Steven Spielberg's 1982 film E.T. is just as heart wrenching and thought provoking as it was 34 years ago when it was first delivered to eager audiences around the world. Much like Spielberg's earlier work, E.T. has all the components of a film that carries a deeper message. Just like the arrival of the foreign life forms in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. brings with him a host of theories and speculation and has been thought of as something of "a narrative accomplishment" (Ebert, 2002). Could E.T. be another Spielberg film littered with symbolism and metaphors? Or is it simply a beautiful telling of an unforgettable story? Either way, E.T. is a film that will remain in cinema lover's hearts for a very long time. E.T. follows the story of Elliot (Henry Thomas), a young boy who stumbles upon a lost alien in his garden shed after he has been forgotten by his visiting mother ship. The bumbling alien, E.T., soon finds a temporary home within Elliot's family life, all be it without his mother being aware of his otherworldly presence, and begins to play a huge role in Elliot and his two siblings lives. As the story continues, E.T. begins to show signs of struggle and desperately attempts to attract the attention of his native people through the use of a homemade communication device, which spurs the famous 'Phone Home' line out of hiding and into viewers minds forever. Soon after this attempt at communication, both Elliot and E.T. become plagued with a mysterious illness that is causing the pair to slip into a state of deterioration. After outside authorities become aware of the extra terrestrial's presence in the family's home, they waste no time in extracting the helpless alien and begin to try and decipher just what seems to be causing the alien and his human companion to slowly slip away. After scene upon scene of tear jerking moments, the hopeless alien fades away, which in turn causes Elliot to return to his healthy state. Just when it seems that all hope is lost and audiences begin to drown in their own tears, E.T. shows signs of life and a sudden urge to get home. After a chase scene that has clearly gone on to inspire adventure classics such as 'The Goonies', E.T. departs with a heart breaking goodbye, returning home with his own kind.
|Fig 1: E.T., Movie Poster|
E.T. first arrived on the silver screen in 1982, a time when serious changes were happening across America, a time when consumerism was beginning to become a huge staple of the modern citizens lifestyle, this rising of consumerism was widely known as the 'Yuppy' movement. "Many people derided yuppies for being self-centered and materialistic, and surveys of young urban professionals across the country showed that they were, indeed, more concerned with making money and buying consumer goods than their parents and grandparents had been." (History.com Staff, 2011), all these aspects of consumerism and cultural movements were rising around the time Spielberg was creating E.T., and could all have played a role in the message Spielberg wanted to deliver. It feels as if Spielberg actively uses the character of E.T. as a way of illustrating his own personal opinion and the collective opinions of doubtful Americans in this time of vast change. With this idea of consumerism in mind, ET almost transforms into a physical embodiment of home values, arriving in a time of need for young Elliot as his father is notably absent from the family, here to remind a troubled soul just what is important in life. It is also worth noting that Elliot's father being in Mexico is mentioned numerous times throughout E.T., possibly serving as a literal presentation of the effects consumerism was having on the nuclear family, as vast numbers of the population were beginning to show a real interest in owning and achieving more in their lifetime, in turn leaving loved ones behind. It seems as if this tale of real friendship and family life came at a strange time for America, as the country was just beginning to see the uprising of consumerism, E.T arrived to serve as the polar opposite of this idea, here to refresh audiences and remind them just what real values are and the damage the cultural change was having on families across America.
|Fig 2: E.T., Screenshot|
When trying to decipher this Spielberg creation, one thing certainly stands out as an aspect worth thinking about, the idea that E.T. plays more of a brother role to young Elliot. This idea becomes extremely prominent when you note that Spielberg was the only son of the 4 Spielberg children, almost forcing E.T. into the brother Spielberg never had. It could be thought that other aspects of Spielberg's home life have also played huge roles in shaping his creations, including the fact that his father worked with computers, an area that was beginning to become a huge part of the modern world. The fact that Spielberg's father worked in such a revolutionary field has surely had a huge impact on Spielberg's creative outputs, it's almost impossible to ignore the correlation in films such as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and most definitely E.T.. This idea that Spielberg was present in an environment of growth and revolution has certainly seemed to have rubbed off on the way he shapes his characters into his films, it almost starts to feel as if Spielberg is young Elliot and E.T. is a physical manifestation of the way technology and the creation of new ideas were present in his home life whilst growing up.
When this 'Yuppy' movement is taken into account whilst thinking about the ideas behind E.T., the extra terrestrial character himself begins to take on different roles, or vessels of opinion within the film. It could well be thought that Spielberg was using E.T. as a way of showing modernised audiences the core values of family and friendship, but it is also worth considering that the wandering alien could be a representation of the 'Yuppy' movement itself. Throughout the film, E.T. is constantly learning, whether it be reading or basic dialect, the creature is evolving, much like audiences across America would also be evolving into consumers, hungry for new materials. This all leads to the idea that Spielberg may have been trying to show the 'Yuppy' movement as a more positive aspect of people's lives, instead of this negative revolution that it could of been seen as at the time. Because E.T. holds core values and the character literally has a positive impact on the people around his life, it seems as if Spielberg was keen to give audiences a new idea that would be received with open arms rather than be rejected much like many people were doing with this new wave of consumerism. If nothing else, it certainley does feel as if Spielberg was aware of this shift in the way modern people lived their lives and was using his creation as a way of illustrating that the world, or America at least, may well of been evolving but it will always hold the same core values and traits that it had learnt in previous decades. In E.T.'s case, the lessons the lost alien had learnt from Elliot and his family whilst on earth.
|Fig 3: E.T., Screenshot|
No matter which way a viewer chooses to read E.T., whether it be as a simple light hearted adventure or a more in depth metaphor driven film, there is no doubt that it will remain in peoples lives and cinematic history forever. Whether Spielberg was aiming to create a film that held so many core values comes down to opinion, but it certainley is not a coincidence that the legendary director went on to craft some of the most iconic films of all time. There is no doubt that E.T. has gone on to inspire other filmmakers and in some cases even teach audiences vital life lessons, with others stating that the film is "an endless and infinite delight" (Lee, 2014), there is no question that this cinematic masterpiece will live on forever. It feels very difficult to pin point just which part of this heart warming tale E.T. will be remembered for, the timeless effects, the iconic character, the unforgettable score or the minimal phrases the charming outsider could push out. After all these years have passed since E.T.'s release, it really feels as if the world is a better place for having seen Spielberg's extra terrestrial masterpiece.
Ebert, Roger, 2002, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/et-the-extra-terrestrial-2002, Accessed on: 01/03/16
History.com Staff, 2011, 1980's: Popular Culture, http://www.history.com/topics/1980s, Accessed on: 01/03/16
Lee, Marc, 2014, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, review: 'redefined popular sci-fi, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11310774/Must-have-movie-ET-The-Extra-Terrestrial-1982.html, Accessed on: 01/03/16
Fig 1: Movie Poster, E.T., http://www.moviepostershop.com/et--the-extra-terrestrial-movie-poster-1982, Accessed on: 01/03/16
Fig 2: Screenshot, E.T., http://thestorydepartment.com/screenwriting-structure-e-t/, Accessed on: 01/03/16
Fig 3: Screenshot, E.T., http://metro.co.uk/2015/03/26/this-powerful-audition-from-the-little-boy-in-e-t-made-spielberg-cry-5121761/, Accessed on: 01/03/16