The one thing humans fear the most is not bankruptcy, blown relationships or opportunities, whether or not George Steinbrenner bought enough talent for another World Series win, or explaining the tragedy of Coventry, yet again. Furthermore, the greatest fear of all mankind is not fear itself. Their greatest fear is the UNKNOWN. Humans fear the unexplainable, bizarre imagery, and that which towers above everything, toys and experiments, and then discards the results for another species all together without even a basic ‘bye: “this has all been wonderful, but now I’m on my way…”
Which is how I can link a story about alien abduction—an alleged true encounter back in the mid-1970s in Arizona of all godforsaken and intellectually-bereft locations—to the mythic and metaphorically resonant tales spun from the days of the first human civilizations. Yes, there is a parallel with the Christ tale—and, again, I am not a Christian, and hold no allegiance to any of the manmade stories which support the Cosmic Teddy Bear that man finds a need to cling to in his eternal darkness—when one looks at ANY story about an encounter with a being, or beings, from another quadrant of space.
Directed by Robert Lieberman, based upon the alleged experiences of Travis Walton, an Arizona logger, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time for an abduction, or some kind of an experience within an alien spacecraft, which probed and dissected, and then left him naked and without an explanation several days later at another location. And you thought The Hangover had its Ruffie residue moments which could stagger the mind.
The story is fairly straightforward, and kicks into the high anxiety gear right at the commencement. One could either go with the tale, alien abduction in the middle of an Arizona forest, or call “BULLSHIT!” on the story as a way for Walton to avoid heavy debts back home, and sort of explain away everything with a cry of temporary madness. Either way, the film is compelling because it addresses mankind’s greatest fear: what IF some thing, some being, some higher intelligence, came from some other part of space, or dimension, or THAT wormhole affixed to the black hole which is dangerously residing in the middle of our own Milky Way Galaxy, and just had their way with someone and left?
The film explores mental, physical, and emotional rape on a subconscious level, and what is most frightening is that the men, the other loggers, who witnessed Walton’s abduction, must try to explain what they saw to those that will almost certainly think they are insane, or worse, lying—from family members, wives and children, mothers and fathers, to local and federal law enforcement. How does one interpret and translate the unfathomable, the unthinkable, the Great Mystery which surrounds and often ignores human existence? How does one explain away the FEAR of it all? Humans are not prepared for an attack on their conscious and hallowed physical creations, much less their inner emotional cores.
Yes…that’s the trick, isn’t it? One cannot prepare for the onslaught of alien intelligence. Therefore, one can either cope with myths which are traditional (I’m looking at you golden symbols, ancient parchments and other so-called divine objects and documents, with a focused third eye, a high beam, of concentrated suspicion), ignore reality, blot it out by accumulating 15 mistresses, drink liquid oblivion, pop pills, snort the world, race cars, dance and laugh around failure’s edge, piss on the plans of many, distort one’s potential and seek the Big Nothing instead, OR, one can accept the fact that there are things one will never understand, and just believe in oneself, because there are no answers Out There. Ahhh…so sad, so depressing—where’s my holiday message?
The film is rooted in a tight and strong script by Tracy Tormé, based on Travis Walton’s book, directed with expert precision by Lieberman, and quickly comes to life because of an extraordinarily strong ensemble cast for a glorified B-movie with a killer ad poster. D.B. Sweeney plays Walton, and he is quite believable in his tortured performance. Peter Berg plays the slow burn and paranoia very well of a mind-blown fellow logger caught in a web of ‘SHESUZ WEPT! What the Fuck Just Happened?!’ Craig Sheffer plays the lone rebel in the bunch, not quite able to understand, or convey, his feelings about what happened because he has always been at loggerheads (pun intended) with Walton and the rest of the more civilized logging crew. James Garner is The Law, and plays the role of the film’s devil’s advocate with his usual sharp wit, cynicism and authority. He is not to be fucked with, and the loggers are all intimidated by him (except Sheffer’s character, of course. As the outsider, he toys with Garner’s Lieutenant character, and adds an edge).
But it is Robert Patrick—ironically, an actor who would take on a lead role in the later years of the X-Files—who really stands out in the film. He single-handedly takes on all of the dimensions of the alien abduction event, and its implications to his disbelieving family and town members, and raises the film to a whole other metaphysical level with a performance which is grounded, profound, and often very moving. Patrick has never been more conflicted, more torn and gripped by fear and confusion, than in this role, and anyone who only knows him from his part as the bad terminator in Ahhnold’s epic masterpiece, T2, helmed by Avatar’s James Cameron, should see this film for a minor acting gem which resonates far beyond the end of Fire in the Sky.
Lest we feel hopeless, faithless, and rootless, we can look at one slogan, one bumper sticker affixed to a trippy earthbound vehicle as it races, ever onwards, past an invisible, cloaked alien vessel, away from its 2009 Mothership origins, and on to the state nestled like a boot near the ocean, a so-called retirement state, which also houses cities which gather most of what is good and evil and corrupt and decadent about our mortal beings, cities like Miami, in weather-beaten states like Florida, and we read its message:
Bring on the 10s!