Jim Jones' Eastword column: If there were alien encounters, what would that tell us about ourselves?

October 14, 2012 

If I were to return to college, one of Keith Cavedo's classes at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee would be high on my list of courses.

He has written a book with the intriguing title: "Beyond the Infinite: Alien Encounters and the Alien/Human Dichotomy in Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' and Tarkovsky's 'Solaris.'"

It takes guts and insight to tackle those two landmark movies. They invariably leave audience members struggling to understand what they have just seen.

Cavedo is a 41-year-old Richmond, Va., native, and a visiting instructor of American and British literature in the College of Arts and Sciences. His book is an outgrowth of his thesis.

So, I asked Cavedo, are there other civilizations beyond Earth?

"It's an unknown. But from everything I have read, the odds are overwhelming that we are not alone," he said. "We are still at the dawn of space exploration."

The problem is, if earthlings were to meet beings from outer space, how would the two cultures communicate?

"If this meeting between two cultures ever happens, it would be extremely unsettling," he suggests.

It's a mystery upon a mystery.

Not only do we not know if we have company in the universe, we don't know where it might be, what they would look like, what we might say to them, or how we might say it.

"Most science fiction films show alien life forms as very human like," Cavedo said.

The reality? Probably not so much.

He speculates they would be very different from us.

In the two movies he examined in "Beyond the Infinite," the audience never sees the alien. Yes, we see a black monolith in "2001," and a planet in "Solaris," but we don't see what is looking back at us, studying us.

The monolith appears at each stage of human evolution, while Solaris is a thinking planet able to tap into the thoughts of earthlings, and make them come to terms with their past.

"The alien encounter is what I am interested in. What does it say about our own humanity?" he said.

Cavedo is interested in the more thought-provoking science fiction such as Solaris and 2001, rather than action sci-fi, such as "Star Wars" or "Star Trek."

Not surprisingly, Cavedo also teaches film at USF Sarasota-Manatee and has launched a new student organization with a focus on film appreciation.

This month, the group is showing horror films. On Halloween night, he will be showing the original "Halloween" movie, with everyone dressing up as their favorite movie character.

Cavedo is also looking for ways to connect with the broader community of film lovers.

Interested? You may email him at kcavedo@sar.usf.edu.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet@jajones1.

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