Yes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is an allegory for Watergate and a commentary on the benevolent and secretive overseeing powers of the government, but there’s more going on than that.
Steven Spielberg has a fascination with “normal” people. His movies often evoke an uplifting, optimistic feeling that stems from the everyday occurrences in the lives of regular folks. The bulk of the action in Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes place in the residential suburbs and farmlands of Muncie, Indiana - a definitively American town - where common folks live common lives doing common things. In this setting, Spielberg presents us with a mystery so powerful that a man gives up his house, his family, and (arguably) his mind in search of the answer.
The man, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), along with a boy named Barry (Cary Guffey) and his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) witness an unidentifiable object and some unusual lights. The two adults get enamored with the experience, as does the young Barry, who soon finds himself abducted by the mysterious presence. From then on, we get a story about discovery, told through the eyes of people who couldn’t be more relatable to the general viewing audience. The film blends the meager with the unbelievable with ease.
“It finds the director even more in command of his style than in Jaws, from the way he uses faces to express off-screen wonder and, in Kevin Lee’s words, a “childlike surrender in the act of watching” to his willingness to hold on a shot longer than most would dare to achieve an effect, as when Roy, acting on a compulsion, builds a model of Devil’s Tower out of garbage in his living room and almost doesn’t see the news report that will explain his vision to him at last.” - The Dissolve
Whether it’s the right decision aside, Roy abandons his family in search of answers. He teeters on the edge of madness, attempting to keep composure as his world dissolves around him.
Understanding humanity is something nobody could ever truly claim to do. From a biological standpoint, a religious standpoint, a karmic standpoint, whatever standpoint you take - nobody knows the “meaning” of our existence, if there is a great meaning at all, but we all search for the answer through our own actions and ambitions. The meaning of life is likely defined differently by every person alive, and as such, we’re all after a different answer. In the film, Roy discovers something that is worth sacrificing his entire existence to understand. It’s something mysterious, unexplainable, and the film doesn’t try to tell us exactly what it is.
From The Dissolve again, “It’s the contrast between the everyday disappointments of life on Earth and the hope for a world beyond those disappointments that drives the film, the notion that maybe there’s not only something greater than the world we know, but that that something might be benevolent and beautiful, that it might come to claim us, flaws and all, as its own. Yet even this hopefulness has its roots in a sense of impossibility. In a 1977 interview, Spielberg recalled the film’s origins in an excursion to the Mojave desert that led him to think, “If something comes down here right now, and lands on the road, and an opening appears, would I get on and take a ride? I thought about it. I looked up at the sky. And I got very, very nervous because I realized that I wouldn’t get on and take a ride.” Roy takes that ride, but the filmmaker always understood that he, like the audience watching, would be fated to watch and wonder—never knowing what’s out there, even if they dared to ask.”