E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Ending Explained

What is the significance of the ending of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi classic, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? Chronicling the bond between a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) and a creature from outer space stranded on earth, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale about the innate power of love, friendship, and hope.

The ending of E.T. evokes mixed emotions, as it is both wholesome and heart-rending to watch two kindred souls being forced to part ways. After being accidentally left behind by a group of alien botanists who briefly visit Earth, E.T. is discovered by Elliott, who instantly develops an empathic connection with the alien. A series of exhilarating adventures ensue, as the presence of E.T. breathes new life into Elliott’s personality and sense of self, who struggles with acute alienation and the continued absence of his father.

The involvement of government officials, especially an agent simply deemed as Keys (Peter Coyote), disrupts the situation, which is exacerbated further by the urgent need for E.T to return to his home planet. A series of dramatic events conspire, including death and resurrection, which ultimately lead to the emotionally-rich ending of the film. Here’s looking into the varied narrative themes that contribute to the ending of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

Why E.T. Dies (& How He Comes Back To Life)

While reading a Buck Rogers comic strip, E.T. is inspired to build a makeshift communication device, so that he can “phone home” and reunite with his species. Elliott helps him create this device, and the two are successful in establishing contact on Halloween. However, after this incident, Elliott wakes up in a field, with E.T gone, who is later found by Michael (Robert MacNaughton) in a severely deteriorated state next to a culvert. Eliot’s health declines as well, but after the invasion of agents at his home, he appears to recover. E.T. dies, leaving a distraught Elliot tearfully lamenting the loss of his best friend. The cause of E.T. ’s death might seem sudden, but it makes perfect sense when one considers that E.T. is a member of a hive-mind alien species, who are sustained via shared consciousness and communal telepathy.

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This shared link is E.T.’s sole source of sustenance, which is severed when he is accidentally left behind on Earth. When Elliott finds him, E.T. establishes a telepathic link and an impromptu hive mind with the first conscious being he encounters to an attempt to survive: Elliott. This explains why their fates seem so inexplicably intertwined, such as when Elliott gets intoxicated while at school while E.T. is drinking beer at home. This reciprocity intensifies and becomes more unstable with time, which leads to Elliot falling severely sick after E.T. is able to send a distress beacon home. E.T.’s “death” can be best understood in terms of a system overload and shutdown, which severs the link to Elliott’s consciousness, hence revitalizing him. Once E.T.’s species arrive on Earth for his rescue, the telepathic link is re-established, creating an intense surge of data transmission within the alien hive mind, causing E.T.’s heart-light to glow and miraculously resurrect.

E.T. points to the sky

Due to the co-dependent nature of the alien hive mind, it is impossible for E.T. to stay back on Earth, as it would render him incapable of independent functionality. Even though he was able to establish a temporary telepathic link with Elliott, it is most likely not as potent as the one forged with his own kind, as demonstrated by the alien’s decline. E.T.’s behavior, along with his scenes at the beginning of the film, show that this shared consciousness is also responsible for the repair and regeneration of damaged tissues, which could either be an evolutionary-acquired trait or a technological achievement for the species in question.

Since E.T.’s condition directly impacted Elliott’s heath and well-being, and a telepathic connection with humans wasn’t enough for his survival anyways, E.T. had to travel back home at the end of the film. E.T. was physically incompatible with Earth. Symbolically, E.T. had to go home simply because Earth was not his home; while Elliott and the alien shared a special bond, E.T.’s narrative journey could only be resolved by him either returning to his people or dying, since the plot dictates a return to status quo by its end.

Why Elliott Can’t Go With E.T.

Michael, Gertie, and Elliot smiling together in E.T. the Extraterrestial.

When E.T. says goodbye to Elliott, Michael, and Gertie (Drew Barrymore), he asks Elliot to come with him to his home planet. Despite the intense bond shared between the two, it is impractical for Elliott to go with E.T., as, for one, the alien’s planetary system might be inhospitable for humans, especially a child. In terms of the story, Elliott needs to remain on Earth so that the plot can be resolved by a return to established norms: E.T. and Elliott both have completed their own personal journeys, and their characters have developed in response. Although Elliott and E.T. end up where they began their stories — but are different people, having matured through their shared experience.

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Elliott experiences new-found hope after his encounter with the alien, who represents the wonder and amazement that is often a part of childhood. As E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a coming-of-age story, Elliott’s refusal to accompany E.T. to his home planet marks the beginning of his transition into adolescence, as he is finally able to come to terms with his emotions and own them with confidence. Moreover, Elliot cannot possibly leave his family behind on Earth, whom he feels more connected to by the end. Nevertheless, as gestured by E.T. with an extended finger on Elliott’s forehead, the memories of their time together will live on, and E.T. will always exist in Elliott’s consciousness.

What Happens Next To Elliot & E.T (& Why The Sequel Didn’t Happen)?

Why A Sequel for ET Can Never Happen

Due to the fact that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was a cultural maelstrom, it is natural to wonder whether the film would have a sequel, chronicling Elliott and E.T.’s reunion, perhaps after the lapse of several years. It is also interesting to note that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial‘s original ending was planned out in a wildly different manner, with Elliott assuming the mantle of dungeon master during a game of Dungeons and Dragons, with a final shot of the still-working communicator, hinting that Elliott is still in touch with E.T. Although Spielberg ultimately decided not to follow through with this version, it does open speculations as to how their relationship would have progressed over the years, especially with Elliott growing up and facing the realities of adult life head-on.

This could be a potential premise for a sequel, which, unfortunately, never happened, despite the fact that Spielberg had written a script along with screenwriter Melissa Mathison, titled E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. However, Spielberg ultimately decided against it, as the sequel was meant to deal with themes rooted in horror, featuring a group of evil alien mutants who kidnap Elliott and his friends. This, he felt, would diminish the surreal magic of the original film, along with its core message of child-like innocence and friendship. This decision is probably for the best, as it makes the original ending much more poignant, marking Elliott’s stepping over from the paradise of childhood to the reality of life at-large.

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The Real Meaning Of E.T.’s Ending

Elliott and E.T. looking at each other in the forest in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

At the beginning of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Elliott is the proverbial middle child of a broken home, who finds solace in the company of an alien due to a child-like openness to the unknown, much like the toddler Barry in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The ending of E.T. symbolizes the end of an era, the era of childhood which is often bathed in an iridescent glow and rose-tinted vision. The thrill of discovery as a child is a key component of childhood, which manifests in the form of E.T. hiding in Elliott’s toolshed. Life assumes new meaning for Elliott after the two meet, as this friendship is able to fill the void left inside him due to abject loneliness and the absence of a father-figure. The ending exemplifies Elliott’s completion of The Hero’s Journey, wherein his bildungsroman comes to an end with the ushering of maturity and adulthood. Despite the bittersweet end, E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial brims with light and love, and evokes a special brand of nostalgia that can neither be captured nor imitated.

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