The basic rundown of the story is this: The movie begins with the main character dealing with the death of his mother. Later we learn who is responsible and the main character forgives him. Some kids are filming an amateur movie about zombies and witness a train crash. As a result of the crash an alien that has been abused by its Air Force captors is set free. They all try to keep their knowledge of the events secret because the Air Force is going around doing their “thing”. The group of main characters eventually become trapped by the alien creature and instead of being killed by it, the main character empathizes with it sharing his abuse by the hands of another teaching the alien to forgive and stop killing. The alien then leaves to return home.
Super 8 is above all a story of forgiveness and an introspection into our own human nature and then a celebration of our ability to forgive the big Other. This lesson is brought to us by the innocence of a child, thus reminding us that our ability to forgive may primarily lie in our most basic good hearted form. And reminds us that we do indeed need to rerun to our most innocent and good hearted mode of feeling. That of a child yet to be spoiled by full envelopment of human nature as we are programed to believe exists.
This movie presents “identity” in a way that I do not believe has been since ET: The Extraterrestrial. A typical plot for the alien invasion scenario is that we “discover” ourselves as human beings. We begin to identity ourselves as human beings rather than our usual “identities”, that being race, national citizenship, religion or even class.
Allow me to put things a simpler way: Native Americans identify themselves as the indigenous population of North America (or Turtle Island if you will). Before colonization by Europeans there was no such identity. They each had identity as a member of a particular tribe. They see the other tribe as the big Other in the Hegelian sense. Now with the colonization, the Europeans became the Other because they were different than all the tribes. Now with this new Other the Native American’s have an identity as the indigenous because there are now non-indigenous.
Usually in these movies we see the aliens as the Other and thus “discover” our identity as human beings in contrast to the aliens. In this movie, like ET, the opposite is presented to us. The main character Joe Lamb does not combat the alien but instead shares his sorrow of mistreatment by another to connect with the alien. By doing so he shares his ability to forgive those who have wronged him. He shares his humanity with the alien teaching it to forgive those in the Air Force who have harmed it. Instead of discovering our humanity to unite and defend ourselves, instead humanity is shared with the Other, and in doing so a commonality is discovered. The alien suffers and feels pain like we do. Thus it seeks to unravel the concept of the Other and to see it as “ourselves”.
This contrasts wonderfully with the subplot of the main characters making their own zombie movie. The Zombie has always been a symbol of the Other as well, like the alien. Except the Zombie is always a threat, irrational, violent, mindless monster that must simply be destroyed. That is the usual perception we are fed by society. The Muslims in the 3rd world are portrayed as ruthless killing animals that need to be controlled. This theme of the Other being something that is to be feared and controlled dates back as far as the colonization of America and the treatment of the indigenous.
So I think intentionally or not, the movie tries to get us to re-think how we see ourselves in contrast to the Other; and that the Other may not be so “Otherly”.