimalist use of science fiction paraphernalia. The best, in my opinion, of the whole film appears in Everett’s character arc, a well-built character, with personal ambitions and a charismatic personality but full of flaws (mostly lack of empathy) that lead him straight into the trap of the antagonist and that, even worse, endangers a person who cares about him and a baby! Ohhh the humanity!

The interrupted Journey (1949)

Among the great paraphernalia of books and movies about the UFO phenomenon, it is strange and at the same time expected (paradoxical) that The Interrupted Journey is the only one of them that manages to present this controversial topic in a convincing way, and as we will see, much of it comes from the choices the author has made in this regard. It is the fact on which the whole story is based, it is the way it is presented, and it is the author’s position on it, factors that conspire to keep the reader on the lookout for the next revelation, while retaining a sense of reality and critical thinking, especially in the evidence presented.

But let’s see… what is The interrupted Journey about? Well, it’s about the famous “Hills abduction”, it’s the recapitulation of this event, the first documented case of alien abduction in the history of mankind (actually I think there were some earlier ones, but it’s the first one to achieve enough fame to get into popular culture). And well the Hills were very unlucky I guess, to have been wandering around at night on a dark, secluded road after going on vacation for a weekend. What happens to them on the way home will remain in their memories for the rest of their lives, although not exactly on their conscience. What occurs is that the Hills, initially, could only remember a part of what had happened to them; on their way home along the highway they encounter a strange light in the sky, strange in the way it moves, back and forth at great speed (which Jung lucidly warns is very similar to the movement of insects). But this light does not remain just circling the night sky, no no, soon this light is above the Hills’ car, chasing them like the shadow of the hawk over the timid rabbit, hunter and prey (in fact this is the sensation that the opening story of the book provokes in the reader). In an almost heroic act, Barney Hill gets out of the car and decides to walk in the open (without really knowing why he is doing it) and I say a heroic act because honestly, how many of us would have gotten out of the car to get a better look at a ship flying menacingly over our car? The thing is, Barney just happened to have some binoculars (the couple later indicates that they had them because they didn’t have the money to buy a camera) and he uses them to get a closer look at the ship, manages to see some people inside and one of these people tells him to stay still using telepathy. The being inside the ship wants to convince him to stay still in that place, away from the car where Betty Hill is yelling at him to come back to her. It is here that Barney feels an inexpressible terror that urges him to run to his wife, carrying with him a terrible premise; “they want to kidnap us”.

Little more than this is what the Hills initially remember, although every time they tell the story to the different people the book reports, especially to people from the U.S. Air Force (since the shock was so great that they did not hesitate to contact the authorities), they become aware of a lot of details that make them think that during that night more things happened than they can remember. In the initial story, Barney and Betty remember escaping in the car after seeing the beings inside the ship, although they also remember arriving home almost three hours later than usual. And it is here where the genius of author John G. Fuller appears in the ordering of the events in the story, who starts the story by telling us this first version of the events, and then moves on to all the evidence that forces the Hill family to question this story and question their own memories, to the point of deciding to venture into hypnosis therapy, with the aim of recovering possible repressed memories. In this way, the author uses the chronological order of events to present us, not only with the two versions of the story, but also to effectively introduce all the characters involved (and I say characters, but they are actually real people).

And that’s how we get to the second version of the story, the version that comes from retrieving memories under hypnosis. I have to say that, initially, the Hills had no intention of telling their story to the rest of the world, especially Barney. However, the feeling that something was wrong and the desires to get it off her chest are what lead, initially Betty Hill, to tell the affair, first to her sister and then to the rest of the people (including the military officers and people close to them). Barney remains in a position of skepticism towards the possibilities, specifically, he does not want to know anything about the existence of extraterrestrials, in an attitude very similar to that demonstrated by people who manifest post-traumatic stress syndrome; the idea is that as long as you can live in denial that the traumatic event happened you can live under the premise that the event did not occur and therefore you are protecting your daily life from that event being part of the reality in which you operate. However, that all stops after the hypnosis sessions to which they both submit. It is here where it is “revealed” what happened during those almost three hours lost in memory. Both Barney and Betty recall under hypnosis being approached by “strange men”, who somehow or other impeded the Hills’ movement and that these strange men took them inside a spaceship, where they underwent a series of apparently medical tests without any explanation and without either of them being able to do anything to stop them.

Now, there are antecedents that are stated in the story that are not, however, taken as established facts or as ultimate conclusions about what happened to the Hills. The conclusion the couple comes to at the end of the hypnosis sessions is that they both were abducted by aliens (the literal sense of the narrative), but others do not see the same truth in the matter. Specifically, the opinion of the psychiatrist who helped them, Dr. Simon, is much more concrete and critical of the story under hypnosis. You see, there is one point in the whole story that I haven’t mentioned that may have had a great influence on everything that happened. The thing is that Barney and Betty are an interracial couple, he is black and she is white. The detail may seem superficial, but let’s remember that the events described in the book took place during the 1960s, a time marked by racial conflict in the United States. Moreover, Barney himself relates in a hypnotic state having been worried (even scared) that something might happen to them because of this. Now, what does an alien abduction have to do with the racial phenomenon in the United States? But wait a minute, there’s still another piece of background missing. Betty’s sister was always an enthusiast of the UFO phenomenon and Betty loved to talk about it with her. So what could have happened? Well, a more concrete possibility is that Barney and Betty experienced a traumatic situation on the road and during the night, perhaps they were approached by a group of racist people and the situation quickly escalated, perhaps too much so, to the point where they both had no choice but to repress the whole thing. There is some evidence to support this idea, such as the fact that Barney had a tool under the driver’s seat (as if he had prepared to fight).

In the end I think this is the best thing about the book, which presents all these versions explicitly but does not settle for any of them, as I guess the author has not taken any side in the matter. In the end it is very difficult to know what really happened, but what we can say, following Jungian logic is that, what is known is that a strange phenomenon (meaning that it does not find a convincing explanation under the logic of consciousness) occurred and that there is an unconscious explanation to the matter (the recovery under hypnosis). The problem is that the unconscious tells us more about the beliefs and mythologies of the person and little about the concrete reality. But well, I think the idea of the book is to present this particular case without making a priori judgments about it and that is why I think it is undoubtedly the best book I have read on the subject of UFOs. The truth is that it is the only good book I have read (without taking into account Jung’s Flying saucers: a modern myth which is more a treaty of psychology) and I have tried to read several (but they are so bad!). I think The Mothman prophecies and Secret Life are worthy contenders, I’ll read them and tell you later.