There's many ways to explain what happened in the movie, so I will leave that to a quote form E.T. Wikipedia article :

On Halloween, Michael and Elliott dress E.T. as a ghost so they can sneak him out of the house. Elliott and E.T. ride a bicycle to the forest, where E.T. makes a successful call home. The next morning, Elliott wakes up to find E.T. gone, and returns home to his distressed family. Michael finds E.T. dying in the forest, and takes him to Elliott, who is also dying. Mary becomes frightened when she discovers her son's illness and the dying alien, before government agents invade the house.

Scientists set up a medical facility in the house, quarantining Elliott and E.T. Their link disappears, and E.T. then appears to die while Elliott recovers. A grief-stricken Elliott is left alone with the motionless alien when he notices a dead flower, the plant E.T. had previously revived, coming back to life. E.T. reanimates and reveals that his people are returning.

I never fully understood why do they became sick and how do they recover?

4 Answers 4


From the transcript of E.T. we know E.T. has DNA, which implies a susceptibility to human pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc). This would then imply that E.T., presumably having no prior exposure to human pathogens, would be at an increased risk of serious infection from even a single Earth pathogen, much-less dozens he could have been exposed to that most humans with a working immune system don't have to be concerned with.

We also can see that E.T. can establish "sympathetic" bond with living creatures, such as the flower and Elliot. As E.T.'s health diminished we can watch a plant he had revived begin to wither, and finally die with E.T.'s death.

Presumably, the bond that E.T. establishes with Elliot is the same as the one established with the flower. As E.T. got sick, there was a sympathetic feedback into Elliot, which made him sick. E.T. seemed to have the ability to sever the link, which allowed Elliot to rapidly recover since he wasn't really sick.

As to how E.T. recovered, it could be that his biology allows for a dormancy period to recover from illness or that the ability he has to revive dying things could automatically heal himself if his body suffers enough damage.

Another thought is that he allowed himself to die secure in the knowledge that he had sent a call for his ship to rescue him. When the ship was within a "telepathic" range, his body revived through his healing mechanism.

  • 2
    Doesn't imply human pathogens, but certainly terrestrial pathogens.
    – OrangeDog
    May 8, 2015 at 12:53

From my observation, ET shows signs of his health diminishing right from the start of the movie. I believe ET breaths CO2. We have CO2 in the air - enough to sustain plant life, but not enough to sustain a creature like ET. So as you go through the movie, ET's health diminishes until he gets put into that chamber where his body would be kept cold for preservation. Looks like there using dry ice to keep him cold creating CO2 gas which ET was breathing. By the time they get to the park ET has had enough time to breath CO2 to make a full recovery.


When growing up I'd always assumed that ET's recovery was kind of asserted, that he just found some kind of inner will or auxiliary power to come back to life (a bit like the T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day).

But when I watched it the other day a more logical idea hit me:

At the start of the movie we can see that the aliens are all linked to some manner of central mechanism that makes their hearts glow. (Or they are some kind of hive entity.) So is it possible that they require this link to stay alive for extended periods? Either it has some kind of regulatory function without which they will decay, or it actually gives them some kind of vital energy. Or both.

Now immediately before ET returns to life, we see his heart glow under the lid of the container. This is something we actually haven't seen since the start of the movie. And immediately after the excited Elliott begins talking to him, he reveals that his people are coming.

So what if none of this is a coincidental cluster, but it's all related? ET could never have survived on Earth permanently without the heart pulse from his people. They received his message, returned to Earth and were continually sending out the heart pulses. Right at the point of ET's apparent death, they get close enough for him to receive one of the vital heart pulses. This is what revives him.


Ive been a long time fan of this movie and have seen it roughly 100 times...and have also wondered the same thing.

No doubt there is the whole human/alien emotional link, but I think if you were to TRY to put a little more logic behind it you can consider the fact that

1) space is cold and that is where E.T. comes from.

2) He started to get sick before they tried to contact his family in the forest and found him lying in "cold" water flowing from the creek, maybe he was trying to cool off.

3) He dies and is put in a cold chamber at which point he comes back to life.

I think maybe earth was too warm for E.T.

-Just a theory.

  • 3
    One big problem.. Space isn't cold. It's a vacuum; eliminating heat is usually a major problem for living organisms (and, by extension, space vehicles we use), as we generate it, and when near a star, get heated by the star as well. Stories about the 'Cold of space' have to do with the fact that, without an environment around you to keep your heat in, you will radiate out heat (albeit somewhat slowly due to the vacuum) until you can approach absolute zero -- FAR colder than you will ever get on a planet with an atmosphere. Expelling your internal fluids due to the vacuum cools you, too. :)
    – K-H-W
    May 18, 2014 at 19:17
  • 2
    I don't think it is wrong to say that space is cold. When you are far away from any source of radiation, you will cool down close to 2.7K which is the background radiation of our Cosmos. Heat has nothing to do with there being an atmosphere or a vacuum.
    – flq
    May 8, 2015 at 11:37
  • 2
    @flq - Yes, but, as living beings, we are heat engines, and produce a LOT of heat; without a large environment to convey it away, elimination of heat is a serious issue in space. You WILL cool down, eventually.. but that's after you are no longer converting food to energy, and acting as a heat engine. See this TvTropes link for more ("As for spaceships ... the real trouble with spaceships is getting rid of all the heat they produce".) You are right in an abstract sense.. but living beings make things more complicated.
    – K-H-W
    May 8, 2015 at 15:35

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