Even Steven Spielberg’s biggest movies tend to have deep personal connections. After indirectly touching on his youth for decades, the renowned filmmaker brought his childhood to the screen with his semi-autobiographical drama. The Fabelmans.
From boy scout adventures to conflicts between parents, the film turns Spielberg’s mythologized past into a movie dream that is already generating awards season buzz.
‘The Fabelmans’ recreates Steven Spielberg’s childhood
the stage for The Fabelmans it’s almost identical to the world Spielberg inhabited during his formative years in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the core of the film, young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) grows up under the wings of two opposing forces. His mother is a pianist (Michelle Williams) and his father (Paul Dano) is highly scientifically minded.
Rounding out the top of the cast: Seth Rogen plays a close family friend. Judd Hirsch (Independence Day) portrays an influential uncle offering timely words of wisdom.
As Sammy falls in love with the movies, we see many elements that Spielberg has dealt with on screen for years. The prodigious Sammy sees the world through movie cameras. But his father in The Fabelmans he hopes to abandon daydreams for a life in science. “In this family, it’s the scientists against the artists,” Sammy’s mother says in the trailer, creating an ongoing conflict that Sammy (and Spielberg) have to navigate.
His mother’s inspiration seems to have been drawn directly from Spielberg’s life. Shortly after her death in 2017, Spielberg called his mother, Leah Adler, her “lucky charm” and previously dedicated schindler’s list to her (by Variety). Her mother also connects another main theme seen in The Fabelmans.
While the family experienced anti-Semitism, Adler once said that Spielberg regularly stood up to combat bullying.
Steven Spielberg was once a movie-obsessed boy scout
For decades, Spielberg has brought bits of his life to the screen. In 1989, he addressed the National Scout Jamboree to celebrate the addition of filmmaking to the merit badge program. “He taught me to make eye contact, to speak when I had something important to say,” Spielberg said of his experience as a Boy Scout, as reported by the Washington Post.
Filmmaking wasn’t technically worthy of a merit badge in the early ’60s. But Spielberg’s troop leader made an exception for the enthusiastic 13-year-old. Spielberg shot a short film on 8mm, which received wild cheers from the troupe (via Flickering Myth). Despite the unconventional route, the troop awarded him his badge for photographic merit.
The intersection of the Boy Scouts and Spielberg’s childhood also have an important place in The Fabelmans. In the trailer, Sammy is wearing his red Boy Scout bandanna. We also see him riding a bike flanked by other Scouts (according to Scouting magazine).
While adventurous biking comes with nuances of Eastern Time, we also see young Sammy filming a kind of war movie in the middle of the desert. Complete with actors who appear to be Scouts, the movie-within-a-movie seems to directly channel the movie Spielberg made to earn the merit badge from him.
‘The Fabelmans’ expands on classic Spielberg themes
Spielberg’s speech to the Boy Scouts came just months after introducing the world to a young Indiana Jones. The main character naturally made the same transition from boy to man in a Boy Scout uniform.
Indiana Jones and the last crusade it was technically a high-profile Hollywood sequel. Yet everything from the setting to Indy’s relationship with his defiant father (Sean Connery) echoes Spielberg’s childhood. The scenes of young Indy were filmed in the family-friendly setting of Arches National Park in southern Utah. Spielberg would have seen the same type of red rock desert landscapes on scouting trips near his hometown of Scottsdale.
The disapproving father figure looms over a young Sammy in The Fabelmansessentially the same conflict we see in last crusade. While Indy is dedicated to making his mark with unconventional methods, his father insists on the methodical and scientific approach. Spielberg even said that adding a father figure and casting Sean Connery was the biggest contribution he made to the series, Entertainment Weekly reports.
But the debate between the art and science of The Fabelmans it was already fleshed out in another Spielberg masterpiece. After the moment of his breakup with jawsSpielberg did Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film is filled with memorable images and wild alien encounters. However, it is also based on realistic scientists trying to deal with the impossible. Even as Spielberg pursues his artistic impulses, the conflict with the scientific world deepens the mystery and adds to the film’s magic.
As a famous story goes, Spielberg was visited on set by his good friend George Lucas, who was in despair over the possible failure of Star Wars: A New Hope.
seeing the impressive close encounters Altogether, Lucas was convinced that it would be a far greater success than Star Wars. She struck a deal with Spielberg to provide a small insurance (per TCM). Spielberg and Lucas exchanged 2.5% of the (back-end) profits from the two films, a deal that has since become the stuff of Hollywood legend.
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