So I hadn’t seen E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in about 17 or 18 years before I sat down to watch it for this review, so I can be forgiven for forgetting just how good it is. Yes I know it was directed by Steven Spielberg who with whimsy in one hand and a John Williams score in the other crafted most of our childhoods. I should have known it was going to great, especially given that this movie has one of cinema’s most iconic lines and most iconic scenes. Well this article isn’t about the iconic scenes that everyone remembers. It’s about how the background details that created the mood which enabled those iconic moments. I’m going to put a spoiler warning for this movie in place, so if you that haven’t seen E.T. then I would suggest that you look at yourself in the mirror and reflect on lost wonders. Or just watch the movie. Which ever suits. We’re also going to skip the story section this week because seriously it’s fucking E.T..
Okay to put everything I’m going to say into perspective we need to look at E.T. as an examination of childhood fantasy and how growing up affects it. I’m not pulling that out of my ass either. There are references made to and parallels drawn with J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, which is all about childhood fantasy fighting against the mean old grown-ups. Given the dreary and in places grim reality of the children’s lives, this would place E.T. as our Tinkerbell. A personification of childhood fantasy that has come to liven up their dreary lives with magic, wonder and transgenderism.
With that in mind, let’s proceed.
On re-watching what I noticed about this film is that for two-thirds of it, the only adult we get un-obscured shots of is the children’s mother. The rest we get partial shots or silhouettes. Notably this is similar to how E.T. is shot in the opening of the film until he comes inside Elliot’s house. It’s a simple but effective way of making the adults more alien than the actual alien. To children, E.T. as the source of fantasy belongs while the adults who would destroy that fantasy are not only the enemy but are the Other and their mother is only spared because a mother is the one who brings a lot of the fantasy to children’s lives in the form of bed time stories. But for two thirds of this movie, the rest of the adult population might as well be the Nothing from The NeverEnding Story. So the children must hide E.T. in order to preserve the fantasy. This brings us onto what the film says about how fantasy and children interact. To quote every click-bait article ever, the answer may surprise you.
So after our main character Elliot finds E.T. he grows quite attached to him. So much so that he is psychically linked to E.T. and feels whatever E.T. is feeling. Because of this, he doesn’t want E.T. to go home, wanting him to stay forever. But E.T. can’t stay and must go home to space as he’s growing ill and because E.T. is growing ill and because so is Elliot. That’s the narrative reason but here’s the thematic one. Elliot’s life is being consumed by his obsession with E.T., affecting his schoolwork and his familial relationships. Fantasy is his reality and it is damaging.
At this point I feel obliged to remind you that I said the adults were the Other for two-thirds of this movie. Yes, at the one hour and 20 minutes mark of this two-hour movie we get our first full face-shot of an adult who isn’t their mother. You know after they raid the children’s house in spacesuits to capture E.T.. But despite the situation and how easy it would be to demonize the adults here, the film makes a very mature and far more interesting choice. The adults are actually human beings capable of empathy. The main adult actually talks about how meeting an alien was a childhood dream of his and how he can relate to Elliot. However, the film doesn’t agree with adults obsessively scrutinizing the fantasy either. So becoming emotionally consumed by fantasy as a child is wrong but so is coldly analyzing fantasy as an adult
This would lead me to believe that what the film is idealizing is a combination of the two. Distancing fantasy from reality but not enough so that we lose its feeling which is reinforced by the ending. Basically we can’t stay in Neverland forever but we must never forget it.
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