Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg 1498518842, 9781498518840

To say that children matter in Steven Spielberg's films is an understatement. Think of the possessed Stevie in Some

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Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg
 1498518842, 9781498518840

Table of contents :
List of Tables and Figures
Introduction • Adrian Schober
1 Spielberg and the Kidult • Noel Brown
2 Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child: Steven Spielberg’s Something Evil • Adrian Schober
3 Ambiguous Loss: The Depiction of Child Abduction in Spielberg’s Early Films • James Kendrick
4 “I’ll be right here!” Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial • Peter Krämer
5 Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg • Ingrid E. Castro
6 Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple • Debbie Olson
7 Betwixt-and-Between: Reclaiming Childhood in Hook • Jen Baker
8 Hooked on Happy Thoughts: New Sincerity and Spielberg’s Troubled Nostalgia for Mythic Childhood • Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kristjanson
9 Bipolar Boys: Spielberg’s Manic-Depressive Children • Andrew M. Gordon
10 Trauma, Loss, Anxiety: Spielberg’s Missing Children in Minority Report, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds • Fran Pheasant-Kelly
11 Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn • Leonie Rutherford
About the Contributors

Citation preview

Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg

Children and Youth in Popular Culture Series Editor: Debbie Olson Children and Youth in Popular Culture features works that interrogate the various representations of children and youth in popular culture, as well as the reception of these representations. The series is international in scope, recognizing the transnational discourses about children and youth that have helped shape modern and post-modern childhoods and adolescence. The scope of the series ranges from such subjects as gender, race, class, and economic conditions and their global intersections with issues relevant to children and youth and their representation in global popular culture: children and youth at play, geographies and spaces (including World Wide Web), material cultures, adultification, sexuality, children of/in war, religion, children of diaspora, youth and the law, and more. Titles in the Series Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg, Edited by Adrian Schober and Debbie Olson Girls’ Series Fiction and American Popular Culture, Edited by LuElla D’Amico Critical Childhood Studies and the Practice of Interdisciplinary: Disciplining the Child, Edited by Magdalena Zolkos and Joanna Faulkner The Américas Award: Honoring Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult Literature of the Americas, Edited by Laretta Henderson

Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg Edited by Adrian Schober and Debbie Olson

LEXINGTON BOOKS Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB Copyright © 2016 by Lexington Books All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Schober, Adrian, 1974– editor. | Olson, Debbie C., 1961– editor. Title: Children in the films of Steven Spielberg / edited by Adrian Schober and Debbie Olson. Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, 2016. | Series: Children and youth in popular culture | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2015051323 (print) | LCCN 2016005023 (ebook) | ISBN 9781498518840 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781498518857 (Electronic) Subjects: LCSH: Spielberg, Steven, 1946–--Criticism and interpretation. | Children in motion pictures. Classification: LCC PN1998.3.S65 C47 2016 (print) | LCC PN1998.3.S65 (ebook) | DDC 791.4302/ 33092--dc23 LC record available at TM The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

Printed in the United States of America


Illustrations List of Tables and Figures Introduction Adrian Schober

vii ix 1


Spielberg and the Kidult Noel Brown 2 Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/ Possessed Child: Steven Spielberg’s Something Evil Adrian Schober 3 Ambiguous Loss: The Depiction of Child Abduction in Spielberg’s Early Films James Kendrick 4 “I’ll be right here!” Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Peter Krämer 5 Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg Ingrid E. Castro 6 Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple Debbie Olson 7 Betwixt-and-Between: Reclaiming Childhood in Hook Jen Baker 8 Hooked on Happy Thoughts: New Sincerity and Spielberg’s Troubled Nostalgia for Mythic Childhood Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kristjanson 9 Bipolar Boys: Spielberg’s Manic-Depressive Children Andrew M. Gordon 10 Trauma, Loss, Anxiety: Spielberg’s Missing Children in Minority Report, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds Fran Pheasant-Kelly







141 161

183 207




11 Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Leonie Rutherford Index About the Contributors


275 281


0.1: As he receives E.T.’s healing touch Elliott (Henry Thomas) epitomizes the Romantic child wide-eyed with wonder. 0.2: Spielberg’s memorable “Rosebud” symbol—the little girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List. 1.1: Richard Dreyfuss as the early Spielberg “kidult” Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 1.2: The prototypical Spielberg film? J. J. Abrams’s Super 8. 2.1: Sandy Dennis as the hysterical mother in the curiously overlooked Something Evil. 2.2: Johnny Whitaker as the lost/possessed Stevie. 3.1: Shifting perspectives between Jillian and Barry in the second invasion sequence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 3.2: In Poltergeist, Steve and Diane Freeling experience the anguish of being able to hear their abducted child without being able to help her. 4.1: Elliott (Henry Thomas) and the alien saying good-bye. Separation and loss in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. 5.4: In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) vigorously reinforces Indiana’s societal position by insisting that Willie call him “Dr. Jones.” 6.1: Soap ad originally published in Graphic, December 1884. 6.2: Celie (Desreta Jackson) disturbingly pregnant in The Color Purple. 6.3: Mister (Danny Glover) looming large over Nettie (Akosua Busia) and blocking Celie from view. 7.1: Robin Williams’s Peter deciding whether to stay and play. vii



8.1: Peter Banning (Robin Williams) regards the “urtext,” a fictionalized incarnation of Barrie’s first edition of Peter Pan. 9.1: Jim (Christian Bale) at the height of his mania, during the Allied bombing of the Japanese internment camp in Empire of the Sun. 9.2: A.I.’s David (Haley Joel Osment) in distress, his image reflected in the side view mirror as his mother, Monica (Frances O’Conner), drives off and abandons him. 9.3: Catch Me If You Can’s Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), another bipolar/lost boy whose pain is reflected in the rear view mirror. 10.1: John Anderton (Tom Cruise) talks to a holographic image of his missing/lost son in Minority Report. 10.2: Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) reassures his daughter in War of the Worlds. 11.1: Haddock and Tintin in two-shot, Haddock counsels Tintin. 11.2: Tintin: Youthful Action Hero.

List of Tables and Figures

Table 1.1: “Family” Media Versus “Kidult” Media Characteristics Figure 5.1: Total Agency in Films by Percent of the Whole Figure 5.2: Percent of Child Agency by Type in all Films Figure 5.3: Percent of Agency Direction for Each Film Figure 5.5: Gender and Agency


Introduction Adrian Schober

Children are an almost essential feature of the landscape in films by Steven Spielberg. Think of the lost/possessed Stevie in Something Evil (1972), the alien-abducted Barry in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Elliott and his unearthly alter-ego in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the war-damaged Jim in Empire of the Sun (1987), the haunting little girl in the red coat in Schindler's List (1993), the mecha David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), John Anderton’s kidnapped son in Minority Report (2002), and the eponymous boy hero of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011). There are many other instances across Spielberg’s oeuvre. And contrary to his reputation as a purveyor of innocuous “popcorn” entertainment, Spielberg’s vision of children/childhood is not all sweetness and light. Indeed, more discerning critics have begun to note the darker underpinnings, increasingly fraught with tensions, conflicts, and anxieties, especially when bound up with that most embattled bastion of American institutions: the family. The typical Spielberg protagonist, notes biographer Joseph McBride, is “either a child whose troubled life has caused him to evolve into a precocious maturity, or a child-like adult whose attempts to escape a grown-up’s responsibilities are viewed by the director with deep ambivalence.” 1 For McBride the regular assaults on the director by elitist critics rest largely on the director’s choice of subject matter and recurring themes, which we now recognize in the adjective “Spielbergian”: namely, “broken families, flawed father and mother figures, children under duress, and attempts by people to recuperate nuclear families.” 2 Responding to the critics, Lester D. Friedman notes how Spielberg’s “portraits of children rarely dissolve into maudlin paeans to some idyllic existence” and how “the kids we see in some detail [. . .] are not particularly happy.” 3 And most recently, James Kendrick has written insightfully on the fractured, shattered, and threatened families in Close Encounters, E.T., and the Spielberg-conceived Poltergeist (1982; directed by Tobe Hooper), while also highlighting the highly fraught treatments of lost childhood in such “challenging” films as Empire of the Sun and A.I. Concludes Kendrick: “Childhood is not a place of safety in Spielberg’s films, but rather a place of danger, both physically and emotionally.” 4 (Kendrick, we are happy to say, is a contributor to 1


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this volume). These more nuanced studies thus challenge the cliché of Spielberg’s sentimental idealization of children. In short, there is much more going on in the director’s treatments of childhood than both his detractors and supporters have been willing to own. As Spielberg has acknowledged, “I use my childhood in all my pictures, and all the time. I go back there to find ideas and stories. My childhood was the most fruitful part of my entire life. All those horrible, traumatic years I spent as a kid became what I do for a living today, or what I draw from creatively today.” 5 He was born Steven Allan Spielberg to a Jewish Orthodox family in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 18, 1946— not 1947 as it has often been reported. Indeed, this factual error, as McBride demonstrates, has been perpetuated by Spielberg himself, perhaps to further cement his image as a Hollywood wunderkind. 6 Steven’s workaholic engineer father Arnold worked in the emergent field of electronics and his mother Leah was a homemaker. Growing tensions between his parents, which would culminate in divorce in 1966, would take their toll on the young Steven and his three younger sisters. Not surprisingly, critics and biographers have mined Spielberg’s childhood for clues about the obsessions and traumas contained within his films. And until the time Spielberg writes his autobiography, he has happily provided them with fodder: “I was skinny and unpopular. I was the weird, skinny kid with acne. I hate to use the word wimp, but I wasn’t in the inner loop. I never felt comfortable with myself, because I was never part of the majority.” 7 One particularly traumatic incident, which he says became “the height of my wimpery,” occurred in elementary school when he deliberately lost a race to an intellectually disabled boy. 8 After the race, he recalls, “I stood there on the track field and cried my eyes out for five minutes. I’d never felt better and I’d never felt worse in my entire life.” 9 Spielberg also recalls incidents of being bullied while at high school, the majority stemming from anti-Semitism: “They threw pennies in the study hall, you know—in a real quite [sic] room, they threw pennies at me.” 10 He would spend much of his life suppressing his Jewish identity, before coming to terms with it in Schindler’s List. That his father Arnold had no qualms about uprooting his family to pursue job opportunities in his field intensified Steven’s feelings of maladjustment and isolation: Ohio to New Jersey to Arizona and, finally, California. It was shortly after the family relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, that Steven laid claim to Arnold’s 8mm movie camera, showing his father how it should be done. He documented his family’s outings and camping trips, and made a three-minute film entitled The Last Train Wreck (1957) of his electric toy trains crashing together, à la the very first film he ever saw: Cecil B. DeMille’s circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). This early amateur film points to Spielberg’s lifelong enthusiasm for special effects and spectacle. And while a Boy Scout he made a three-minute Western, casting friends from his troop, which earned him a merit badge as well as



approval from his peers. 11 Later, he cast the kids from his neighborhood in increasingly elaborate films encompassing several genres: Western, war film, film noir, and comedy. He famously had one of his childhood tormenters appear in the war short, Escape to Nowhere (1962). Remembers Spielberg: “Even when he was in one of my movies, I was afraid of him [. . .] But I was able to bring him over to a place where I felt safer, in front of my camera.” 12 In effect, these were Spielberg’s first films of childhood, which already showed his adeptness at working with young actors. At the age of seventeen he made his most ambitious film to date, the science fiction feature Firelight, which premiered at the Phoenix Little Theatre, Arizona, March 24, 1964. A mediocre student who struggled with his reading, Spielberg’s fascination with movies and moviemaking was more than an amusement or hobby; it was an escape from his often-lonely existence, a bid “to become quasi-popular and to find a reason for living after school hours.” 13 But, while the move to California, home of the Hollywood movie industry, was a propitious one, Spielberg’s high school grades weren’t quite good enough for admission into the highly regarded film schools at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) or the University of Southern California (USC). Instead, he enrolled in California State College, Long Beach, where he received a C for a TV production course, but dropped out in 1968 to pursue his film career. 14 Spielberg’s oft-repeated story of how in the late 1960s he snuck into the Universal lot wearing a suit and tie and installed himself in a vacant office, then “arranged” set visits for himself, is surely apocryphal. As McBride shows, it was Arnold Spielberg who, sometime in the early 1960s, used his connections to set up a meeting between his son and someone at Universal. 15 Spielberg made friends with Chuck Silvers, an editorial assistant and film librarian for Universal Studios. As one of Spielberg’s first mentors, it was he who gave Spielberg a job as an unpaid clerical assistant at the studio, where he was able to walk around the lot and learn firsthand about the craft of filmmaking. However, it wasn’t until the vice president of production for Universal TV, Sidney J. Sheinberg, saw his award-winning short Amblin’ (1968) that Spielberg landed a seven-year contract with the studio where he began his apprenticeship in television. This would eventually lead to his breakthrough TV film Duel (1971), which transformed Spielberg from an up-and-coming to a soughtafter director. Yet oddly, the studio didn’t have anything to offer their itchy protégé as his first theatrical film, and so agreed to loan him out to direct the occult thriller Something Evil (1972) for the CBS network. While curiously overlooked by scholars, Something Evil may be retroactively identified as one of Spielberg’s most important films, insofar as it inaugurates his professional interest in children/childhood—two years before Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) pined for the return of Baby Langston in the director’s cinematic debut The Sugarland Express (1974). Significantly this TV movie features Spielberg’s first experiments with delineating a child’s


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point of view, and the way he angles shots from the child’s level prefigures E.T. 16 In its representation of the bedevilled Stevie (Family Affair’s Johnny Whitaker), Something Evil also prefigures the spate of possessed and/or satanic children in such films as The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), Audrey Rose (1977), and Damien: Omen II (1978). But the film is something of an anomaly in Spielberg’s career. In Close Encounters and E.T. he was almost certainly reacting against this “dark turn” in cinematic representations of children, which may be securely linked to Puritan/ Evangelical undercurrents within contemporary American culture. 17 In its place, Spielberg offers a Romantic vision of childhood wonder and innocence. This vision, however, has been increasingly marked by trauma, loss, and anxiety. SPIELBERG AS NEO-ROMANTIC There can be no denying that Spielberg’s most popular, money-spinning films make powerful appeals to the imagination and invoke a sense of wonder in both adult and child audiences, depending on what Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously termed “the willing suspension of disbelief.” 18 But it makes little or no difference whether Spielberg was wellacquainted with the so-called age of Romanticism and its preeminent poets of childhood, William Blake and William Wordsworth. The Romantic child has become part of our literary, cinematic, and cultural currency, even if we have lost sight of its sources and origins. As Alan Richardson points out: The culturally dominant construction of childhood, one that becomes more visible as its dominance begins to recede and its inevitability is called into question, can usefully be termed a “Romantic” phenomenon. Though its various features can mostly be found in works written prior to or outside of what we ordinarily call Romanticism [. . .] the constellation of those features, and the popularization of the resulting overdetermined construction, belong to the mainstream Romantic tradition. . . . The Romantic child may owe its “freedom” to heaven or to a benevolent nature; its growth may be guided by a providentially arranged natural environment or by innate principles of growth (or both); its innocence may have supernatural origins or may instead proceed from its apparent lack of socialization. Either way, the Romantic child makes a strong claim upon us. 19

Moreover, it’s not hard to pinpoint where Spielberg imbibed his Romanticism: secondhand from Disney movies such as Pinocchio (1940), Bambi (1942), and Peter Pan (1953), J. M. Barrie, and children’s literature in general. As Neil Sinyard waxes lyrical, “He has the soul of a Walt Disney, the heart of a Peter Pan—he is not called wunderkind for nothing.” 20 Yet the question of Disney’s influence is a complex one. As an unusually sensi-



tive child viewer, Spielberg recalls how “[b]etween Snow White, Fantasia, and Bambi I was a basket case of neurosis,” 21 which, in light of all the Disney references in his films, is suggestive of how he has channeled Disney films for both their light and dark elements, a duality that has come to the fore in more recent films. While his cinematic influences have been many and varied, Spielberg has said, “I was probably more influenced by Walt Disney than by anyone else.” 22 Apropos Peter Pan, Spielberg fondly recalls his mother Leah reading it to him as a bedtime story, reenacted in E.T. when mother Mary (Dee Wallace) reads the story to a wonderstruck Gertie (Drew Barrymore). 23 But, while the pairing of Spielberg and Barrie proved irresistible to Hollywood, many critics thought he was too old to make Hook (1991), his own twisted take on Peter Pan. As one of the few critics to champion the film, Henry Sheehan argues that the Peter Pan story is an urtext for Spielberg, 24 while Douglas Brode views Hook as a “necessary film for Spielberg; with it, he attempts to put aside the Peter Pan myth, by dealing, through the creation of a new drama about the old myth, with his ongoing obsession with it.” 25 As an attempt to work through his Peter Pan syndrome (so-called by Dr. Dan Kiley in his 1983 pop-psychology bestseller) and reconcile his inner child with the demands of being a responsible, hands-on parent, the film is one of his most autobiographical. The most quintessentially Spielbergian children reflect the Romantics’ underlying belief in the original innocence of the child, and the child as a repository of inborn wisdom which in the adult has been largely sublimated, repressed, or denied. Or, as Wordsworth famously expressed this sentiment, “The Child is father of the Man,” which is also the guiding sentiment of a number of Spielberg films, notably Close Encounters, E.T., his “Kick the Can” segment from the portmanteau film Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and Hook. 26 In his preoccupation with heroic child or childlike figures, argues Brode, Spielberg shares Wordsworth’s “primal sympathy” with childhood, as expressed in the poet’s highly influential “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (1807). 27 That the extra-terrestrials in Close Encounters have chosen children or adults resembling children to implant their visions is highly significant. Man-child Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is the adult embodiment of Coleridge’s imaginative child, filled with freshness, awe, wonder, and spontaneity. For instance, he is able to grasp the magic of Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) whereas his put-upon wife (Terri Garr) and prematurely jaded kids cannot. 28 It is precisely this rare, imaginative quality that makes Roy receptive to alien visions. But whereas these implanted visions prove almost too much for Roy—he suffers migraines, headaches, and a near collapse which leads to the breakdown of the family unit—toddler Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) is a receiver par excellence. As Spielberg stated his artistic intentions, “I really wanted to take a child’s point of view. The uneducated innocence that allows a person to take this kind of quantum jump . . . and go abroad, if


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you will. A conscientious, responsible adult human being probably wouldn’t.” 29 More than Roy, Barry’s uneducated wisdom, wisdom in innocence, allows him to better intuit the benevolent intentions of these child-like alien greys, which is why the aliens first come for him, transporting him to those “clouds of glory” Wordsworth links to childhood in “Immortality Ode.” 30 Indeed, the wide-open, wide-eyed little boy is the embodiment of Wordsworth’s best Philosopher, who yet dost keep Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind, That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep, Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,— Mighty Prophet! Seer blest! On whom those truths do rest, Which we are toiling all our lives to find. 31

Like Barry, ten-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) in E.T. is a thoroughly Romantic construction, even if his innocence has been somewhat encroached upon by Blakeian experience (here we are reminded of J. M. Barrie’s words, “Nothing much happens after twelve”). Older than Barry, he has “learned enough about fear from his suburban society to be more hesitant. Still, he has not become so indoctrinated that, like an adult, he now sees the unknown as totally threatening [. . .] it is his emotional journey back to a full embrace of child-like wonder that the film chronicles.” 32 Or, as Wordsworth expresses it, the “shades of the prison-house” have already begun to close “[u]pon the growing boy,” although he still “[b]eholds the light, and whence it flows, / he sees in it joy.” 33 Spielberg has gone on record that “E.T. was about the divorce of my parents, how I felt after my parents broke up. I responded by escaping into my imagination to shut down all my nerve endings crying, ‘Mom, Dad, why did you break up and leave us alone?’ I dreamed about going to space or having space come to me.” 34 Elliott, as a lonely child of divorce, is thus a surrogate for the director, as is the alien, one of Spielberg’s double figures, for the child (as signified in the names E.T./Elliott). As the venerable botanist with the heart/spirit of a child, E.T. conflates the wise child with the child of nature. And as the conduit of nature, E.T. has the power to bring flowers back to life and heal Elliott’s bleeding finger, with the luminous touch of his own finger. The scientist credited as Keys (because of the keys which jangle on his person) is Spielberg’s older surrogate, as played by Jewish contemporary Peter Coyote. As E.T. lies dying in the makeshift hospital, Keys tells Elliott that “he came to me, too. I’ve been wishing for this since I was ten years old. I don’t want him to die.” Like French Ufologist Lacombe (François Truffaut) in Close Encounters, Keys connotes the Wordsworthian ideal of the adult who has not lost touch with his child-like self, whose awareness of childhood as a special state has been carried forth into adulthood. In the bittersweet finale, Elliott chooses to



stay behind with his family rather than joining his friend on his cosmic adventures; in this way, he shows a lot more responsibility and maturity than Roy Neary who is three times his age. E.T.’s parting words to Elliott are simple, yet affecting and sublime, “I’ll be right here,” which connotes Wordsworth’s elegy near the end of the ode that we should “grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind” 35 and assimilate the glories of the childhood past into the more sober adult self.

Figure 0.1. As he receives E.T.’s healing touch Elliott (Henry Thomas) epitomizes the Romantic child wide-eyed with wonder.

In calling E.T. “a dream of a movie—a bliss-out,” 36 prominent New Yorker critic Pauline Kael immediately grasped Spielberg’s connections with Romanticism, even if she stopped short of identifying it as such. When she singled out Spielberg for his ability to convey emotion, innocence, wonder, awe and imagination, and of course bliss she might have been extolling the virtues of romantic-poetic expression. Indeed, her concept of the bliss-out is not far removed from Wordsworth’s view of the sublime, “In which the heavy and the weary weight / Of all this unintelligible world, / is lighten’d.” 37 “Like Close Encounters,” she gushed, “E.T. is bathed in warmth, and it seems to clear all the bad thoughts in your head. It reminds you of the goofiest dreams you had as a kid, and rehabilitates them.” 38 Kael further stressed Spielberg’s presence in the film, so central to Romantic discourses of self-expression and the individuality of the artist: “Spielberg is right there in his films; you can feel his presence and his love of surprises [. . .] his presence is youthful—it has a just-emerged quality.” 39 She also noted Spielberg’s intuitive connections with children’s literature, while acknowledging the valuable contribution of scriptwriter Melissa Mathison who was able to clearly express his spirit and “see what he needed more deeply than he could himself, and could


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devise a complete structure that would hold his feelings in balance.” 40 Here we may note how the primacy of the heart over the mind that is so characteristic of Spielberg in such films as Something Evil, Close Encounters, E.T., Poltergeist, and A.I. is also a characteristic of the cult of sensibility, from which emerged the Romantic construct of the child. 41 One key exchange in E.T. verbalizes Spielberg’s sensibility or ideology of feeling. When a psychiatrist (as he is identified in Mathison’s script) asks Michael (Robert MacNaughton), the older brother, whether the alien has the ability to manipulate its environment, he answers, “He’s smart. He communicates through Elliott.” The psychiatrist seeks clarification: “Elliott thinks its thoughts?” Michael: “No, Elliott . . . Elliott feels his feelings.” For Spielberg, science represents the cold, unfeeling, materialist, rationalist side of “Man”; while E.T. and the children are associated with the intuitive, emotional, imaginative, and “prerational.” Elliott, in contrast to these unfeeling scientists (excepting of course Keys), is spiritually and emotionally sensitive. That’s what makes him fit—and not them—to receive visitors from outer space. In his darker portrayals of lost children in Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, and A.I. Spielberg’s Romanticism has grown more ambivalent, especially when juxtaposed with “stark realism.” This does not obviate his Romanticism; rather, it lays bare the tensions and ruptures that were hitherto buried underneath Spielberg’s deceptively roseate depictions of children. In seeing Spielberg as a neo-Romantic, we may note how such ruptures mark depictions of lost children in Blake’s and Wordsworth’s poetry and the novels of Charles Dickens. As for the Dickens influence, Andrew M. Gordon notes how “there are many parallels between Dickens and Spielberg: their desire to touch the masses, their painting in broad strokes, their warmth and sentiment, their deep connection to childhood [. . .] The equivalents of Dickens’s orphans—lost, cruelly abused, and endangered children—are all over Spielberg’s films.” 42 That in The Color Purple (1985) the downtrodden Celie reads from Oliver Twist (1837–1839), Spielberg’s notable addition to Alice Walker’s novel, announces the film’s Romantic intentions; like Dickens’s novel, this is a film full of unlikely coincidences and uninhibited emotions. Said Spielberg, “I saw Walker’s book as a Dickens piece.” 43 In Empire, Spielberg also grasped the Dickensian overtones of the relationship between Basie (John Malkovich) and young Jim (Christian Bale), as adapted from J. G. Ballard’s roman à clef novel: “Basie is Fagin and, in a sense, Jim is Oliver.” 44 But Spielberg’s knowledge of Dickens, one can safely assume, owes more to his mentor David Lean’s celebrated film adaptations of Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) than to their source novels. Significantly, Lean was originally attached to the project, with Spielberg serving as producer. Under Spielberg’s direction, critics found the film uneven, unsure about his cinematic and emotional effects. There is a sense that this is two films joined at the hip: one that represents his Romanticism,



with its emotional uplift apropos a boy’s obsession with the wonders of flight and gung-ho of war (as underscored by John Williams’s score, which overreaches for emotion and gravitas), and the other that chronicles the brutalities of life in a Japanese internment camp. One clue to the director’s effects is the shot of schoolboy Jim walking past a poster of David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind (1939), a film that Janet Maslin, in her review, thought “a useful comparison, at least in terms of subject and style.” 45 (War Horse [2011], part paean to Romanticism and part reenactment of the sickening brutalities of war on the Western Front, also invited comparisons with the Selznick film). But if critics were unswayed by this unconventional coming-of-age story, Kendrick more subtly reads Empire of the Sun “as a sustained critique of the limits of a child’s imagination in a world of violence and conflict, with the film’s narrative trajectory building around the slow but steady decimation of Jim’s fantasies.” 46 In Schindler’s List, Spielberg was clearly responding to the attacks on his Hollywood modes of filmmaking and his Romanticism. There is something almost postmodern and anti-Romantic in the way Spielberg uses black and white film and handheld camera to invoke a documentary realism, to historically reconstruct the unreconstructable. Yet one vestige of his Romanticism remained: the little Jewish girl in the red coat, and here critics were quick to point out Spielberg’s lapse into sentimentality, although the symbolism was largely misunderstood. Spielberg, with screenwriter Steven Zaillian, conceived her as an open “Rosebud” symbol, à la Citizen Kane (1941). 47 But for Spielberg she symbolized the inaction of the Allies in saving the Jews from extermination. 48 Significantly, when Nazi war profiteer and playboy Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson)

Figure 0.2. Spielberg’s memorable “Rosebud” symbol—the little girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List.


Adrian Schober

sights her from afar during the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto, no one seems to really notice her. She is both visible and invisible, present and not present, as these unspeakable horrors unfold around her; she connotes the idiomatic “elephant in the room.” But it’s telling that Spielberg chooses to individualize the mass murder of six million Jews in the figure of this one child, whose death signals not only the death of innocence for childhood but the world entire. Further, she seems to be a major catalyst in Schindler’s transformation, self-redemption, in the film. Here, we may trace a line continuity between the child as redeemer in Wordsworth’s poetry, Dickens’s novels, George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861), Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885–1886), and other literature for children, and the trend in such films as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), and War of the Worlds (2005) for fathers or father figures to redeem themselves (however reluctantly) through the rescuing of the child. Marks and Torry argue that, in presenting us with images of vulnerable children in Schindler’s List, Spielberg envisions “Schindler as a certain kind of protector of childhood,” 49 and he thus functions as another surrogate for the director. But if this “good” German fails to protect this little girl, then he will atone by taking the role of father-protector to his symbolic children—his so-called Schindlerjuden. In his overlooked masterwork A.I., Spielberg presents a nightmarish vision of arrested development. Spielberg inherited the project from his late mentor and friend Stanley Kubrick, which was sufficient reason for critics to deem the finished film a major mismatch of sensibilities: Kubrick the misanthropic pessimist versus Spielberg the romantic humanist. The much-maligned “happy ending” was blamed on Spielberg. In his defense, Spielberg stated that he was only adhering to Kubrick’s concepts and treatment. In the film David (Haley Joel Osment) is the robot or mecha child who is brought home by the Swintons as a substitute for their afflicted child, cryogenically frozen until a cure for his disease is found. While David’s makeup may be more machine than human, he is almost a Rousseauian child figure, with an innate goodness, “humanity,” that the humans around him lack. As an outsider or Other, he spends much of the film being cruelly mistreated by adults, all the while retaining his fundamental innocence: his cured quasi-brother Martin (Jake Thomas) plots against him, his mother-object Monica (Frances O’Conner) abandons him in the forest, but not before she has him “imprint” on her (an irreversible action), and he is almost destroyed at the Flesh Fair in scenes that resemble a futuristic holocaust. Here it’s tempting to locate a point of divergence as well as convergence between Kubrick’s ignoble savage and Spielberg’s noble savage. 50 In co-opting Pinocchio’s quest, David sets out to find the Blue Fairy so that he can be transformed into a “real, live boy” and at last receive love and acceptance from Monica. He is accompanied by his robotic teddy bear, Teddy, who doubles as Jiminy



Cricket. Yet, as a mecha, David will never be real enough for Monica and will survive her by a couple of millenia, until the time she is cloned to life (from a lock of her hair in Teddy’s safekeeping) by far-advanced, siliconbased life forms. And even then he will only be able to spend a day with her. While his designer Professor Hobby (William Hurt) boasts of his mecha child’s never-ending capacity for love, “caught in a freeze-frame,” the tragedy is that David’s imprinting function, once activated, prohibits him from transferring his love and devotion to a more suitable love object. J. Hoberman reviewed the film as an “occasionally spectacular, fascinatingly schizoid, frequently ridiculous and never less than heartfelt mishmash of Pinocchio and Oedipus.” 51 In its angst-ridden vision of an immortal childhood, the film bespeaks a “traumatized Romanticism.” 52 Andrew M. Gordon has rightly noted a critical division in Spielberg’s oeuvre since the release of Close Encounters: “on the one hand, some critics see his work as shallow, excessive, childish, manipulative kitsch; on the other, there are those who view it instead as visually powerful, sweeping, child-like in a positive sense, and often moving.” 53 And even Gordon doesn’t eschew reading Spielberg this way. In explaining why he prefers E.T. to Close Encounters in spite of their similarities, Gordon singles out “the child’s-eye view of the film, consistently maintained through waist-level shots. To watch thirty-year-old Richard Dreyfuss [as Roy Neary] play with his mashed potato is appalling; to watch ten-yearold Henry Thomas drop his pizza is appealing. E.T. is children’s literature, whereas Close Encounters is childish.” 54 Interestingly, Pauline Kael, no longer enamored with the director whose reputation she helped to forge, would soon join in the chorus that he was the principal instigator of this infantilization of culture. 55 Noted critic Robin Wood has perhaps best articulated this position, when he speaks of the “Lucas-Spielberg syndrome” in Reaganite entertainment, “films catering to the desire for regression to infantilism.” 56 Yet, picking up on Peter Coveney’s distinction in The Image of Childhood, Wood perspicaciously distinguishes between the child-like and the childish in relation to Spielberg: the former which we can associate with the more profound Romantic vision of childhood put forward by poets such as Blake and Wordsworth, and the latter with the late Victorians’ gross sentimentalization of the child as an escape from reality and as a means of regression. (For Coveney and others, Barrie was the prime example of the latter). Wood writes that E.T. “seems to hesitate between the two concepts (Elliott’s freshness and energy are seen in relation to a generally oppressive civilization, though he is never Blake’s ‘fiend hid in a cloud’) before finally committing himself to the childish.” 57 Yet it may well be that this tension between the childish and child-like is a fruitful one and provides the key to understanding much of Spielberg’s work. Most notably, alter-ego Roy reflects these two sides of the young filmmaker in 1977: the side for which childhood is, and continues to be, a source of wonder and inspiration, and the other more


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retrograde side. To be sure, Roy is immature, selfish, reckless, and irresponsible, exactly why he can leave behind his wife and kids for the extra-terrestrials. But as the more mature Spielberg admitted when he was remaking War of the Worlds and was a happy father several times over: “Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mother ship. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity. . . .” 58 THE VOLUME While childhood is Spielberg’s principal source of inspiration, his “subject matter,” this has never been the focus of a collection. The chapters herein therefore seek to address both the light and dark aspects of childhood in the full spectrum of Spielberg’s cinema. The volume represents the work of scholars from a range of theoretical frameworks and disciplines—cinema studies, literary studies, audience reception, critical race theory, psychoanalysis, sociology, the empirical method, and more. The volume opens with Noel Brown’s compelling chapter, “Spielberg and the Kidult,” which addresses the construction of “the kidult” apropos Spielberg’s characters, his implied audience and Spielberg himself. Brown questions how popular discourses have positioned Spielberg as “one of the supreme architects of kidult culture.” In “Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child: Steven Spielberg’s Something Evil (1972)” Adrian Schober argues that Something Evil is an important, but often overlooked madefor-TV film that prefigures Spielberg’s “trademark obsessions, traumas, and concerns” regarding children and childhood. Schober focuses on the film’s complex mother-child relationship, which, he argues, is one of the most ambivalent constructions of motherhood in a Spielberg film. Chapter 3 features James Kendrick’s “Ambiguous Loss: The Depiction of Child Abduction in Steven Spielberg’s Early Films.” Kendrick examines Spielberg’s persistent thematic trauma of child abduction, which he claims is rooted in the prominent media focus on child abductions throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Kendrick argues that the persistent cultural anxiety and fear about child kidnappings during those decades has resonated throughout Spielberg’s films. Consequently, he shows how Spielberg’s insertion of the child abduction theme complicates the popular perception that his films merely reassure the viewer. In chapter 4, “‘I’ll be right here!’ Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982),” Peter Krämer links the immediate and profound effect of the film on different age groups to the broad cultural popularity of family-adventure adventure movies amid rising divorce rates. For Krämer, E.T.’s depiction of the “family in crisis”



and the “extraordinarily intense staging of the [boy] protagonist’s experience of loss” are representative of the ways in which real shifting family situations underscore a deep sense of loss, and at the same time necessitate a rebirth of the self. In chapter 5, “Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg,” Ingrid E. Castro uses content analysis and coding/statistical evaluation to examine the role of agency in Spielberg’s child characters, which exposes tensions between adult constructions of childhood innocence and the child’s capacity to act independent of adult control. Castro finds that child agency in Spielberg’s films has actually declined since the 1990s and she raises thought-provoking questions about what role the myth of the idealized child may play in the decline of agency. In chapter 6, Debbie Olson samples troubling images of dirt and filth from Spielberg’s films, which she sees as deeply problematic in light of the director’s depiction of “black” childhood in his first non-white Hollywood film. In “Childhood, Race, and Dirt in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985),” Olson argues that he situates children of color as not innocent, not pure, and not clean by “visually re-articulating historical associations of blacks with dirt.” Olson finds that Spielberg oddly juxtaposes images of innocent childhood with the filth of pedophilia and physical abuse. Chapters 7 and 8 feature richly textured discussions of the critically panned Hook, arguably one of Spielberg’s most important and revealing films. In “Betwixt-and-Between: Reclaiming Childhood in Hook (1991),” Jen Baker explores the liminality of Robin Williams’s grown-up incarnation of the Peter Pan character and how it lays bare wider conflicts, ruptures, regarding the adult/child relationship. Through the concept of the betwixt-and-between, Baker shows how Spielberg’s attempt to reclaim lost childhood amounts to an adult colonization of a conceptual space that is being used to feed adult nostalgia, a space “that is not really for children at all.” In “Hooked on Happy Thoughts: New Sincerity and Spielberg’s Troubled Nostalgia for Mythic Childhood,” Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kristjanson read Hook as a “new sincerity” film, a type of film that countered “the irony and cynicism that pervaded . . . [the] media-saturated, pop-culture literate milieu” of the late 1980s through the 1990s. Balanzategui and Kristjanson suggest that the film is Spielberg’s attempt to reclaim innocence for adults in the face of a growing media culture and the postmodern push to adulthood. For them, Hook is Spielberg at his most conflicted, representing the director’s own struggle with having to “grow up.” In chapter 9, “Bipolar Boys: Spielberg’s Manic-Depressive Children,” Andrew M. Gordon examines the boy protagonists of Empire of the Sun, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Catch Me If You Can. He relates the manicdepressive behavior of these boys to the Spielbergian theme of children who yearn for family unity while suffering the trauma of abandonment


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and loss. Gordon suggests that these films reveal glimpses of the “emotional disruption” Spielberg himself felt when his parents divorced. In “Trauma, Loss, Anxiety: Missing Children in Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002), Jurassic Park (1993), and War of the Worlds (2004),” Fran Pheasant-Kelly argues that while Spielberg’s lost children suffer anxiety and trauma, they are also “important narrative and visual causes” of parental anxiety, grief, and trauma, reinforcing for the spectator the value of family unity. And finally, in chapter 11, “Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” Leonie Rutherford argues that Spielberg’s interpretation of Hergés’s classic cartoon-strip creation, Tintin, privileges a particular type of youth masculinity and agency. Rutherford claims that Spielberg’s Tintin “functions as an unchanging child” with adult responsibility who is “unsupported by the social and community networks” through which most adolescents work to gain agency. Ultimately, Rutherford finds that Tintin operates as an agent for the social and affective development of the adults around him. Each chapter in this volume offers a fresh perspective on the subtleties and complexities contained in Spielberg’s films about children and coming-of-age. These films form our most endearing and enduring cultural artifacts. Can anyone imagine a childhood without Spielberg? We cannot. And so, as Elliott said to E.T., and as we imagine Spielberg saying to us, “You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.” NOTES 1. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 3rd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 2012), 17. 2. Ibid., 515. 3. Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 32. 4. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 193. 5. Andrew Yule, Steven Spielberg: Father of the Man (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1996), n.p. 6. McBride also suggests that Spielberg lied about his age in order to wrangle himself out of contractual obligations from early in his career. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 36. 7. Qtd. in Frank Sanello, Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology, updated ed. (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2002), 19. Yule opens his biography with an embellished account of this incident. 8. Michael Sragow, “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg,” in Steven Spielberg Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 109. 9. Ibid. 10. John H. Richardson, “Steven’s Choice,” in Steven Spielberg Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 159.



11. Steve Poster, “The Man Behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in Steven Spielberg Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 56. 12. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 101. 13. Sragow, “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg,” 110. 14. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg, 145. 15. Ibid., 109–11. 16. Ian Freer, The Complete Spielberg (London: Virgin), 2001, 27. 17. See Adrian Schober, Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). 18. Originally coined in his Biographia Literaria; or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817). 19. Alan Richardson, “Romanticism and the End of Childhood,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal 21 (1999): 172. 20. Neil Sinyard, The Films of Steven Spielberg (London: Hamlyn/Bison, 1987), 7. 21. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 64. 22. Phillip M. Taylor, Steven Spielberg: The Man, His Movies, and Their Meaning (New York: Continuum, 1992), 52. 23. Ibid., 42. 24. Henry Sheehan, “The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 1,” Film Comment 28, no. 3 (May 1992): 54–60 and The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 2,” Film Comment 28, no. 4 (July 1992): 66–71. 25. Douglas Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group, 1995), 204. 26. See Brode’s discussion of Close Encounters, 67–71. 27. Douglas Brode, “Visionary Children and Child-Like Heroes: Steven Spielberg’s Primal Sympathy,” in A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, eds. Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 327–41. 28. Ironically, the Disney classic would have seemed old hat to children of the late 1970s brought up on the technically slick and sophisticated blockbuster entertainment of Spielberg and his pal George Lucas. 29. Chris Hodenfield, “The Sky Is Full of Questions: Science Fiction is Steven Spielberg’s Suburbia,” Village Voice, January 26, 1978, accessed 20 March 2015, www. 30. William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” in Wordsworth’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Nicholas Halmi (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 435, line 64. 31. Ibid., 437, lines 110–16. 32. Douglas Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg, 122. 33. Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” 436, lines 67–70. 34. Wayne Maser, “The Long Voyage Home,” Harper’s Bazaar, February 1994, 139. 35. Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” 439, lines 182–83. 36. Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema: The Pure and the Impure,” New Yorker, June 14, 1982, 119. 37. William Wordsworth, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour,” in Wordsworth’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Nicholas Halmi (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 67, lines 40–42. 38. Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema,”119. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid. 41. Peter Coveney, The Image of Childhood, revised ed. with an introduction by F. R. Leavis (London: Penguin, 1967), 37–51. 42. Andrew M. Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction Films of Steven Spielberg (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 6.


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43. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 368. 44. Richard Schickel, Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective, foreword by Steven Spielberg (New York: Sterling, 2012), 117. 45. Janet Maslin, “Film: Empire of the Sun,” New York Times, December 9, 1987, accessed 17 March 2015, 46. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-out, 146. 47. Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg, 230–31. 48. Richard Schickel, Steven Spielberg, 161–62. 49. Clifford J. Marks and Robert Torry, “‘Herr Direktor’: Biography and Autobiography in Schindler’s List,” Biography 23, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 64. 50. To be clear, Rousseau never actually used the phrase “noble savage,” which originates with John Dryden (1631–1700). 51. J. Hoberman, “The Dreamlife of Androids [review of A.I.],” Sight and Sound 11, no. 9 (September 2001): 16. 52. Adrian Schober, “Lost Innocence: Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg, by James Kendrick,” Senses of Cinema 72 (2014), accessed 12 July 2015, ss-out-a-reconsideration-of-the-films-of-steven-spielberg-by-james-kendrick. 53. Gordon, Empire of Dreams, 4. 54. Ibid., 76. 55. David Blum, “Steven Spielberg and the Dread Hollywood Backlash,” New York Magazine, 24 March 1986, 55. 56. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 155. 57. Ibid., 156. 58., “War of the Worlds: Press Conference Interview with Director Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise,” June 2005, accessed 21 March 2015, www.blac

BIBLIOGRAPHY Blum, David. “Steven Spielberg and the Dread Hollywood Backlash.” New York Magazine, 24 March 1986. Brode, Douglas. The Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group, 1995. ———. “Visionary Children and Child-Like Heroes: Steven Spielberg’s Primal Sympathy.” In A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, edited by Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins, 327–41. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000. Coveney, Peter. The Image of Childhood, revised ed. with an introduction by F. R. Leavis. London: Penguin, 1967. Freer, Ian. The Complete Spielberg. London: Virgin, 2001. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Gordon, Andrew M. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction Films of Steven Spielberg. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Hoberman, J. “The Dreamlife of Androids [review of A.I],” Sight and Sound 11, no. 9 (September 2001): 16–18. Hodenfield, Chris. “The Sky Is Full of Questions: Science Fiction in Steven Spielberg’s Suburbia.” Village Voice, January 26, 1978. Accessed 20 March 2015, www.rollin Kael, Pauline. “The Current Cinema: The Pure and the Impure” [review of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial]. New Yorker, June 14, 1982. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.



Kiley, Dan. The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1983. Marks, Clifford J. and Robert Torry. “‘Herr Direktor’: Biography and Autobiography in Schindler’s List.” Biography 23, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 49–70. Maser, Wayne. “The Long Voyage Home.” Harper’s Bazaar, February 1994. Maslin, Janet. “Film: Empire of the Sun.” New York Times, December 9, 1987. Accessed 17 March 2015, McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 3rd ed. London: Faber and Faber, 2012. Poster, Steve. “The Man Behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” In Steven Spielberg Interviews, edited by Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, 55–69. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. Richardson, Alan. “Romanticism and the End of Childhood.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal 21 (1999): 169–89. Richardson, John H. “Steven’s Choice.” In Steven Spielberg Interviews, edited by Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, 157–69. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. Sanello, Frank. Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology. Updated ed. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2002. Schickel, Richard. Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective, foreword by Steven Spielberg. New York: Sterling, 2012. Schober, Adrian. Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Sheehan, Henry. “The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 1.” Film Comment 28, no. 3 (May 1992): 54–60. ———. “The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 2.” Film Comment 28, no. 4 (July 1992): 66–71. Sinyard, Neil. The Films of Steven Spielberg. London: Hamlyn/Bison, 1987. Sragow, Michael. “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg.” In Steven Spielberg Interviews, edited by Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, 107–19. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. Sunshine, Linda, ed. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: From Concept to Classic: The Illustrated Story of the Film and the Filmmakers. New York: New Market Press, 2002. Taylor, Philip M. Steven Spielberg: The Man, His Movies, and Their Meaning. New York: Continuum, 1992. Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Wordsworth, William. Wordsworth’s Poetry and Prose. Edited by Nicholas Halmi. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. Wullschläger, Jackie. Inventing Wonderland. New York and London: Free Press, 1995. Yule, Andrew. Steven Spielberg: Father of the Man. London: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

ONE Spielberg and the Kidult Noel Brown

The word “kidult” has become a common descriptor of a dominantly recurring archetype in modern Western civilization: that of the conceptual child-adult amalgam; the adult with “childish” tastes and preoccupations. To its detractors, and there are many, the kidult embodies a distasteful and lamentable erosion of previously intractable socio-behavioral barriers between childhood and adulthood. The story of kidult entertainment is one of simultaneous resistance to, and mass acceptance of, “regressive” youth culture, and Spielberg—having spent large parts of his career producing movies for the “family” audience—has long been seen as its poster boy. At the more extreme end of the scale, his films are seen to represent a vacuous juvenility, pandering to lowest-common-denominator desires, and working to reshape popular culture in his own (objectionable) image. Cultural critic Benjamin Barber ranks Spielberg alongside “Michael Jackson, Shrek, Super Mario Bros., Steven Spielberg, Britney Spears, Grand Theft Auto, Kobe Bryant, American Idol, and Disney World”—all egregious representatives, he argues, of “kiddie consumerism,” whose aim it is not only “to capture children’s imagination in order to indenture them to the marketplace,” but also to “infantilize adults.” 1 Such hard-line sentiments are not atypical; but even critics more sympathetic to Spielberg’s films have routinely noted their particular appeal to the “inner child.” Children may be found almost everywhere in Spielberg’s body of films, but so too are symbolic children. Such “kidults” are both manifested on screen and implicitly constructed in the audience through textual strategies designed to recuperate vague but enduringly powerful conceptions of the child within the adult. Building on prior research on 19


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the purportedly “childish” aspects of Spielberg’s films, this chapter explores the complex relationship between Spielberg and the kidult archetype. With reference to a range of sources—including general interest magazines and newspapers, trade papers, and scholarly criticism—it reveals how these discourses have positioned Spielberg not merely as a quintessential purveyor of kidult films, but as one of the supreme architects of kidult culture in its wider iterations, and even as the ultimate kidult himself. Unlike much of the previous scholarly engagement with Spielberg, this chapter is not so concerned with film content as with the popular discourses that have constructed and upheld this spurious historical narrative. While a high proportion of Spielberg’s films have been manufactured for adult audiences, and his close association with juvenilia has forcefully been challenged by numerous scholars, this relationship with the literal and symbolic child has been, and remains, a prevailing standpoint in responses to his cinematic oeuvre. PRELIMINARY DEFINITIONS The key difficulty in discussing “the kidult” within a scholarly framework is that the word has become politically loaded. Rather, it has been co-opted by cultural conservatives and by lazy headline writers to refer to the pernicious and ludicrous spectacle of the “adult who wants to be a child.” This reified figure is symptomatic, it is usually alleged, of a wider social rejection of responsibility and emotional and intellectual maturity. The stigmatization of the term (and of other awkward neologisms, such as “rejuvenile” and “adultescent”), as part of a broad polemical agenda, has contributed to the banalization of what remain complex and serious issues in contemporary Western society. Although usage of the word “kidult” in this chapter follows popular appropriation of the term, my own references to it are firmly placed within its original, politically neutral sense. That said, I should make clear at the outset that this is primarily a chapter about processes of labeling, rather than the complex and often contradictory social and cultural forces that underpin them. However, some preliminary definitions of the kidult—and the establishing of key terms of reference—would seem to be in order before I proceed further. It will be seen that certain aspects of the “kidult”—particularly the notion of an amalgamated child-adult—are familiar. The puer aeternus (“eternal boy”) is an enduring historical archetype dating back to ancient Rome. More recently, the (early twentieth century) Freudian psychoanalytical concept of “regression” describes the reversion of the conscious mind to an earlier stage of development, often as the result of trauma; this regression to symbolic childhood may be temporary or permanent. The theory of regression has a modern, vernacular offshoot—”Peter Pan Syndrome”—a term popularized by psychologist Dan Kiley in the early

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1980s. 2 Cognitive psychology, in conjunction with cognitive neuroscience, has been concerned with exploring how humans of all age groups respond to stimuli on levels both conscious and unconscious. Finally, sociologists such as Neil Postman and Benjamin Barber (amongst many others) have argued that social barriers between adults and children in Western societies are breaking down. 3 The kidult, I would suggest, is distinct by virtue of its unmistakably commercial origins and functions— and its connection with late modernity. It does more than identify a governing personality trait; it indelibly links the personality with the product. Another important point is that, unlike the puer aeternus or “Peter Pan Syndrome,” “kidult” is not age or gender-specific. A kidult is anybody that consumes “kidult culture,” for the duration of the experience of consumption. But whether one regards the “kidult” primarily in historical, psychoanalytical, sociological, or commercial terms, the phenomenon in question is real and tangible. It takes in a wide variety of media and merchandise, not limited to film and television; there is also the fiction novel, the comic book, the video game, and all manner of toys and accessories. My primary interest in this chapter, of course, is the position of the kidult in relation to popular cinema. Even within this comparatively narrow sphere, the plurality of the term must be acknowledged: it may be used to refer (almost in generic terms) to the cinematic mode itself, or to the mass audiences it mobilizes, or to figures on the screen (e.g., Richard Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977]) or behind the cameras (i.e., Spielberg himself). Semantic imprecision is one of the hallmarks of the term, and this chapter, in pursuing popular constructions of it, will add few additional specifications of its own. Nonetheless, lines of demarcation must be drawn between “kidult entertain-

Figure 1.1. Richard Dreyfuss as the early Spielberg “kidult” Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


Spielberg and the Kidult

ment” and the overlapping but partially discrete category of “family entertainment.” Kidult entertainment, I would suggest, constructs pluralistic mass audiences comprised of children and adults of all ages as a single entity—a child-adult amalgam—motivated by universal entertainment requirements. Whereas family entertainment implies a mass audience comprising adults and children as separate entities, kidult entertainment implies no such audience differentiation. Kidult entertainment has, perhaps, partially displaced family entertainment, which presupposes a mass audience comprised of “families” (prototypically parents and children), and operates on multiple levels of appeal to offer something unique to each family member. As I have argued elsewhere, a high proportion of contemporary child-orientated Hollywood films—marketed and widely received as family movies—are kidult-inflected. 4 The “family” label has been used by Hollywood to sell its products since the early days of commercial cinema. 5 By its very semantic signification, the family film represents still-valorized ideas of the “traditional” unified nuclear family, which itself symbolizes broader North American values of social unity, community, and clearly defined boundaries separating childhood and adulthood. “Family film” is a term and a concept in wide popular currency, with a long historical tradition, imbued with a multitude of largely positive political and commercial meanings deriving from the parallel valorization of the family as a social institution. In contrast, “kidult” has, until recent years, been largely confined to corporate and critical usage. The following list of oppositions provides more concrete—if necessarily crude—differentiations between family and kidult entertainment: Table 1.1. “Family” Media Characteristics versus “Kidult” Media Characteristics “Family” Media Characteristics

“Kidult” Media Characteristics

Targets a “dual” audience of adults and children

Targets an undifferentiated audience across multiple demographics

Explicitly didactic

Implicitly didactic

Plot- and character-driven

Genre and plot as pretexts for spectacular technical/visual aspects

Suitable for children

Not necessarily suitable for children

Attracts wide spectrum of audiences by offering multiple avenues of access

Attracts wide spectrum of audiences through the presentation of unique or remarkable forms of spectacle

In practice, of course, such distinctions are never clear-cut. In commercial cinema, there is always an element of spectacle, just as there is always some ideological orientation. The distinction is a hypothetical one. By the mid-1970s, the traditional “dual audience” family film was all but dead. Even Disney struggled to make much money on its theatrical

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products. Public demands for an increase in “family” fare were, generally, ignored by the studios. Disney aside, only independent filmmakers operating low-investment/low-returns strategies—such as Robert B. Radnitz and Joe Camp—saw dual-appeal “family” films as profitable enterprises. A major turning point was the development of the multiplex theater in the early 1970s. The multiplex created the necessary theatrical conditions for mass-appeal blockbusters. Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) was a key film in several regards: it was promoted heavily via the “rival” media of television; it was released during the summer months, traditionally an unprofitable season for U.S. movie theaters; and it was saturation booked in multiplex cinemas across the country to maximize exposure. Its phenomenal box office performance—with rentals of over $130 million from a $9 million outlay—redefined Hollywood’s business strategies. With movie audiences having fallen precipitously since the popularization of television, Jaws opened up the possibility that, under the right conditions, a well-promoted film aimed at the “youth” audience could curb the major studios’ losses. However, it was George Lucas’s Star Wars, not the more teen-orientated Jaws, which ultimately redefined the family movie. It successfully fused undifferentiated-appeal “kidult” aesthetic elements—thus appealing to the crucial teen audience—with the broad moral suitability of the classical Hollywood family film. Moreover, it galvanized cross-demographic mass audiences, offering the uncomplicated escapism, the facile optimism, the thrills, the feel-good endings and, importantly, the dazzling spectacle seen as constitutive of the kidult film. Evidence that Star Wars was not merely a random “runaway” hit was provided by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg and Lucas’s Indiana Jones series (1981–2008), and Warner’s Superman (1978–1987) franchise. All of them yielded enormous returns by tapping the emerging theatrical kidult audience. North American movie going audiences were growing progressively younger, and this provided further stimulus for a broader reorientation toward youth-appeal movies. 6 There was also growing realization that adults were no longer a closed market for such entertainment. Allegedly, the primary audience for E.T. in U.S. theaters was not children, but childless couples in their twenties and thirties. 7 During the 1990s, Hollywood’s embrace of the Spielberg-Lucas template was confirmed when several of the major studios—first Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox, then Universal, Sony, and Paramount—created specialized “Family Film” divisions. 8 HISTORICAL USAGE Although commonly assumed to be a recent coinage, the word “kidult” actually dates back to the 1950s. A search on Google’s Ngram Viewer


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(which charts the historical usage of words and phrases in the English language) reveals that “kidult” was first used in 1954. Usage accelerated in the 1960s, and several peaks and troughs notwithstanding, it has been on a gradual (and, since the mid-1990s, sharp) upward curve ever since. The earliest reference I have found is a 1954 article in the North American trade paper Variety, which announces a coming “kidult kick”: “the berthing of talent and shows in slots that are conventionally for kids on the time element but, in addition, lure many an adult viewer.” 9 The term appears to have been the invention of TV marketers, with early instances generally alluding to a concrete “kidult slot”; a later Variety article points to CBS’s broadcasting of Lassie (1954–1974) and Dennis the Menace (1959–1963) during a late-afternoon/early-evening period as constituting “a strong 90-minute kidult family bloc.” 10 This corresponds with the 1954 article’s reference to Columbia’s decision to schedule I Love Lucy (1951–1957) in a 4:30 p.m. timeslot, which was thought to be “everybody’s time.” 11 Although the vast majority of references during this period are within the context of American network television, “kidult” soon crossed over into Hollywood cinema, though initially usage was primarily confined to exploitation filmmaking. Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion fantasy production, 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Nathan Juran, 1958), was marketed as a “kidult” film, and Harryhausen later claimed to have coined the word himself. 12 Early adopters of the term tended to use it in a purely descriptive, politically neutral (though commercial) sense: a type of entertainment capable of crossing demographic boundaries—an advertisement in Variety from 1980 defined it as the formidably overarching 2–49 age market— and/or any consumer of such an entertainment product. 13 As late as the 1980s, usage was generally confined to industrial circles, where, unsurprisingly, it is broadly aspirational, rather than dismissively epithetical. Hugh Beard, producer of the Canadian series The Beachcombers (1972–1990), spoke publicly of his desire that his new series, Ritter’s Cove (1980–1981), would be “kidult”—“the TV industry word for early-evening shows designed to appeal powerfully to youngsters and yet not be so juvenile as to turn away adults.” 14 The existence of a kidult market was also recognized in other consumer industries. In 1988, John Cassaday, president of Campbell Soup, Ltd., told a marketing seminar in Toronto that kidults—“a new name for children and adults”—would be a vital consumer group of the future, with a rise in male domestic responsibilities meaning that new products “will be pitched to dual audiences and not just to women.” 15 Subsequent industry acknowledgment of the kidult market has centered on products ranging from video game consoles 16 to clothing, 17 and even to food, with chicken nuggets identified as the ultimate kidult repast. 18 The term has long since transcended these purely commercial discourses. Crucially, in terms of the present discussion, “kidult” now repre-

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sents (outside industry usage, at least) more than merely a taste for putatively children’s entertainment media. It has become a byword for puerility and self-absorption, and, in extremis, a negation of seriousness and responsibility by those for whom a taste for “childish things” is analogous to social regression, and, indeed, representative of much wider social malfunction. However, the popularization of the term, in whatever context, has been a relatively protracted affair. By the late 1970s, it had reached Australia: Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White, in a typically vague appropriation of the term, accused his fellow countrymen of “turning into ‘kidults’—adult-children easily deceived by politicians.” 19 Ingenuousness, if not outright stupidity, is the clear implication. “Kidult” began to appear in British newspapers at roughly the same point: the first reference in British broadsheet The Guardian dates to September 1980, and in The Times, Britain’s traditional “newspaper of record,” in December 1981. 20 A series of (mostly American) publications in the 1970s and early 1980s brought the disreputable figure of the kidult to wider attention. The first of these was David Jonas and Doris Klein’s Man-Child: A Study of the Infantilization of Man (1970), which perceived “an exponential increase in the momentum of the process of infantilization in recent times.” 21 Subsequent publications included Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood and Dan Kiley’s best-selling The Peter Pan Syndrome. Though the figure of the “kidult” is not gender-specific, it will be observed that all of these texts (unlike Freud’s theory of regression) presuppose a peculiarly masculine phenomenon, as do Gary Cross’s Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity and Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. 22 Other more recent publications, such as Ashley Montagu’s Growing Young, Christopher Noxon’s Rejuvenile: Cupcakes, Cartoons, Kickball, and the Reinvention of the American Grownup and Benjamin Barber’s Consumed, do not draw firm gender distinctions, which might reflect growing awareness that “kidulthood” is not exclusively a male affliction. 23 While Montagu and Noxon see the condition as potentially liberating, Postman and Barber perceive in the kidult an objectionable manifestation of society’s regression to atavistic human desires, anathema to civilization’s claim to thought, reason, rationalism, and order. In a much-cited article, New York Times film critic Vincent Canby explicitly referenced Postman’s thesis in his horrified review of the Hollywood action blockbuster Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988): “‘Die Hard’ is not a film for children, nor is it a film for adults. Instead it’s a movie for that new, true-blue American of the electronic age, the kidult, who may be eight, eighteen, thirty-eight or eighty.” 24 Coverage of the kidult in the popular press has further intensified since the turn of the millennium. Its tone has run the gamut from frivolous headline-grabbing to relatively


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highbrow socio-political commentary. British journalist Mark Lawson, whose work owes more to the latter, wrote in the Guardian in June 2000: The infantilism of the kidult generation is not just a denial of ageing. As entertainment for adults tends to become bleaker and more distressing—which reflects the lives of many people—there is also a comfort blanker hunger for lost innocence. Only this could explain the adult audience for Harry Potter (which, unlike The Simpsons and Wallace and Gromit, isn’t written on two levels). 25

Two weeks later, an aggrieved reader responded to Lawson’s remarks in the newspaper’s letters page: All my adult life (I am fifty-eight) I have enjoyed reading the children’s books I missed as a child, because they weren’t written—C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, for example. And now I am enjoying Harry Potter. It doesn’t make me a “kidult.” 26

As these extracts indicate, much of the surge of interest in Britain was stimulated by the extraordinary popularity of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, to which the term “crossover fiction”—a more neutral synonym for “kidult”—has been applied in the children’s literary studies firmament. As Ben Summerskill noted in the Observer: A generation ago, middle-aged men who read children’s books would have been regarded as mildly dodgy if they were not reading them to share the experience with a son or daughter. Now millions of young men, with no children at all, are buying Harry Potter. Less social anxiety about other people’s preconceptions has meant more relaxed consumers buying what they fancy, not what they ought to. 27

Lawson’s vaguely disapproving tone develops into outright antipathy in other contemporaneous articles in the British broadsheet press. Pointing to a bizarre, apparently newfound, trend of grown women wearing “knickers and nighties” designed for children, the Independent’s David Aaronovitch averred that “this kidulthood is a way of avoiding reality rather than of understanding it. Kidulthood wishes to escape the world rather than to engage with it.” 28 Shortly afterward in the same paper, Stephen Pollard expressed distaste for adults’ interest in Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings (both recently adapted for the cinema): The awful truth is that we have become a nation of kidults: adults who think, and behave, like children. We spit in the street. We cry when our team loses. We stuff our mouths with burgers. I’m waiting for the first politician to cry after being sacked from the Cabinet. 29

Future government Education Secretary Michael Gove—who instituted a radical reorganization of Britain’s state-governed education system after the Conservative Party returned to power in 2010—also weighed into the debate with an editorial in the Times that resonates with Postman’s thesis:

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The boundary between child and adult, innocence and experience, youth and maturity is becoming blurred in our society. At one level, the acceptance of adult behaviour, codes and responsibilities is increasingly deferred. Marriage is postponed, families put off, the period of commitment-free hedonism once associated with teenage or student years is extended well into the thirties. Products once aimed exclusively at the young now develop new brands to cater for this “kidult” market [. . .] But even as maturity is postponed, so youth itself is rendered less special, protected, distinct. 30

Shortly afterward, the British think tank Demos published a report, “Other People’s Children” (2003), which similarly warned that “as a result of the line between adulthood and childhood becoming blurred,” “many children feel confined and pressured as ever before.” 31 Philip Hensher made a similar point in the Independent, musing that “when adult culture takes on the behaviour and appearance of childhood, it is fair to ask what is happening to childhood.” 32 While conceding that “many of the adults who read Harry Potter, or went childless to see Shrek [2001] or Monsters, Inc. [2001], will also enjoy Philip Roth and Pulp Fiction,” Hensher cannot resist alluding to: more extreme and bizarre manifestations of this; I understand that rather sinister “playgroups” exist where grown men can put on nappies and be pampered like babies for a few hours, pooing their pants to their hearts’ content. 33

The difference from prior iterations, Hensher suggests, is that “the ‘kidult,’ the middle-aged man with his PlayStation, or the perfectly respectable solicitor who puts on a gymslip in the hope of pulling at School Disco [. . .] has gone into the mainstream ineradicably.” 34 Behavioral traits once restricted to the cultural margins, these writers concur, have moved to the forefront. The Washington Post seemingly spoke for the majority with its succinct evaluation of the kidult as “that most unlovable of modern phenomena.” 35 Not all coverage of the kidult, it should be acknowledged, has been as alarmist. British journalist Steven Poole, writing in the Mail on Sunday in November 2000, rhetorically enquired of “kidults” (i.e., “unmarried people in their twenties or thirties who have large amounts of disposable income and take their leisure time seriously”) and particularly of videogame users, “Aren’t they just regressing to childhood with a mindless, bleeping pursuit that rots their brains and stops them interacting with other human beings?” Poole responded: People said exactly the same about cinema seventy years ago. They said films were watched by a mass of dissolute, illiterate wretches who would never learn to read and would live forever in the immoral fantasy land of the silver screen. Yet these days we accept cinema as the great new art form of the twentieth century. And as the young upstart


Spielberg and the Kidult form of video games also evolves into a fully fledged art in its own right, we will gradually come to accept games as a truly creative medium. 36

An article in the Weekend Australian, also dating from 2000, cited more hopeful interpretations. 37 British journalist Julie Burchill was firmly on the side of the prosecution, opining: “Up until [World War II], all that kids had wanted was to be grown-up [. . .] the Bomb and the concentration camps put a stop to that.” 38 Contrarily, Sydney-based pop psychologist Toby Green, author of the suggestively titled The Men’s Room: A Thinking Man’s Guide for Surviving Women of the Next Millennium (1999), contended that: The kidult move is one of enlightenment and wisdom. That’s one way of looking at it. I think we’ve come through a millennium where we’ve done significance to death, we’ve done status symbols to death. And we’ve realised there’s no inherent value in what we’ve chased. It’s time to lighten up [. . .] I don’t think it’s about childishness, it’s about being more child-like. Being natural is easier. 39

Bob Montgomery, another psychologist, took a longer view of the kidult phenomenon: I think the term “kidult” is a beat-up. Humans have always chosen to play and the ability of the wealthy to spend money on frivolity has been around since the building of the pyramids [. . .] All that has changed is technology and the proportion of humans who can afford it. 40

Such sentiments, however, are much in the minority, as the following section will illustrate. SPIELBERG AND KIDULT DISCOURSE This section examines the construction of Spielberg and his films as “kidult” (subsuming within its discussion such related terms as “childish” and “regressive”). It is an exploration of the powers of discourse. This power is exponentially greater when, as here, the narrative being advanced has potent rhetorical—as well as political/intellectual—appeal. Constructions (and deconstructions) of Spielberg as a kidult can be grouped into five recurrent standpoints. The first position asserts for Spielberg pure childishness and juvenility. The second is slightly more complex, arguing for Spielberg’s regression (the filmmaker is often conflated with his art) as a symptom of wider social malaise, particularly associated with advancements in Western consumer capitalism. The third may concede that Spielberg produced kidult films in the early part of his career, but argues that subsequently he graduated into more thinking, mature films; this point of reversal is variously felt to have occurred in

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the mid-1980s or the early 1990s. The fourth asserts that Spielberg was never that “regressive” or optimistic to begin with. Finally, the fifth remains unconvinced of Spielberg’s maturation, perceiving instances of simplicity, sentimentality, and juvenility within his later, apparently adult-orientated, films. I will take each of these in turn, adding scholarly voices to the journalistic discourses previously drawn upon. Typical of the first position is film critic Peter Biskind’s withering summation: Lucas and Spielberg returned the 1970s audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-1960s Golden Age of movies [. . .] They marched backwards through the looking glass, producing pictures that were the mirror opposite of the New Hollywood films of their peers. They were [. . .] infantilizing the audience, reconstituting the spectator as child, then overwhelming him and her with sound and spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic self-consciousness and critical reflection. 41

According to Biskind, Spielberg and Lucas “wanted to indulge their Peter Pan complexes, return the boomers to the sandbox.” 42 The accusation that Spielberg and Lucas ruined, rather than (as their admirers have claimed) rescued, Hollywood continues to predominate. Christopher Bray, writing in British broadsheet the Daily Telegraph in 2007, avers that: Each man kills the thing he loves—and the history books will likely show that nobody did more to kill the cinema than Steven Spielberg [whose] influence on other filmmakers has been wholly malign. For every Close Encounters of the Third Kind—a picture that explodes in Kantian awe at the wonders of existence—there have been a dozen Independence Days—pictures that explode at anything non-American, and then explode some more [. . .] Did the village really have to be destroyed in order to save it? 43

According to Robert Kolker, Spielberg is: the grand modern master of simple desires fulfilled, of reality diverted into the imaginary spaces of aspirations realised, where fears of abandonment and impotence are turned into fantasy spectacles of security and joyful action, where even the ultimate threat of annihilation is diverted by a saving male action. 44

In his review of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2002), David Thomson goes further: Whether he likes it or not, Spielberg is one of those figures who has helped build the sensibility of childhood into a kind of suffocating tyranny in American life. So, for myself, I would just say: “E.T., stay home.” 45

Early in Spielberg’s career, he was often compared with Walt Disney. Numerous authors identified a natural affinity between Spielberg’s out-


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put and that of classical-era Disney. The Guardian’s Derek Malcolm called E.T. “the perfect Disney film—a simple, direct story culled from a childlike rather than childish imagination and played for all it is worth and possibly more.” 46 Variety’s reviewer deemed it “the best Disney film Disney never made”: “captivating, endearingly optimistic and magical at times.” 47 Andrew Gordon, speaking principally of Close Encounters, drew less flattering comparisons, accusing the filmmaker of having hijacked and vulgarized religious faith: The updated gospel according to Steven Spielberg is a purified, Disneyised version of religion: it is an unchallenging faith for the simplehearted and the simple-minded. “It turns me on,” says Spielberg, “to think that when we die we don’t go to heaven but to space, to Alpha Centauri, and there we’re given a laser blaster and an air-cushion car.” This puerile version of heaven, like his film, resembles a ride at Disneyland. 48

The comparison is not especially revealing. By this point, as Peter Krämer has observed, Disney’s big-screen presence was floundering: its comparatively old-fashioned approach to family entertainment was failing to attract teenagers, and thus the company struggled to escape “the children’s ghetto.” 49 Spielberg, like Lucas, possessed the enviable capacity to draw older spectators (including teenagers and young adults) alongside child audiences. In this regard, at this point in Hollywood history, the two filmmakers were peerless. As we have seen, Lucas and Spielberg are widely grouped together by their detractors, as if comprising some kind of grotesque gestalt. Both men, according to Mark Lawson’s not unrepresentative verdict, are “regressives,” who produce “what are in effect big-budget children’s movies with enough visual panache and sub-spiritual mumbo-jumbo to appeal to adults as well.” 50 Such obvious comparisons aside, though, Spielberg appears to have received a disproportionate amount of the criticism. Not atypical is British novelist Martin Amis’s use of Spielberg as metaphor for wider trends in contemporary cinema: “I just make the kind of films that I would like to see.” This flat remark explains a great deal. Film-makers today—with their target boys and marketing gurus—tie themselves up in knots trying to divine the Lowest Common Denominator of the American public. The rule is: no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the audience. Spielberg doesn’t need to do this because in a sense he is there already, uncynically. As an artist, Spielberg is a mirror, not a lamp. 51

Readily discernible (alongside a sneering contempt for the multitudes) is a conviction that Spielberg is merely a symptom of a broader social malaise; not so much a skillful, iconoclastic creator in his own right, as an unwitting, inarticulate patsy of the new cultural orthodoxy. This positioning can broadly be placed within the second dominant critical con-

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struction of Spielberg, which is most closely associated with Robin Wood (and which, in turn, is echoed by Benjamin Barber). Wood’s argument—expounded upon in his monograph, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986)—is too complex to condense into a few sentences with much precision. Very basically, he perceives that the much broader category of the “children’s film” gave rise in the 1980s to a “curious and disturbing” offshoot: conceived and marketed largely for adults—films that construct the adult spectator as a child, or, more precisely, as a childish adult, an adult who would like to be a child. The child loses him/herself in fantasy, accepting the illusion; the childish adult both does and does not, simultaneously. 52

Spielberg, alongside Lucas, is seen as the arch proponent of this mode of cinema, which Wood labels “regressive.” Like Biskind, Wood expresses dismay that “it is difficult for films that are not like Star Wars (at least in the general sense of dispensing reassurance, but increasingly in more specific and literal ways, too) to get made, and when they do get made, the public and often the critics reject them.” 53 Crucially, however, Wood, like Amis, interprets “the Spielberg-Lucas syndrome” primarily as a reflection of broader socio-political concerns. Their popularity, he suggests, must derive from “a widespread desire for regression to infantilism, a populace that wants to be constructed as mock children,” and the reassurance they provide reflects both an “urge to evade responsibility,” partially motivated by the threat of nuclear annihilation, coupled with a revanchist reassertion of “good old values”: “racism, sexism, ‘democratic’ capitalism; the capitalist myths of freedom of choice and equality of opportunity, the individual hero whose achievements somehow ‘make everything right,’ even for the millions who never make it to individual heroism.” 54 Wood sees infantilism, then, as coterminous with a pernicious anti-intellectualism and social conservatism, particularly manifested in denials or repudiations of the symbolic Other: women, blacks, gays, foreigners, and so on. Wood’s account was published before the emergence of Spielberg’s more putatively adult-orientated works. As Peter Krämer has observed, critics have often divided Spielberg’s career into two halves: “an ‘immature’ early period” and “a mature phase” which had its origins in his adaptations of The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987), and reached its fulfillment with his Holocaust movie, Schindler’s List (1993). 55 The Color Purple, as Spielberg himself observed in 1986, constituted a reflexive but conscious movement away from family/kidult entertainment: “I have been in the candy factory for the last three years as a producer making sugar substitutes, and I’ve gagged on it myself.” 56 Aside from the Indiana Jones series and E.T., Spielberg produced several of the major Hollywood family movies of the 1980s, including the “family


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horror” films Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982) and Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984), as well as The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985), Back to the Future, An American Tail (Don Bluth, 1986), Harry and the Hendersons (John Dear, 1987), *batteries not included (Matthew Robbins, 1987), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988). “Against this backdrop,” as Krämer suggests, “it is understandable that the extraordinary commercial success of The Color Purple [. . .] had no significant impact on Spielberg’s public image,” and that “audiences and critics alike came to identify him mainly with family entertainment.” 57 Schindler’s List is a more obvious point of departure from Spielberg’s family/kidult modalities. Since the release of the film—which was widely hailed as a masterpiece, won seven Academy Awards and grossed over 300 million dollars—he has “become increasingly associated [. . .] with ‘serious’ adult-orientated films.” 58 Variety proclaimed it “the film to win over Spielberg sceptics” after “several attempts at making a fully realised, mature film,” seeing it as “a remarkable work by any standard” which “evinces an artistic rigour and unsentimental intelligence unlike anything the world’s most successful filmmaker has demonstrated before.” 59 This assessment roughly accorded with the critical consensus. The film also resonated as an important socio-cultural statement. President Clinton offered a personal endorsement, imploring “every one of you to go see it,” and the leaders of the United States, Israel, Germany, Austria, Poland, France, and other nations attended special screenings of the film. 60 Since production commenced on Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s forays into family entertainment have been less frequent, comprising Jurassic Park, which was filmed almost simultaneously and released only a few months earlier, and The Lost World (1997), its sequel; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008); The Adventures of Tintin (2011); and, arguably, War Horse (2011). Interspersed with these family-orientated movies are the avowedly adult-orientated productions Amistad (1997); Saving Private Ryan (1998), for which he won another Oscar for Best Director; A.I. Artificial Intelligence; Minority Report (2002); Munich (2005); Lincoln (2012); and Bridge of Spies (2015). Saving Private Ryan, in particular, added to suggestions that Spielberg had “grown up,” featuring what James Kendrick has described as “the goriest and most visceral depiction of war carnage ever to be included in a mainstream studio production.” 61 Kendrick is one of several scholars to argue against the purported “juvenile early period”/”mature late period” dichotomy in Spielberg’s oeuvre, identifying aspects of ambivalence, ambiguity, and “darkness,” across his entire output. Kendrick contends that: All of Spielberg’s films feature surface joys and primal emotional power, but these are only two facets of an ideologically and aesthetically complex body of work that is defined best by an uneasy balance be-

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tween light and dark, hope and despair, security and anxiety, intimacy and alienation. 62

He points to Spielberg’s attraction to “the darker elements of the human experience, which are often embodied in his films by intrusions of violence, and despair that has preceded them.” 63 To this extent, Kendrick follows Friedman, who asserts “complex and nuanced aspects of Spielberg’s art,” observing that Spielberg’s onscreen children often inhabit “stressful, chaotic, and lonely lives.” 64 Krämer, similarly, observes that Spielberg’s reputation for juvenility was largely a post-1970s phenomenon, and hard to reconcile both with the filmmaker’s early career (both in television and in films such as Duel and Jaws) and with the fact that the “Holocaust movie” that eventually became Schindler’s List was assigned to him as early as 1982, shortly after the release of E.T., when producer Sid Sheinberg told incredulous reporters that “He’s very good at work not involving little creatures, you know.” 65 As such, Kendrick, and others of similar mind, divagate from the view that whatever “darkness” Spielberg’s films contain is generally effaced by quotidian outpourings of sentiment, or by endings marked by crude or jarring emotive uplift (“feel-good endings,” as Charles Burnetts has it). 66 Neil Sinyard, in one of the first extended discussions of Spielberg’s art (published prior to the release of his most “adult”-orientated films), concedes that “There are considerable tensions in Spielberg’s films, as anyone who has jumped and shivered and sweated his way through Duel (1971), Something Evil (1972), and Jaws (1975) knows,” but maintains that “the tensions in Spielberg correspond more to the frisson of the cartoon and the funfair than the permanent pains of real life.” 67 In my history of the Hollywood family film, I argue that Spielberg’s family-orientated narratives “maintain [a] dialectic between the fantastic and the mundane, persistently alluding to such emphatically adult concerns as divorce, family breakdown, and outside intrusion, before drawing back and allowing the fantastic, the magical, to triumph.” 68 Wood makes a similar point in relation to E.T., which: quite vividly depicts the oppressiveness of life in the nuclear family: incessant bickering, mean-mindedness, one-upmanship [. . .] Yet Spielberg seems quite incapable of thinking beyond this: all he can do is reassert the “essential” goodness of family life in the face of all the evidence he himself provides. 69

Wood concludes that “the films fail to be more interesting than they are testifies to the success of the fantasy: the disturbance is covered over very effectively, almost obliterated.” 70 Kendrick, conversely, regards these uplifting elements merely as “surface pleasures” which crack open “to reveal fissures of darkness, despair, loneliness, and regret that their conclusions, no matter how upbeat on the surface, couldn’t fully resolve.” 71 He finds this particularly true of Spielberg’s most harrowing movies, Schin-


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dler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, where the “feel-good endings” are “not nearly enough to recuperate the films’ horrible images of humankind turned against itself.” 72 Kendrick insists that “I didn’t feel reassured or safe, and I certainly didn’t feel that the threat of annihilation had been diverted.” 73 The fact that such “revisionist” accounts are deemed necessary—as recently as 2014, when Kendrick’s book was published—testifies to the endurance, and, indeed, to the rhetorical attraction, of contrary views which construct and maintain Spielberg as the quintessence of kidulthood. A related, but subtly distinct, school of thought suggests that the harder Spielberg attempts to escape from his kidult inclinations, the more they reassert themselves. This position can be localized in the minor, but vociferous, critical backlash to Schindler’s List. Village Voice’s Jim Hoberman felt that the filmmaker had “Spielbergized” the Holocaust and made “a feel-good entertainment about the ultimate feel-bad experience of the twentieth century,” and Ilene Rosenzweig, writing in the Jewish newspaper The Forward, found Schindler’s List to be a “feel-good movie of Christian redemption and Jewish defeat.” 74 In this context, “feel-good film”—a term generally deployed affirmatively to denote a pleasurable, uplifting cinematic experience—acquires derisory overtones. 75 Other critics saw in Schindler’s List discomfiting echoes of Spielberg’s earlier, family-orientated films. The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier wrote that “The [film] poster of a father grasping a child’s hand is not the only aspect of Schindler’s List that recalls E.T.,” and The New York Times’s Frank Rich referred to a scene where Schindler “gives a sentimental speech to the Jewish factory workers he saved, and they look up at him awestruck, as if he were the levitating mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” 76 British writer Howard Jacobson suggested that the film would have benefited from “a little less of the loving authenticity which blights popular film-makers when they get serious-minded,” and wished that “Spielberg understood better the central paradox of the story—that opportunism can teach a man morality,” while conceding that “it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a man who is so fond of childish things to be able to put them away overnight.” 77 Although the likes of Schindler’s List and Lincoln have helped recuperate Spielberg’s reputation as a serious director—the position of “auteur” is scarcely applied to purveyors of children’s cinema—the conceit that Spielberg is straightjacketed into the role of family entertainer has endured. Writing in the Times in 1992, Richard Combs mused as to whether Spielberg, metaphorically, is “a prisoner in Neverland,” and if, “with all allowances made for different levels of talent and achievement, what has happened to Spielberg is not dissimilar to what happened to Orson Welles: the master of cinema is exiled because his mastery begins to look like waste, profligacy, indulgence.” 78 In a 1997 Independent article, Adam Mars-Jones ventured that “Spielberg is less free now than he was 20-odd

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years ago as the unproven director of Jaws.” 79 In his review of A.I., the Sunday Herald’s Charles Taylor averred that “with the exception of Schindler’s List, the first forty-five minutes of Empire of the Sun and the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, [Spielberg’s] ‘adult’ work has been stiff and unconvincing,” finding him: caught between the wish to evolve and the impulse to cancel out the warmth and desires to please that made him a wonderful film-maker in the first place. A.I. is, in a sense, also the story of a film-maker who wants to be accepted as a real live adult. 80

Finally, film scholar Murray Pomerance argues that the figure of the “man-boy”—“the man who never quite abandons his boyhood although [. . .] he may have sufficient trouble understanding it,” and who embodies “the wonder, helplessness, insight, vulnerability, playfulness and guile of an ‘unguided’ child”—recurs throughout Spielberg’s body of films. 81 Matt Hooper, Indiana Jones, Keys, Peter Banning, Dr. Ian Malcolm, and Private Ryan, Pomerance argues, all qualify as such. Even Oskar Schindler, by Pomerance’s reckoning, is a man-boy (i.e., a kidult, by any other name), because: the heroic business upon which he has set himself in saving Jews from extermination is, for him, not business at all but adventure. He is swept up by it, passionate and daredevil in a way that seems wholly irresponsible when considered in terms of his own career and social position, not to mention the human lives that are the markers in his game. 82

Frank Abagnale, Jr., the protagonist in Catch Me If You Can (2002) portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is even felt by Pomerance to represent “a new plateau altogether in Spielberg’s explorations of the man-boy,” progressing “from a boy who is lost, to a boy-man who develops his talent in fraud and performance, to—finally and climactically—a man-boy. The man-boy, in other words, is the supreme achievement of the hero’s life in this film.” 83 For these critics, it seems, Spielberg’s career can be summed up by the old aphorism, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” CONCLUSION It is clear that Spielberg’s primary and abiding influence on his fellow filmmakers, and on contemporary Hollywood more generally, is in the family entertainment arena. Spielberg re-popularized the moribund family movie and repurposed it for the post-1970s era, laying the ground for multimedia family entertainment’s preeminence in contemporary Western popular culture. Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, as with Spielberg’s subsequent “adult”-orientated films, may serve to round out his oeuvre; they may be “important” films in their own right, and collective-


Spielberg and the Kidult

ly they may force us to challenge our preconceptions and to reappraise Spielberg’s canon. But when critics and industry figures discuss Spielberg’s cultural and industrial impact, almost inevitably they center on his family-orientated films. It was Spielberg and Lucas, not Disney, who provided the template for the new “kidult” film. Disney’s Joe Roth explicitly acknowledged this fact in a 1996 interview, in which he observed that Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first of the Indiana Jones films, marked “the beginning and the end of family films in America.” 84 Krämer writes that: Spielberg’s influence can be felt everywhere in contemporary Hollywood: in serious explorations of religion, history and science such as Contact (1997); in Titanic (1997) and other modern epics; in Disney and Pixar’s computer-animated superhits; in blockbuster adaptations of children’s literature; and, more generally, in the abundance of thrilling summer movies. 85

All of these avenues, with the possible exception of the “explorations of religion, history and science,” are firmly within the kidult firmament. (And there are sufficient instances of pseudo-religious mysticism and invocations of science and history in Spielberg’s family-orientated films.) More damagingly, when Christopher Bray alleges that Spielberg’s “influence on other filmmakers has been wholly malign,” he refers not to the attempted racial and ethnic sensitivities of The Color Purple or Schindler’s List, but rather the childish vacuity felt to be characteristic of Spielberg’s worst populist indulgences. Few have accused Spielberg of excessive ponderousness, abstruseness, pretention, or maturity. Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, and J. J. Abrams have all, at various points, been compared and contrasted with Spielberg. All are phenomenally successful Hollywood directors who have worked extensively, but not exclusively, within the sphere of family entertainment. Critically, each of these filmmakers possesses an ability to move beyond this milieu and, in so doing, attain degrees of critical respect amongst the cognoscenti. Spielberg may have been the first major Hollywood filmmaker successfully to transgress the previously hermetic spheres of child-orientated and adult-mainstream cinema. Disney’s initial attempt to do so with The Black Hole (Gary Nelson, 1979) was notoriously abortive. But while Spielberg’s alternation between “family” and “adult” movies has proven successful in commercial terms, in critical circles he remains a more controversial figure than Burton, Jackson, and Abrams. The reason, I suspect, is that Spielberg is charged actively with constructing and maintaining an “ethos of infantilism” (in Barber’s terms) which these later filmmakers merely exploit. The fact that J. J. Abrams produced the sci-fi family-adventure movie Super 8 (2011) as an “homage” to Spielberg (who served as the film’s producer) might indicate what the “typical” Spielberg production is still thought to be. Certainly, it is hard to imagine that anyone would make a

Noel Brown

Figure 1.2.


The prototypical Spielberg film? J. J. Abrams’s Super 8.

holocaust film, or a war film, in homage to Spielberg. These forms comfortably predate Spielberg, and his excursions into such territory represent engagement with already-established codes and conventions rather than revolutionary intervention. The “kidult” film may have had its origins in cultural practices that began long before Spielberg’s emergence, but these aspects coalesced into a recognizable filmic mode under Spielberg and Lucas. Cognitive film theorist Patrick Colm Hogan notes that “humans think and respond to categories [. . .] by way of prototypes.” 86 The “prototype of a bird is more or less a robin,” Hogan continues, and “in judging whether something is or not a bird—or whether it is a ‘normal’ or a ‘strange’ bird—we commonly compare it to that prototype.” 87 The prototypical Spielberg film, judging from the popular discourses cited in this chapter, might be somewhere between Jaws, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, E.T., and Hook: a distillation of the thrill, kineticism, and suspense of Jaws and Indiana Jones, the wide-eyed mysticism and humanism of Close Encounters and E.T., and the aging, Peter Pantheistic navelgazing of Hook, bound together by a persistent fascination with the symbolic and imaginative potentialities of the child figure. This sounds strikingly close to what Abrams concocted in Super 8. Even among his admirers, the fiction that Spielberg’s films boil down to these core essentials may, ultimately, be more attractive than the more nuanced view advanced by Krämer, Friedman, and Kendrick. Perhaps it is time to try to make sense of the often-conflicting popular discourses at the heart of this chapter. The claim that Spielberg represents a base and intellectually vacuous juvenility can, I think, instantly be dismissed as rhetorical flourish at best, and at worst downright ignorance. The more moderate argument—that at least some of Spielberg’s films are “kidult”—is less straightforward. It should be emphasized that the question as to whether Spielberg himself is a kidult ought to be irrelevant.


Spielberg and the Kidult

Spielberg may indeed have played on his Game Boy in between takes on the set of Hook; he may have “an insatiable appetite for video games”; and he may have been one of the first purchasers of a PlayStation 2 console. 88 To pursue these suggestive trivialities to their fullest, though, would be to conflate the individual and the text. Kendrick’s well-documented study provides ample evidence of the presence of “darkness” in Spielberg’s films. By the same token, advocates of the opposing viewpoint would discover—at least in relation to his family-orientated films— contrary instances of so-called “regressive” tendencies, such as cuteness, sentiment, revanchism, and crude emotiveness. How these two tendencies balance against each other is perhaps reducible to whether these “optimistic” or “regressive” aspects sufficiently “recuperate” (to borrow Kendrick’s phrase) the films from their discomforting themes and situations. My own feeling is that, in productions such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Hook, Jurassic Park, and The Adventures of Tintin, the “feel-good” emphases are sufficiently powerful to mediate against whatever “dark” undertones they possess, though not to negate them altogether; otherwise, we would scarcely remember them after the end credits. However, I would not make a similar claim for Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. One is forced to wonder at the extent to which the hostile responses to these films are informed by received claims to Spielberg’s innate immaturity, as opposed to concrete—or even nebulous— markers of “childishness” (for which read “simplification” and “sentiment”). Kendrick, Friedman, and others are surely right to debunk oversimplified assertions of Spielberg’s putative juvenility, and to point, as numerous other critics have done, to the various disturbing undercurrents and ambiguities in his films. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to ignore that “regression” to symbolic childhood in several of Spielberg’s films occurs as a result of the manifold threats, disturbances, and intricacies of the adult social world. Wood makes an important distinction between the child-like (“the Romantic concept of the child [Blake, Wordsworth] as a symbol of growth and regeneration”) and the childish (“the use of the infantile as escape from an adult world perceived as irredeemably corrupt, or at least bewilderingly problematic”). 89 Unless I completely misinterpret his argument, Wood is not suggesting that Spielberg’s films are purely for children, or even that they bespeak a simplistic, child’s-eye view of the world. Rather, they are seen to acknowledge the presence of destructive internal and external realities, and reflexively they withdraw (e.g., Close Encounters) or escape (e.g., E.T.) from them, or discover ways of psychologically managing them (e.g., Hook), or sanitize them (e.g., The Color Purple, Schindler’s List), or annihilate them (e.g., Duel, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan). This, surely, is the essence of regression as Freud and Jung understood it: a response to trauma, a reaction to external stimuli. Such “regression,” by its very definition, is not remotely the

Noel Brown


same thing as never having left the world of childhood in the first place. The latter concept of unalloyed, eternal “childishness” underpins a denial or negation of adult social norms as a result of indolence, imbecility, or shameless self-indulgence; the former is a defensive reaction to the stresses and strains—the “dark” aspects—of life, of the kind that Spielberg returns to time and again. Furthermore, the fact that its uses are often escapist and pleasurable should not be taken to mean that kidult entertainment is junk. Barber’s thesis is least convincing in its seemingly all-encompassing condemnation of any text thought to be indicative of, or pandering to, the “ethos of infantilization.” Surely, there is wide differentiation (not least in quality) among “kidult” texts, just as in any of the “highbrow” cultural forms Barber lauds as the hallmarks of civilization—classical art, classical music, epic poetry, opera, ballet, and so on. A kidult text is not necessarily closed to multiple levels of interpretation; it may, indeed, transgress the boundaries of Umberto Eco’s demarcation between “open” and “closed” texts. 90 Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011) can be interpreted as a kidult film, enjoyed purely as spectacle and straightforward adventure, if one closes one’s eyes and mind to its deeper meanings. The wittiness of the script, as manifested in manifold instances of wordplay and intertextuality, does, however, enable a different set of responses, so that a “dual” (or “family”) address is presented alongside the more obvious kidult elements. Michael Bay’s Transformers series (2007–) does not offer multiple avenues of access in the same regard. It is almost purely kidult in its emphasis—but even this is not necessarily to say that it is deserving of outright scorn, either. Texts may be consumed for a multitude of reasons and motivations: it does not hold that such consumption is indicative merely of “mindlessness.” For those sceptical that “kidulthood” is anything more than a blank and intellectually hollow dismissal of all that is new and modern, there is a glib and convenient ready-made criticism, namely of semantic imprecision and, probably, given the term’s pejorative associations, of extremism. Kidult culture is not something that can easily be measured—at least on the scale demanded by its broadness and magnitude—precisely because of its magnitude. For cultural conservatives such as Barber who perceive lamentably “childish” qualities in contemporary popular culture, the problem is self-evident; doubters are simply exhorted to open their eyes, or else to turn on the television. Unfortunately, individuals tuning in expecting to find evidence of an all-pervasive “immaturity,” or “one-dimensionality” may just as easily discover Inspector Morse, or The Wire (or anything else on television with artistic or intellectual value) as America’s Got Talent. They might find themselves even more confounded by a Spielberg film (e.g., Schindler’s List) which defies the reductio-nearabsurdist claim to the filmmaker’s immutable childishness. In many films and television shows which appear to operate through a “kidult” aesthet-


Spielberg and the Kidult

ic, multiple forms of address are in operation, ranging from the regressive to the complexly allusive (e.g., Tim Burton’s or Pixar’s films; the BBC’s Doctor Who [1963–]). Even when their subject matter is not overtly “dark,” such texts often demand a higher degree of cognitive processing in the spectator than purely “childish” texts (if such a thing exists) would allow. Yet much of what passes for reasoned comment and debate on the phenomenon of “kidult” culture is purely impressionistic. While the surface pleasures of such texts continue to invite accusations of mindlessness, closer inspection of their modes of appeal will reveal barely hidden complexities and ambiguities that make such a contention impossible to sustain—at least in its strongest and most derisory form. Finally, it is essential to recognize, I think, that “kidulthood” is not necessarily a permanent or a fixed state. It may, rather, operate as a fluid or open-ended condition that social actors enter and exit consensually, and according to manifold situational variables. Throughout his career, Spielberg has colluded with his critics by constructing and maintaining a public kidult identity for himself. In a 1978 interview, he admitted to lacking the necessary life experience to make a “great” film; 91 in 1994, shortly before collecting the Best Director Academy Award for Schindler’s List, he insisted, a touch rebelliously, “I am never going to deny the child that makes me laugh at somebody’s movies, that makes me laugh at Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire [. . .] That is the child in me speaking, not the measured mind of a grown-up [. . .] I am never going to consciously cast that child out.” 92 Kidulthood, as Spielberg apparently intuits, is always and immutably characterized by its dialectical relationship with the adult social sphere. Although the distinctions between the two realms have blurred (the so-called play ethic), adulthood and kidulthood—even in contemporary, late industrial advanced consumerist societies—are far from synonymous or interchangeable. Rather, kidulthood has emerged as a (semi-)legitimate behavioral or dispositional state. It reflects changes in social norms regarding the relationship between childhood and adulthood. Few live their lives in a permanent state of kidulthood. Those that do—such as the Japanese hikikomori, who withdraw from adult social life altogether, and often spend their entire lives online via virtual avatars—are heavily stigmatized, derided, and pitied. Rather like the reconstituted Peter Banning (and, notably, unlike the permanently regressed hikikomori and their Western equivalents), Spielberg seemingly regards his “inner child” as something to which he can access or return to at will, remaining equally comfortable in the adult social world. This, in the final analysis, may prove the most fruitful way of judging his films’ relationship with the curious figure of the kidult.

Noel Brown


NOTES 1. Benjamin R. Barber, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007): 20. 2. Dan Kiley, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up (London: Corgi, 1983). 3. Barber, Consumed; Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (New York: Vintage, 1982). 4. Noel Brown, The Hollywood Family Film: A History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012). 5. Noel Brown, “‘A New Movie-Going Public’: 1930s Hollywood and the Emergence of the ‘Family’ Film,” The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol. 33, no. 1 (2013): 1–23. 6. Gary R. Edgerton, American Film Exhibition and an Analysis of the Motion Picture Industry’s Market Structure 1963–1980 (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1983): 175; David A. Cook, Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–79 (Berkeley, London and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000): 23. 7. Nigel Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2007), 85. 8. Noel Brown, “‘Family’ Entertainment and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema,” Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, no. 25 (2013): 7. 9. Anon., “Laughing It Up for Laddies: TV Comics Veer to Moppet Tie,” Variety, 24 November 1954, 23. 10. Anon., Variety, 3 January 1962, 21. 11. “Laughing It Up for Laddies.” 12. Anon., “Col. Slates ‘Kidult’ Preem for ‘Sinbad,’” Variety, 30 October 1958, 13; Stuart Husband, “It Came from Los Angeles,” The Guardian, 18 December 1995, B5. 13. “We Don’t Play Games!” [advertisement], Variety, 30 January 1980, 70. 14. Blaik Gibson, untitled article, The Globe and Mail, 21 June 1980. 15. Marina Strauss, “‘Kidults’ Tapped as Hot New Market,” The Globe and Mail, 16 November 1988, unpaginated. 16. Alice Fowler, “The Waiting Game: Entertainment Revolution PlayStation 2,” The Mail on Sunday, 19 November 2000, 43. 17. Simon Mills, “Are You Kidding,” The Sunday Times, 7 July 1996, unpaginated. 18. Damian Whitworth, “Behind Closed Doors,” The Times, 27 November 2013, 4–5. 19. Lester L. Croggon, “Wake up Australia, Warn Two Angry Old Men,” The Herald, 21 July 1978, unpaginated. 20. Andrew Veitch, “Not in Front of the Children,” The Guardian, 26 September 1980; Elkan Allan, “They Kid You Not,” The Times, 5 December 1981, 12. 21. David Jonas and Doris Klein, Man-Child: A Study of the Infantilization of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970): 343. 22. Gary Cross, Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Kay Hymowitz, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys (New York: Basic Books, 2011). 23. Ashley Montagu, Growing Young (Santa Barbara: ABC–Clio, 1988); Christopher Noxon, Rejuvenile: Cupcakes, Cartoons, Kickball, and the Reinvention of the American Grownup (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006). 24. Vincent Canby, “‘Die Hard’ Calls to the Kidult,” The New York Times, 31 July 1988, 19. 25. Mark Lawson, “Peter Pan Refills the Piggy Bank,” The Guardian, 17 June 2000, 24. 26. “So Farewell Then, England” [Letters], The Guardian, 22 June 2000, 21. 27. Ben Summerskill, “Playtime as Kidults Grow up at Last,” The Observer, 23 July 2000, 20.


Spielberg and the Kidult

28. David Aaronovitch, “What’s So Smart about Being Childish?,” The Independent, 6 June 2001, 5. 29. Stephen Pollard, “Why ‘Lord of the Rings’ Is Truly Terrifying,” The Independent, 12 December 2001, 4. 30. Michael Gove, “The Minimum Our Children Deserve Is Their Youth,” The Times, 9 July 2002, 18. 31. Margarette Driscoll, “Stealthily Stealing Their Innocence,” The Sunday Times, 19 January 2003, 7. 32. Philip Hensher, “When Adults Want to Become Children Again,” The Independent, 16 July 2002, 15. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid. 35. Paul Murray, “Back from the Brink,” The Washington Post, 26 June 2005, unpaginated. 36. Steven Poole, “Action Stations: The PlayStation Generation,” The Mail on Sunday, 19 November 2000, 44. 37. Shelley Gare, “Kindergarten Cop-Outs,” The Weekend Australian, 5 February 2000, 20. 38. Ibid. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid. 41. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (London: Bloomsbury, 1999), 343–44. 42. Ibid., 363. 43. Christopher Bray, “Destroying the Movies to Save Them,” The Daily Telegraph, 13 January 2007, 28. 44. Robert Kolker, A Cinema of Loneliness, 4th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 304. 45. David Thomson, “Alien Resurrection,” The Guardian, 15 March 2002, B2. 46. Derek Malcolm, “Raiders of the Ugly Duckling,” The Guardian, 9 December 1982, 13. 47. Anon., “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” Variety, 26 May 1982, 14. 48. Andrew Gordon, “Close Encounters: The Gospel According to Steven Spielberg,” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3 (1980): 156–64. It should be noted that while Gordon’s opinion of Close Encounters has not much improved in the intervening years, he later mounted a spirited defense of Spielberg and his putative childishness in his book Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008): 4–10. 49. Peter Krämer, “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made’: Children’s Films and the Family Audience in American Cinema since the 1960s” in Steve Neale, ed., Genre and Contemporary Hollywood (London: British Film Institute, 2002): 185–200 (193). 50. Mark Lawson, “The Second Coming,” The Guardian, 24 April 1999, C7A. 51. Martin Amis, “The World According to Spielberg,” The Observer, 21 November 1982. 52. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003): 145. 53. Ibid., 146–47. 54. Ibid., 147. 55. Krämer, “‘He’s Very Good at Work Not Involving Little Creatures, You Know’: Schindler’s List, E.T., and the Shape of Steven Spielberg’s Career,” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (2009): 23–32 (24). 56. Myra Forsberg, “Spielberg at 40: The Man and the Child” in Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, eds., Steven Spielberg: Interviews (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000): 126–32 (131). 57. Krämer, “‘He’s Very Good at Work Not Involving Little Creatures, You Know’: Schindler’s List, E.T., and the Shape of Steven Spielberg’s Career,” 27. 58. Ibid., 31.

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59. Anon., “Schindler’s List,” Variety, 20 November 1993, unpaginated. 60. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 435. 61. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014): viii. 62. Ibid., 9. 63. Ibid., xvi. 64. Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008): 31–33. 65. Krämer, “‘He’s Very Good at Work Not Involving Little Creatures, You Know’: Schindler’s List, E.T., and the Shape of Steven Spielberg’s Career,” 24. 66. Charles Burnetts, “Steven Spielberg’s ‘Feel-good’ Endings and Sentimentality,” The New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (2009): 79–92. 67. Neil Sinyard, The Films of Steven Spielberg (Twickenham: Hamlyn, 1987), 7. 68. Brown, The Hollywood Family Film: A History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter, 172. 69. Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond, 157. 70. Ibid., 156. 71. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg, x. 72. Ibid., xi. 73. Ibid. 74. Peter Rainer, “Spielberg Backlash Strikes ‘Schindler,’” The Toledo Blade, 30 January 1994, E2. 75. See Noel Brown, “The Feel-Good Film: A Case Study in Contemporary Genre Classification,” The Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol. 32, no. 3 (2015): 269–86. 76. Ibid. 77. Ibid. 78. Richard Combs, “A Prisoner in Neverland,” The Times, 28 March 1992, 16. 79. Adam Mars-Jones, “Long in the Tooth,” The Independent, 17 July 1997, 4. 80. Charles Taylor, “Spielberg’s Crossed Wires,” The Sunday Herald, 8 July 2001, 2. 81. Murray Pomerance, “The Man-Boys of Steven Spielberg,” in Murray Pomerance and Frances K. Gateward, eds., Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth (Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2005): 133–54. 82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Brown, “‘Family’ Entertainment and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema,” 9. 85. Peter Krämer, “Steven Spielberg,” in Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond, eds., Contemporary American Cinema (Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, 2006): 166–69. 86. Patrick Colm Hogan, Understanding Indian Movies: Culture, Cognition, and Cinematic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008): 14–15. 87. Ibid. 88. Pomerance, “The Man-Boys of Steven Spielberg,” 134–35; Steven Poole, “Action Stations: The PlayStation Generation,” The Mail on Sunday, 19 November 2000, 44. 89. Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond, 156. 90. Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). 91. Mitch Tuchman, “Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg,” [1978] in Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, eds., Steven Spielberg: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000): 37–54 (54). 92. Nicholas Wapshott, “Return of the Prodigal,” The Times, 15 January 1994, 7.


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BIBLIOGRAPHY Barber, Benjamin R. Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. Brown, Noel. The Hollywood Family Film: A History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012. ———. “‘Family’ Entertainment and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema,” Scope: an Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, no. 25 (2013). Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008. ——— and Brent Notbohm, eds., Steven Spielberg: Interviews. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Krämer, Peter. “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made’: Children’s Films and the Family Audience in American Cinema since the 1960s,” in Steve Neale, ed., Genre and Contemporary Hollywood. London: British Film Institute, 2002, 185–200. ———. “‘He’s Very Good at Work Not Involving Little Creatures, You Know’: Schindler’s List, E.T., and the Shape of Steven Spielberg’s Career,” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (2009): 23–32. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2007. Pomerance, Murray. “The Man-Boys of Steven Spielberg,” in Murray Pomerance and Frances K. Gateward, eds., Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth. Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2005, 133–54. Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . And Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

TWO Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child Steven Spielberg’s Something Evil Adrian Schober

In Steven Spielberg’s seldom-seen made-for-TV horror film Something Evil (1972), the Worden family from New York City move into a haunted farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Increasingly unsettled by the farmhouse’s supernatural phenomena, the distraught mother comes to believe that something evil is seeking to take possession of her adolescent son. Spielberg made this right after his breakthrough television film Duel (1971, Universal/ABC), in which he emerged as a precocious talent with multiple offers from different studios to direct his first theatrical feature. But, while his exclusive contract with Universal prevented him from taking up such offers, the studio agreed to loan him out to direct Something Evil for CBS which, Spielberg told an interviewer in 1978, “was something I wanted to do.” 1 As written by Robert Clouse (who would go on to direct the 1973 martial arts film Enter the Dragon), it’s easy to dismiss the film as a cunning move to preempt William Friedkin’s highly anticipated film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel The Exorcist, in preproduction at the time. Released in 1973, Friedkin’s visceral film would turn the lost/possessed child into a major box office attraction. At the same time, Something Evil was capitalizing on a renewed belief in magic and the occult from the general American public, which found expression in the Western Esoteric and New Age movements of the late 45


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1960s and early 1970s as well as popular occult-themed movies such as Roman Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). When it originally aired January 21, 1972 in the CBS Friday Night Movie slot, Sue Cameron of The Hollywood Reporter called Something Evil “a whale of a good movie—by television or theatrical feature standards,” 2 praising the writing, acting, and direction. Similarly, Cecil Smith of The Los Angeles Times thought it a “superlatively made ghost story which would scare the halo off a saint. Don’t watch it alone.” 3 In contrast, Daily Variety’s longtime reviewer Dave Kaufman was not so impressed: “Clouse engages in a good deal of hokum in his teleplay, stressing weird special effects more than characterization, and director Steven Spielberg does the same.” 4 Most critics and biographers have relegated Something Evil to an unusual, if not undistinguished footnote in the so-called wunderkind’s career which introduced him to actor/writer Carl Gottlieb and cameraman Bill Butler, future collaborators on Jaws (1975). 5 For example, Joseph McBride calls Something Evil a “stylish but predictable horror film” which allowed Spielberg and Butler room for “some flamboyant surrealistic visual imagery of the family’s battle with the demon,” but he dismisses the “formulaic plot [which] made the film seem a bit of a comedown after the freshness of Duel.” 6 Some critics, however, have found praise for the TV film. Neil Sinyard draws favorable comparisons with Henry James’s classic psychological-cum-ghost story The Turn of the Screw (1898) and Jack Clayton’s celebrated film version The Innocents (1961), while commenting on the deft, Hitchockian handling of the material. 7 As well as praising the writing, acting, and Spielberg’s “magnificent” direction, Sinyard notices aspects of the film which will become characteristic of Spielberg: the warmth of the domestic scenes and the excellence of the children’s performances; the situation of city people out of their milieu; and, particularly, the active role of the resourceful mother taking the place of an ineffectual or absent father. In Something Evil, as in future Spielberg films, the mother/son relationship is very important, and the gripping finale, in which the mother clings to her son’s body and soul within the magic circle against the power of demonic possession, is an extraordinarily suspenseful rather than sentimental vindication of maternal love. 8

Even so, there is some measure of exaggeration to Sinyard’s claim that both Duel and Something Evil made an “enormous impact” 9 when they were first transmitted on American television. Likewise, Philip M. Taylor comments on the “many Hitchockian touches” of the TV film, and how it “anticipated the success of The Exorcist.” 10 He justly singles out the “extraordinary performance of the boy, played by Johnny Whittaker [sic]” and Spielberg’s “extraordinary lighting effects.” 11 John Baxter singles out Clouse’s script, which “skillfully conflated The Exorcist’s plot of a child’s demonic possession and The Oth-

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


er’s [1972] rural setting,” 12 and Spielberg’s direction, which “distilled a sense of uncategorisable menace from his simple materials,” 13 particularly with his idiosyncratic use of light. Not to labor the point, English writer/critic Kim Newman opines in his highly acclaimed history of the horror film: “For a TV movie, Something Evil is excellent. Idiosyncrasies in dialogue, performance and direction bring to life a storyline that is as bland as can be expected from a medium that institutionalises mediocrity.” 14 In this chapter, I am not concerned with making a case for the artistic merit of Something Evil. As a low-budget TV film from the early 1970s, Spielberg isn’t quite able to rise above the programming requirements and budgetary limitations of the medium. Rather, I wish to recover it as an important film in the Spielberg canon that prefigures his trademark obsessions, traumas, and concerns, especially with regard to the treatment of children/childhood. While the script draws on the conventions of the haunted house thriller and unashamedly co-opts The Exorcist, Something Evil suggests a somewhat different trajectory for the lost/possessed child had The Exorcist not erupted onto cinema screens and spawned countless imitations. 15 Indeed, Clouse and Spielberg give the narrative a Jamesian turn, whereby the possessed child is ambiguously represented through the eyes of the hysterical mother. As essayed by Sandy Dennis, Marjorie may be doing more harm than good in trying to save son Stevie from “something evil,” which sums up the film’s highly ambivalent treatment of motherhood that is overall consistent with Spielberg’s later output: one that is by turns nurturant and protective, harmful and pathological. While one may discern a Jamesian ambiguity between Todorov’s adjacent genres of the fantastic—the supernatural expliqué (Marjorie is hysterical) versus the supernatural accepted (the house is haunted, Stevie is possessed)—these two lines of interpretation are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As my analysis will show, the haunted farmhouse is the catalyst for the return of the repressed material. To be more precise, the evil entity in the house channels Marjorie’s innermost anxieties, private fears, and unconscious desires, centering on the possessed child. THE PROLOGUE The prologue sequence immediately sets the ominous tone: two eyes—lit by an unnatural band of light—stare out at the viewer with apparent malevolence as a deep, masculine voice intones: “He shall be taken, he shall be taken . . . be taken, be taken.” The camera tracks away to reveal the shadowy figure of a wrinkled, gray-haired man (whom we later learn is “old McDermott”). As a whirring noise fills the soundtrack, a door opens behind him and he is bathed in blinding white light. We then see him running towards the camera (rendered by Spielberg in stylistic slow


Adrian Schober

motion), struggling against unnatural headwinds; he is a man in flight. As he enters the barn, his face—eyes wide open, mouth agape in an anguished expression—fills the frame. He climbs the ladder to the loft of the barn and retreats until there is nowhere left to go; at which point the barn shutters open behind him, momentarily bathing him in light, and we watch him plummet in slow motion to his death. A series of rapid dissolves reveals the image of a pentacle, which will assume major significance in the narrative. Wladimir Selinsky’s often atonal score adds to the menacing nature of these proceedings. Spielberg dissolves from the image of the pentacle to a tree awash in sunshine, then pans to Marjorie Worden sketching a picture of the farmhouse before her; she is a study in concentration. In the background of this idyllic picnic scene is husband Paul (Darren McGavin), sitting with little daughter Laurie on the grass; the high-spirited adolescent son, Stevie, is playing on the swing. Spielberg pans from Marjorie’s representation on paper—the house with its “For Sale” sign—to the farmhouse itself. “This place is for sale. Paul, this place is for sale,” says Marjorie. Paul replies, “This place is two hours from New York City. It’s a long way to commute.” Afterward, he goes over to his wife and comments approvingly on her sketch: “I like your view of the place better. It’s more romantic.” Marjorie urges him to speak to the caretaker, Gehrmman (Jeff Corey), who’s just come out from the house. But Paul is hesitant, and he reminds her of the concessions and sacrifices they’ll have to make: “Now, if we buy a house, there’ll be no trip to Europe, there’ll be no second car for you, there’ll be no summer camp for Stevie.” “Oh, well, this is a summer camp,” rejoins Marjorie. Spielberg’s camera glides down to Marjorie at her easel, and Selinsky’s score is filled with optimism. Close-ups of her painting over the sketch in watercolor reinforce the fantasy; her rose-colored representation is notably at odds with the rundown appearance of the house. Credits roll. Spielberg cross-cuts to Gehrmann giving Paul a tour of the property. As the title “Something Evil” appears on screen, the music suddenly becomes sinister, foreshadowing the horrors to come. Later, Paul enters into a discussion with Gehrmann (who is oddly ambivalent about selling the place), and he eventually agrees to buy his wife her dreamhouse, on what is almost a feminine whim. As described above, the prologue is highly evocative and important for several reasons. First, it takes the horror out of the darkness and situates it in broad daylight, thus inverting the Gothic cliché of dark dungeons, castles, and monasteries. 16 Most notably, Spielberg saturates the frame with light, excessively backlighting his actors and fading out to white rather than black (at the time Cecil Smith noted how unusual this technique was in both television and theatrical films). 17 Thus while Spielberg may not have had a hand in the development of the teleplay, these stylistic and formalist touches are his own. As the director elucidated his technique:

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


It was the first time in a television film that hot windows were used; those were all sets and “burned up” all the windows to give a hellish effect outside . . . anytime anyone passes by a window, they almost disappear because the window is so bright they fade out and become stick figures until they pass beyond the light. 18

If light is usually a positive source in Spielberg’s films—like the ethereal “God Light” in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)—it can also be ambiguous and terrifying, as in Something Evil, Close Encounters, or Poltergeist (1982), where the lost child Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is exhorted by her mother not to go into the light. 19 Second, the prologue establishes the disjuncture between Marjorie’s romantic idealism and unvarnished reality, which will feed into her rising hysteria in the film. This idealism will vie with Paul’s hardboiled realism, further underscoring gender divisions in the film. Third, the prologue alludes to anxieties of buying and owning a new home, further fueling marital tensions. And fourth, the prologue is important because it sets up tensions between the city and country. HOME INVASION AND THE “SUBURBAN TRILOGY” Initially, when the Wordens move into the farmhouse, they are pictureperfect in their familial bliss. Marjorie stays at home with the children and Paul commutes each day to an advertising agency in New York City. Clearly, country living agrees with this family from the big city. This is conveyed in a somewhat clichéd and cloying montage of Stevie and Laurie playing together, the family cat sidling by, Marjorie arranging flowers and making mobiles and necklaces out of clay with pentacle designs inspired by the one she has earlier seen on the barn door. In her romantic imagination, the farmhouse is a source of enchantment, not unlike the English estate of Bly is a source of enchantment for the governess in James’s tale. And with her “primitive” clay making, earthenware, Marjorie connotes the primitive Earth Mother. In fact, there is something quite esoteric and New Age about her emerging spirituality and modes of artistic expression. As Tacey argues, the New Age is actually very old and is “primarily a primitive religion of the Great Mother,” 20 long repressed by patriarchal Christianity, and “only erupting in various exotic or fringe movements such as romanticism, occultism, primitivism, pantheism, or neopaganism.” 21 As Marjorie makes the pentacles from clay, Spielberg’s camera meticulously documents the creative process (from shaping the clay to firing and glazing), and it’s as if she is (re)acquainting herself with an age-old, pre-biblical spiritual impulse (with Selinsky’s score providing darker counterpoint). As she places one of the necklaces around the neck of Stevie she proclaims, “You are now as


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protected from evil as any barn in Bucks County,” unaware of the evil that dwells in the house. Later, she’ll become unnerved by sounds of a baby crying at night from the barn, along with Stevie’s nightmares and disturbances, apparently connected to these sounds; there is also the matter of Gehrmann’s ritualistic slaughter of chickens. When Paul rents the farmhouse for the backdrop of an apple-bar commercial he is directing/producing, the crew is plagued by strange audio difficulties. It is only when the tin-eared actress of the commercial, Beth (Laurie Hagan), hangs Stevie’s pentacle necklace from the boom that these difficulties disappear. At the end of the shoot, the Wordens host a housewarming party. But when Beth and a crew member drive home late at night, they meet with a mysterious accident. Against all reason, Marjorie feels responsible for their deaths and Paul warns her not to “go collecting any free-floating guilt,” which alludes to some deep background regarding the workings of Marjorie’s mind and hints at an alternative explanation for the supernatural. For Marjorie will become more and more dependent on her husband, calling him at inopportune times at the office for counsel and reassurance. Thus it’s a matter of debate whether the “horrors” come more from without or within. In retrospect, Something Evil may be considered a prelude to what Andrew M. Gordon has usefully labeled Spielberg’s “suburban trilogy,” which includes Close Encounters, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and the Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist (co-written and co-produced by Spielberg and unquestionably expressing his vision and style). “In all three films,” notes Gordon, which revolve around children or child-men (i.e., UFO-obsessed Roy Neary in Close Encounters), “recognizable contemporary middle-class American families are shattered by strange forces erupting from outer or inner space. This is a trilogy of domestic fantasies, cinematic fairy tales about loss, separation, and abandonment, culminating in mother-child reunions,” 22 which equally sums up the thematic concerns and narrative trajectory of Something Evil. Indeed, Gordon compares Poltergeist to Something Evil, which also “concerns a family living in a haunted house and a mother who rescues her child from the spirits of the dead.” 23 Although Spielberg did not have a hand in the writing of Clouse’s script, he was attracted to the material and, in light of the socalled trilogy, it’s easy to see why. Indeed, one wonders if Spielberg had the TV film on his mind when he conceived the story for Poltergeist. Yet Something Evil is a much darker film than Poltergeist, or for that matter anything Spielberg directed or produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recently, critic James Kendrick has problematized Gordon’s fundamentally “optimistic” reading of the trilogy, by noting that the suburban homes in these films are “all invaded by external forces, which is a particularly potent and disturbing thread that binds the films together, given their frequent misreading as films of reassurance and wish fulfill-

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


ment.” 24 This thread he connects to real-life anxieties about home invasion and increased suburban crime. 25 This includes the threat of child abduction found across Spielberg’s oeuvre, discussed by Kendrick in the next chapter. As we shall see, Stevie’s terrifying possession by the devil is tantamount to child abduction. 26 But if Something Evil can be counted among Spielberg’s home invasion films, it is not of the suburban kind. While the United States has a spirited tradition of alleged haunted houses and, specifically, farmhouses—most notably, the Perron family’s farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, which in the early 1970s was the subject of an investigation by American demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren and inspired the horror blockbuster The Conjuring (2013)—Something Evil tantalizes with its suggestion of local witchcraft practices. Apropos the Pennsylvania setting, we may note how in the Keystone State founded by William Penn and his Quaker brethren “a multitude of accounts of witches and witchcraft exist,” which may be “indirectly tied to the Quaker’s tolerance for other religious beliefs and peoples. The relative freedom of religion attracted numerous German immigrants who were members of both traditional and obscure religious sects. With them, those immigrants brought a strong belief in witchcraft and the supernatural.” 27 Even when the Witchcraft Act was dropped from the state’s legal system in 1794, “Witchcraft, in both belief and practice was present behind closed doors”; 28 while it is the “folk traditions of the state’s German population that dominate Pennsylvania’s witchcraft traditions.” 29 The Pennsylvania Dutch/occult German connection is suggested by the character of Gehrmann (whose name is of North German origin and is a variant of “German,” a name also carried by first settlers in Pennsylvania). When Gehrmann explains to Marjorie the significance of the pentacle in warding off evil, this elicits her approval: “Oh, it’s a kind of nice design. I think I’ll leave it there.” Gehrmann admonishes her: “Well, it’s one thing to paint it on, it’s another to believe in it.” But as she soon discovers, Gehrmann has a penchant for slaughtering chickens and spilling their blood over the property, seemingly a token sacrifice. When she informs Paul of this unsavory rite over a candlelit dinner, he seeks to rationalize the “strange” beliefs of the locals: “Killing a chicken and letting it bleed in the field probably means they’re trying to put fertility into the land. . . . Some of these old ideas, these old beliefs, die very hard.” Earlier, Gehrmann volunteers to farm the land for them, but he reiterates the property’s otherness: it’s a “strange place,” “a different place.” When Paul asks him if there is anything wrong with the land, he assures him that the “soil’s fine.” But if Paul is correct in his ritualistic interpretation, it’s anything but. For a rationalist, Paul is surprisingly tolerant; while Marjorie is so unnerved by Gehrmann’s rite that she will have him dismissed by Paul, leading to a heated exchange between the two men. For Gehrmann, the land is “cursed,” infected with evil, hence its infertility.


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And while viewers are left to fill in the gaps regarding the house’s accursed history, the “something evil” is of a Judeo-Christian construction, with Manichean overtones—during their altercation Gehrmann tells Paul to read his Bible and accuses him and Marjorie of mocking the devil through their merrymaking. Where Something Evil differs from Spielberg’s suburban trilogy is in the manner it constructs tensions between the city and the country. Kendrick observes that for Spielberg “the suburbs represent an ordinary ‘norm,’ a kind of fundamental benchmark of middle-American existence that is then threatened or challenged by an otherworldly force, whether it be aliens or ghosts.” 30 In contrast, Something Evil represents the Pennsylvanian countryside as an alternative to, or escape from, the rat race of the Wordens’s life in New York City—not unlike Amity Island in Jaws represents for police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and family an escape from the “crime capital” of New York City. 31 And as in the suburban trilogy the family’s middle-class existence is challenged by an otherworldly force. Yet from this scenario we may also glean another challenge that is much more real and relatable: the stresses and strains of relocating, adjusting to a new lifestyle and meeting those house payments. Indeed, it is tempting to read Something Evil as an economic horror film, along the lines of Stephen King’s reading of The Amityville Horror (1976). 32 Paul’s workplace in the city, where he is an adman-cum-TV commercial director/ producer is encoded as a masculine space and the farmhouse as a feminine space, the domain of Marjorie and the children. The farmhouse itself will come to resemble a prison house for this mother/hausfrau, seemingly untouched by Second Wave feminism. Thus the New Age mother is not so “new” after all and rather old-fashioned. Noted critic Robin Wood complains that “the position of women in Spielberg’s work is fairly ignominious. Largely denied any sexual presence, they function exclusively as wives and mothers (especially mothers), with no suggestion that they might reasonably want anything beyond that.” 33 While not mentioned by Wood, the mother figure in Something Evil is an easy target for such criticism. But, as we shall see, the film may be subtly questioning woman’s “place” in the home, in which the house is figured as a place of entrapment and isolation. This nexus between the haunted house/ haunted heroine is of course characteristic of the so-called Female Gothic and “madwoman in the attic” narratives. In the film’s updating of the Female Gothic, Marjorie is a madwoman of the farmhouse. HYSTERICAL MOTHERHOOD In playing out stereotypical gender oppositions, Marjorie in the film is figured as magical, irrational, and emotional while Paul is seen as grounded, rational, and stable. Already we’ve seen how Marjorie is

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


prone to leaps of fancy and imagination, suggestive of a misalignment with reality; and how her Earth Mother construction smacks of New Age spirituality, which itself has links to Western occult and metaphysical movements. 34 Her hobbies—sketching, painting, pottery—along with newfound interest in magic and the occult contrast with Paul’s “serious” work at the office and studio. When Paul remarks that her mobiles are liable to start a “whole new design craze” he seems merely facetious, if not patronizing. Further, these oppositions are unsubtly articulated in the scene at the party held by one of their neighbors: the colorful, avuncular Harry Lincoln (Ralph Bellamy), a compiler of cookbooks as well as occult enthusiast who explains to Marjorie the power of pentacles, magic circles, in protecting one from the devil and his minions. (Bellamy is a particularly suggestive piece of casting. In Rosemary’s Baby he plays the duplicitous Dr. Sapirstein, one of the coven members who ensnare Rosemary Woodhouse into bearing the son of Satan. Viewers can be forgiven for not trusting him!) While subscribing to a simple Christian dualism (“Well, if you believe in God then you must believe in the devil—they’re inseparable”), he treats the subject of the occult in an offhand manner as well as disarming levity. Paul, as the voice of reason, is skeptical and circumspect: “I’m glad to see you have a sense of humor about this—I wouldn’t want Marjorie here to become too seriously involved in it.” Lincoln: “Why is that?” Marjorie answers for him: “Because he thinks I am very gullible. Both feet off the ground.” Ergo, Marjorie’s “gullibility” makes her prone to a belief in the supernatural, indicative of her “sensitivity” or suggestible emotional state. This sensitivity, in turn, is linked to a sensitive and artistic temperament. When she enthusiastically incorporates the pentacle design into her mobiles and models, this shows how the seed of suggestion has sprouted in her mind and imagination. Later, she paints a large pentacle on the floor of the children’s bedroom, and utters incantations from a book which she gets Stevie to repeat. She fully immerses herself in the occult through books borrowed from Lincoln’s library, and conversations with him. The “notions” derived from these sources fuel her hysteria. In point of fact, Marjorie is a near-textbook case of classical hysteria. In Hystories, Elaine Showalter explains how, “[t]hroughout most of its medical history, hysteria has been associated with women,” and how its “name comes from hystera, the Greek word for uterus.” 35 It was held that the uterus migrated around the body producing an array of symptoms which corresponded to the different parts of the body: pains in the foot, coughs and loss of voice in the throat, pains in the breast, impaired vision, and so on. 36 While later conceptions of hysteria abandoned the idea of the migrating uterus in favor of theories about the nervous system, the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot still taught that by applying pressure to one of the “hysterogenic” regions corresponding to the ovaries, one could induce symptoms of hysteria. With her nervous reactions,


Adrian Schober

Figure 2.1. Sandy Dennis as the hysterical mother in the curiously overlooked Something Evil.

histrionic gestures, and emotional speech, her periods of madness, excitement, brooding, and melancholy, Marjorie epitomizes this image of the hysterical woman. As Dave Kaufman observed, “Sandy Dennis, as the femme driven into hysteria, begins her performance on a high key and never wavers. There is no shading for real impact,” 37 whereas for Neil Sinyard the Method actress “gives a performance of neurotic intensity that is both touching and terrifying.” 38 Apropos Dennis’s performance in The Fox (1968), Pauline Kael infamously remarked that “she has already made an acting style out of postnasal drip.” 39 In fact, her role as Marjorie vaguely recalls her Academy Award winning turn as the emotionally unbalanced, immature Honey in Mike Nichols’s 1966 film of Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. It comes out that biology professor Nick married her because of her hysterical pregnancy and money. In Something Evil it is thus tempting to view Dennis’s role as a judicious piece of typecasting. When Marjorie hears the sounds of a baby crying at night from the barn, this is richly suggestive within the classical view of hysteria. Initially, these sounds are quite ambiguous (is it a cat meowing?). Yet it would seem that being female and a mother makes her more prone to such auditory hallucinations. When Paul is called away on a business trip for a

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


couple of days, she again hears sounds of a baby crying at night, this time coming from the shed. She is terrified by a jar with mysterious contents, and at the same moment is surprised by a loud noise (gun shot? a door slamming?) coming from the house. As she struggles to get through the door, it’s as if the unseen evil entity is shutting her in. But the ambiguous manner in which Spielberg shoots this scene doesn’t rule out the possibility that Marjorie is closing the door on herself. When it seemingly opens by itself, she races up to the bedroom and finds Stevie on his bed, strangely afflicted. The room is assailed by an unnatural wind which sends objects flying and flapping. Marjorie then gathers both children into the protection of the magic circle; white out. As for the jar, which contains an amorphous, pulsating, and glowing liquid red mass, it connotes something indescribably evil. Its amorphousness also connotes an unformed creature or fetus swimming in amniotic fluid, hence something primordial, embryonic, as if arising from Marjorie’s “disturbance of the uterus.” Significantly, she’s the only one that sees the jar—with the possible exception of Stevie. The jar reminds one of the eponymous receptacle in Ray Bradbury’s weird tale, “The Jar” (1947), which contains “One of those pale things drifting in alcohol plasma, forever dreaming and circling, with its peeled, dead eyes staring out at you and never seeing you.” 40 When farmer Charlie buys the jar from a carnival sideshow he brings it home and displays it in his living room; it attracts onlookers from miles around who just sit and stare at its ambiguous contents. For each person, the jar conjures up different memories, fantasies, associations, and anxieties—essentially it’s a Rorschach test on which they’re able to project aspects of themselves, more bad than good. For Marjorie, too, the jar reveals her deepest maternal anxieties. When Paul returns from his business trip, there is a telling scene of marital discord. For his part, Paul is unable to endorse his wife’s view of reality, and he reduces her troubles to the stresses and strains of motherhood. Marjorie, however, is adamant that it’s not the children: “Paul, so many strange things have happened to me here I can’t begin to explain to you. But I feel as if something or somebody is trying to possess me.” “Yeah, me,” he retorts and he is more right than he realizes, for there is the implication that she feels subjugated by male authority. Marjorie upbraids Paul for not being “serious” and for not listening to her. Clouse’s script neatly plays on this idea of being heard/not heard, which dovetails with Spielberg’s signature concerns about the difficulties of communication. Paul’s willful deafness amounts to a male denial of the female voice and authority over the self. Thus when he later overdubs the young actress’ tuneless voice from the apple-bar commercial with that of an African American singer’s, it’s almost tempting to see this as a displaced act of revenge! (Ironically, the only person who does listen to Marjorie is the eccentric Lincoln, and he goes through life telling others that he’s hard of hearing when he is not. He tells Marjorie that he retreated into


Adrian Schober

himself after his wife died because he didn’t want to talk to people). 41 When Paul indicates that he has seen her like this before, this lends further weight to her hysterical construction (i.e., she has a history of this type of behavior). Paul’s concern, as always, is with their economic situation: “I’ve sunk every dime into this place.” As the breadwinner, he “ought” to have more say in where they live, but Marjorie threatens to take the kids back with her to New York, with or without him. Paul pretends to capitulate: “We’ll sell the place. I’ll call a realtor in the morning and go to the city . . . and live happily ever after.” Not only is he humoring her, but there is the implication that Marjorie wasn’t happy in New York either. That morning Lincoln intercepts Paul on his way to work, and they discuss Marjorie’s increasingly precarious mental and emotional state. While, as the local authority on the occult, Lincoln is ostensibly the “believer”—thus complicating the masculine-feminine distinctions discussed earlier—it is a moot point whether he believes Marjorie or not. He tells Paul that she is “under terrible stress” and that “She’s really shaken up, maybe close to an emotional breakdown. I’d say that at this moment she feels she’s brought something evil into your lives.” “Evil,” Paul scoffs. Lincoln urges Paul to cultivate an open mind to the supernatural. But as much as Lincoln gives credence to a belief in the devil, he also gives credence to Marjorie’s hysteria: “Don’t set up a wall if Marjorie tells you how she’s felt or what she’s seen. Open up, listen as if her life was in danger.” Most concerning is Lincoln’s use of the subjunctive mood! As such, he’s a somewhat dubious ally for Marjorie. Paul is further dismissive: “I know she’s going through some kind of transition, but to blame it on the devil is a complete avoidance of reality.” Accordingly, Paul will have a hard time believing in things he cannot see or hear. 42 And at the end, he will have to trust in Marjorie’s reality if he wants Stevie freed from the grip of possession. OBSESSION/POSSESSION In understanding the nature of Stevie—and Marjorie’s—possession, it is useful to differentiate between obsession and possession, according to Roman Catholic demonology. In obsession, the demonic attack comes from “without,” influencing the victim’s thoughts, emotions, and perceptions; in possession (proper) the demonic attack comes from “within,” assuming control over the victim’s now-weakened mind and body. Initially, Marjorie becomes obsessed with the sounds of the baby crying in the night—placing her under increasing mental and emotional strain— while Stevie suffers nightmares/disturbances. As aforementioned, these sounds and Stevie’s nightmares seem to be connected. As she becomes more estranged from her husband, Marjorie will gravitate toward her

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


newfound friend and confidante Lincoln, whose occult books and beliefs stoke her obsession. Indeed, by dabbling in the dark arts, it may be that Marjorie is complicit in her own obsession and eventual possession, the line of which is not clearly drawn, but which culminates in Marjorie’s attempted “suicide under duress.” And if Marjorie is complicit in her own possession, then there is the inescapable implication that she is also responsible—at least in part—for making Stevie vulnerable to possession, through her belief in the supernatural and fascination with pentacles, which are both invocative and protective. 43 Significantly, it’s directly after Marjorie has Stevie repeat incantations over the magic circle on the bedroom floor that Stevie encounters something evil from the shed. He is outside playing with a toad when he notices something from inside the shed; at which point the camera switches to the point of view of the evil entity in the shed. As Stevie steps across the threshold from light into darkness, we hear the tell-tale whirring sound. The door slams shut and the scene ends abruptly. Shortly after, Stevie enters the house as Marjorie is reading to Lincoln about how “evil spirits do not necessarily bring about mayhem themselves but possess a human being to cause ruin or shame,” and how the devil is thought to materialize as a black cat or a toad. By implication, the play we have just witnessed is not so innocent, and marks a more advanced stage in Stevie’s demonization. Stevie tells his mother that he’s just been in the shed and that there’s “all kinds of jars and stuff out there.” We may thus infer that Stevie has encountered the jar. At this juncture, it’s worth pointing out that Stevie is the first but not the last of Spielberg’s obsessed/possessed children. Before he is spirited away by aliens via the pet door of his Indiana home, three-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) from Close Encounters is obsessed with alien visions. He is able to reproduce the five-note refrain of the aliens on his toy xylophone, and he is the focusing point of “otherworldly” phenomena: his toys, a turntable, and other objects “come alive,” suggestive of poltergeist activity or infestation. Such phenomena invite comparison with haunted house movies. 44 But because of his wisdom in innocence, Barry is able to apprehend the aliens’ true intentions, representing a triumph of feeling, intuition, over logic. That being the case, Barry’s alien-obsession never develops into outright possession. Nor does it in Poltergeist, in which Carol Anne becomes obsessed with the static on her TV set, through which lost spirits make contact with her. In her vacuous innocence, she is the conduit for otherworldly phenomena. Later, she is sucked into another dimension via her closet that is not only inhabited by “the TV people” but the Beast. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), the adolescent maharajah (Raj Singh) falls under the spell of the Hindu goddess Kali who has been summoned by the evil Thuggee cult. Here, possession is akin to a deep sleep, and it is only when Indy’s sidekick Short Round thrusts a torch at the maharajah that he awakens from


Figure 2.2.

Adrian Schober

Johnny Whitaker as the lost/possessed Stevie.

his Kali-induced nightmare. By contrast, a benign possession occurs in E.T. in which Elliott (Henry Thomas) and the alien creature share a unique, almost symbiotic connection: thus when E.T. becomes intoxicated, so does Elliott, and when the creature’s health deteriorates, so does the boy’s. 45 Whereas Marjorie dispossesses Stevie through expressions of feeling (addressed below), Elliott/E.T.’s two-way possession is itself governed by affect or feeling. As the boy’s older brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), articulates the nature of this connection to a probing psychiatrist, the creature doesn’t think Elliott’s thoughts; rather, “Elliott feels his feelings.” CHILD ABUSE The highly charged sequence where Marjorie pursues Stevie into the grape arbor mirrors the governess’ showdown with her young charge Miles in The Turn of the Screw and Jack Clayton’s adaptation. In James’s narrative, the governess tries to force a confession from Miles about his conduct at school as well as force him to confront the evil of the manservant Quint. But is Miles possessed by Quint, or is the governess simply infecting the child with her hysteria? It has been argued that, rather than

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dying from the violence of exorcism/dispossession, the governess frightens Miles to death. As a Jamesian study of hysteria, it’s likewise ambiguous whether Marjorie is “either possessive or possessed.” 46 Here, Spielberg/Butler’s use of a handheld camera and distorted perspective reinforce the feeling of mental instability and disorientation. When she encounters Stevie in the arbor, Marjorie locks him in an emotional embrace, but a moment later very nearly wrings the life out of him, infecting him with her hysteria: “I thought I told you to stay in the yard. Didn’t I tell you to stay in the yard? Didn’t I?! Didn’t I?! Didn’t I?!” Stevie cries pathetically: “Mommy, mommy, mommy, you’re hurting me.” 47 While we could easily interpret Marjorie’s actions as mental cruelty, the severity of Stevie’s physical injuries is left deliberately vague. More usually it is the possessed father who poses a threat to his son (Burnt Offerings [1976]; Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining [1980]), which suggests a different set of dynamies and anxieties stemming from masculinity and fatherhood. In contrast, Marjorie’s anxieties stem from the demands of motherhood. Inevitably, Marjorie must suffer Paul’s recriminations for this perceived betrayal of her maternal role. When she calls Paul during a business meeting, she implores, “You have to come home—I’ve done something terrible!” And when he later examines Stevie, he finds marks and bruises on his face and body. As the voice of reason, Paul desperately seeks answers to the question of why she “hit the boy” but she is at a loss to explain her actions: “Paul, I’m not one to hurt the children, you know that. I have never even spanked them before—you are aware of that.” Paul here is unable to speak the unspeakable: “I know that, but that boy looks like . . . he’s—what happened?!” Next morning he finds Marjorie on the kitchen floor picking up fragments of broken bowl, symbolic of her emotional fragmentation. Visually, the framing reinforces the power imbalance between the two: a high angle shot over Paul’s shoulder that “looks down” on Marjorie, and a low angle shot/countershot of Marjorie in the right-hand corner of the frame that “looks up” to Paul, who cuts a towering figure. Ergo, Paul is in control; he is the man of the house (that it reads “Paul Worden” on the letterbox seems to say it all). Marjorie looks downtrodden on the kitchen floor, circumscribed by domesticity, which shows how estranged she has become to the joint institutions of marriage and motherhood. After what he’s just seen and heard, it seems odd that this husband isn’t more worried about leaving his wife alone with the children. Like the possessed father who almost drowns his son in Burnt Offerings, Marjorie reproaches herself for “manhandling” Stevie. Again, she turns to Lincoln for consolation. But when she intimates that she has been reading a lot from his occult books lately Lincoln interjects, “If I thought that they were going to tear you up like this, I would have never given them to you.” This is as clear a statement in the film that his books have contributed to Marjorie’s unbalanced state of mind. Marjorie counters,


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“No, it’s not the books. Can you believe that I believe that the devil is inside my house?” Here, Lincoln answers her with almost legalistic precision: “Yes, if you believe there’s a devil and believe the devil’s in your house then for you it’s true.” He says this with suitable gravitas, but it’s ambiguous to say the least! Indeed, in endorsing Marjorie’s subjective reality over objective reality, it appears that he’s going along with her hysteria. And when she says, “I don’t trust myself. I’m afraid for the children, too,” she is admitting that she may represent more of a threat to her children than the devil. During this exchange, Lincoln offers Marjorie a most valuable piece of advice that will help her tap into her largely untapped power as a woman/mother: “Marjorie! Some things are more powerful than pentacles. Like love. It’s a powerful force, Marjorie.” In the last reel, Marjorie is in a near-catatonic state. A victim of her own helplessness, she won’t even answer Paul’s persistent phone calls. 48 And feeling estranged from both her children, she sends Stevie to his room with sister Laurie. When she again hears sounds of the baby crying, this time coming from the kitchen, Marjorie finds the pulsating jar in the kitchen cupboard. There is something unsettling in the way Marjorie’s night terrors have now spilled over into day terrors; it’s as if she has seen the terrible light. This is also suggestive of a Freudian spillover of unconscious material into the conscious mind. Succumbing to hysteria, Marjorie runs upstairs to her bedroom and throws the devil figurine (presumably given to her by Lincoln) into the dressing-room mirror. As with the broken bowl, the symbolism is hard to miss: Marjorie is cracking up. Spielberg pans from a face mirror to framed photographs of Paul and the children to show what she’s in danger of losing. Next, Marjorie locks Stevie and Laurie in their bedroom and then drops the key down the vent. Outside the door, she makes what sounds like her last confession: 49 Stevie, it’s very important that you hear what I have to say. Now Laurie is so small and she’s not going to be able to take care of herself. You are going to have to help because I can’t anymore. Mamma can’t trust herself to help either of you anymore. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Suffice it to say, this is an extraordinary burden to place on an adolescent boy, further signaling Marjorie’s mental deterioration. In effect, the mother is relinquishing her rights to her children and, in her husband’s conspicuous absence, placing Stevie, the little man of the house, in charge. Soon after, in a reenactment of old McDermott’s fate in the prologue, Marjorie attempts “suicide” from the loft of the barn. While ostensibly the victim of possession, she is also the victim of her conscience. At the last moment, Gehrmann thwarts her suicide, and mobilizes her into saving Stevie. In its addressing of child abuse, Clouse’s script carries a disturbing subtext that children may need to be protected from their protectors,

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namely, parents. This coincides with the upsurge of interest in the prevalence of child abuse and neglect in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States which saw the publication of The Battered Child Syndrome (1962), news stories and journal articles on the subject. 50 But if the film exploits anxieties associated with child abuse, it more accurately suggests that parents and, specifically, mothers, in their efforts to shield children from potentially harmful influences, may end up doing them more harm than good. (That one of the origins for the name “Worden” is watchman or guard is particularly suggestive of how Marjorie and Paul are both tested in their capacity as protectors). More disturbing is the implication that possession may be the medium of expression for unconscious fears, wishes, and desires, here stemming from the suffering mother’s ambivalence about her offspring. One sequence in particular captures Marjorie’s ambivalence. Outside with the children at her craft table, Marjorie admonishes Stevie for “tormenting” his sister in the playpen with a toy spider: “Stevie! Don’t play like that with her. Now take that thing away. Take it away! Stevie!,” thereby alluding to a darker side to childhood. 51 Afterward, Spielberg crosscuts between Marjorie at her table making pentacles and Stevie bouncing a ball against the side of the house, with Marjorie watching on. Through skillful crosscutting, Spielberg builds dramatic and psychological tension. Increasingly unnerved by the jarring sound of the ball, she destroys her pentacles in frustration, and retreats into the house for a time-out from the children. No mother in her right mind would intentionally hurt her child. But she might want to nonetheless, at least on an unconscious level. Indeed, Spielberg’s film may be playing out child-murder fantasies, which prefigure the child-murder fantasies of paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in Jurassic Park (1993). 52 Thus if Marjorie is afraid for the children—afraid of what she is capable of doing in her state of mind—then she is also afraid of them. This is another reason why she must lock them up. This paedophobia is taken to its logical conclusion in The Exorcist, which carries the subtext: “‘Lock up your sons but especially your daughters or else all hell will break loose.’” 53 EXORCISM AND A MOTHER’S LOVE In the abrupt finale, the mother is vindicated and her maternal instincts turn out to be absolutely right: something evil has taken hold of Stevie. As Marjorie and Gehrmann bolt up to the house, Paul arrives by cab on the scene. The trio force their way into the children’s bedroom, which has been assailed by evil and bedlam: objects fly around the room, furniture moves by itself, a strange wind from within the house denotes the presence of otherworldly forces. The staging of this scene carries pre-echoes of The Exorcist where Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) bolts up to the bed-


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room of her daughter, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), to witness her latest atrocity. But there is something Spielbergian in the way the camera tracks to a medium close-up of Stevie’s face, with Marjorie’s ubiquitous mobiles dangling in the background. Wind sweeps through his hair as he intones, sacrilegiously (at least in the context of early 1970s television), “Be damned,” and smiles with malice. For the greater part of the film, Marjorie has been the desperate, needy wife/mother. But as Paul stares here in shock and disbelief, Marjorie takes control of the situation. The point seems to be that in Spielberg’s universe “women are earth mothers who understand and accept in ways men are unable to grasp.” 54 She orders Paul to “Get the baby out,” whereupon the door shuts by itself, barring reentry; Dad is in effect reduced to a bystander. Like Father Karras’s (Jason Miller) showdown with Regan in her bedroom, Marjorie wrestles with Stevie on the floor, wrestling with forces that have taken possession of his soul. And as in The Exorcist, the child’s bedroom is the setting for a Christian Manichean battle between good and evil. Here, Stevie’s possession “antics” are at their most Regan-esque: he turns on his mother and becomes violent and bestial: he hisses; he grimaces; he hair pulls; he claws on the floor as she drags him into the circle against his will. Rather more is going on here than your regular childhood tantrum! If Dennis was cast according to type, then Whitaker—fresh from playing Brian Keith’s orphaned nephew, Jody Davis, in the popular American sitcom Family Affair (1966–1971)—was cleverly cast against type. While we find delinquent, unruly, and even “mean” children in Spielberg it’s rare to find them as physical aggressors: exceptions include the middle child Toby of the Neary family banging a plastic doll against his playpen in Close Encounters; the Kali-possessed, voodoo/krtya doll-wielding maharajah in Temple of Doom; and mecha David ferociously attacking his mecha double in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). With almost superhuman effort, Marjorie forces Stevie into the protection of the magic circle, and, following Lincoln’s advice, exorcizes her son through repeated declarations of motherly love: “Stevie, I love you. I’m your mother. I won’t let them have you, Stevie. I love you.” Stevie breaks down, in the warmth and protection of his mother’s arms. Clearly it’s cathartic, for both mother and child. Interestingly, in Madeleine L’Engle’s award-winning children’s classic from 1962, A Wrinkle in Time, big sister Meg Murry likewise exorcizes her little brother through repeated declarations of love. Child prodigy Charles Wallace is possessed by a giant disembodied brain named IT and is figured as lost inside his own mind and body; it’s as if he’s been replaced by a body snatcher. Somewhere underneath, prays Meg, lies her beloved baby brother. Here, the possessed child is written between reason and feeling, mind and heart. To be all brain and no heart or soul implies a sort of vacuum, a cold, empty space devoid of compassion or emotion. In the traditional ideological gendering of characteristics, reason/intellect/hate is aligned with the mas-

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


culine; feeling/intuition/love with the feminine. L’Engle, however, overturns the negative connotations of the feminine side in the opposition, whereby Meg’s feminine qualities are aligned with strength and not weakness. As the quality IT significantly lacks, Meg’s outpourings of love allow Charles to be filled full with feeling or emotion. Thus it is allencompassing feminine love (unconditional, maternal, selfless) that saves the masculine child. (Intriguingly, photographs exist of Spielberg in his Universal office circa 1974 “surrounded by books for options” which include Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Jack Finney’s Time and Again and A Wrinkle in Time. 55 Did Spielberg once contemplate making a film of the novel? And was he familiar with L’Engle when he directed Something Evil? Was, for that matter, writer Clouse? Given Spielberg’s affinities with children’s literature, this is not improbable). Could there be a similar gender dynamic at work in Spielberg’s child possession narrative? Like Charles Wallace, Stevie is figured as lost inside his own mind and body. Snatched from his mother, he has been made the Devil’s Own, as Gehrmann puts it, hence overcome by masculine hate (“Be damned”). It’s almost tempting to read Stevie’s possession by the devil as his unconscious wish for a father-substitute. As Freud conceptualizes it, the devil as a father-substitute is merely the inverse of God as a loving father figure, whereby it follows that “God and the Devil were originally identical—were a single figure which was later split into two figures with opposite attributes.” 56 From these contradictions in the original nature of God, asserts Freud, we have a “reflection of the ambivalence which governs the relation of the individual to his personal father.” 57 But in reading Christian religion, with its twin concepts of God and Satan, Father and Son, against the emerging New Age movement, we find a spiritual impulse in Marjorie that is much older than Christianity and rooted in the Earth Mother (Gaia). As Tacey explains: “Christian culture tends to construct its opposite or counterpart as the Beast, Devil or Satan [. . .] But for the New Age movement, everything that has been rejected or despised by Christian culture is symbolized not by the Beast or Anti-Christ, but by the Great Goddess or the Earth Mother.” 58 As spiritualized Earth Mother, Marjorie is “naturally” saturated with emotion, and is thus the only one equipped to save her child through outpourings of love. The possessed child is dispossessed—and repossessed—by the mother. Paul, by contrast, is too emotionally distant, too steeped in rationalism, order and self-control to comprehend what’s going on. Thus feminine emotion/intuition overturns masculine intellect/ reason, on this occasion at least. Despite Marjorie’s major victory, Spielberg leaves us with a deeply ambivalent view of motherhood in the film. On the one hand, there is something very primal and powerful here about a mother’s love, which is shown to be unconditional, selfless, and redemptive for both mother and child. Even though he was working from Clouse’s scenario, we have no


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reason to doubt Spielberg’s sincerity here; in Brode’s view, Spielberg’s films affirm a deep faith in the Earth Mother. 59 After all, she will do almost anything to rescue or recover her child, whether it be from the will of state authorities (The Sugarland Express) or otherworldly forces (Something Evil, Close Encounters, Poltergeist). On the other, she lately has the capacity to abandon her child, even if it’s a mecha child (A.I.), which is merely a continuation of Spielberg’s ambivalence toward mother figures found throughout his oeuvre. 60 Contra Brode, Friedman characterizes the science fiction mothers in Close Encounters, E.T., and A.I. as “emotionally and intellectually limited” who “commit the worst crime imaginable in the domestic world of Steven Spielberg: they are not available when their children truly need them, either to keep the family together, to believe and defend their children, or to love them in the midst of family conflicts.” 61 On the reverse side is Spielberg’s ambivalent treatment of fathers, husbands, and sons, shot through with male anxiety. 62 Like corporate lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams) in Hook (1991), Paul is covertly being blamed for his workaholic ways, blamed in large part for what's gone wrong with the family. More absent than present he has failed in his duty to keep the family intact, failed to protect it from evil. But unlike Hook or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Spielberg’s film ends with the restoration of the mother and not the father. THE EPILOGUE In the epilogue, we see the Wordens leaving the house behind in the car, presumably returning to New York City. As the car drives away, Stevie stares with a haunted expression through the rear window. Unlike the Lutzes of The Amityville Horror, who leave their house and belongings never to return again, the Wordens will presumably be sending furniture removalists to collect their possessions. But like the similarly traumatized Freelings of Poltergeist they may have to check into a hotel for the night. For all intents and purposes, this is a happy ending—everyone has come out alive. Yet, once again, we may link the film securely to the suburban trilogy, where “it becomes readily apparent that the endings of these films are not so simple or neat as they might first appear and in fact barely disguise a great deal of loss, pain, and open-ended questions that have no easy resolution—all things that none of the films’ characters wanted or asked to ‘see.’” 63 In Something Evil, Marjorie has undergone a mental and emotional breakdown. And while, physically, Stevie will heal from his injuries, emotionally and psychologically he may never fully recover. When Marjorie performs her exorcism of Stevie, he ostensibly becomes a child again, but he’s not innocent now; he’s seen too much. As have Marjorie and Paul. We can guess that Paul has had his worldview altered by his encounter with something evil. Either that, or he will spend

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


his life engaging in denial. Will the family be able to live “happily ever after” again, as Paul mockingly puts it earlier in the film? Will they be able to get on with their lives? Will Stevie be able to fully regain his trust in the mother? Will Paul be able to balance his career with his responsibilities as husband and father? These questions have no easy answers. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that the nuclear family will never be the same again. A subtle dissolve from the farmhouse to a “hellfired” painterly representation is at odds with Marjorie’s watercolor of the film’s opening, while the final image of the devil figurine hits home the idea that diabolic evil persists in the world. How will the next family fare in the house? Films such as Burnt Offerings and The Shining offer alternative scenarios. CONCLUSION While Something Evil may not be a particularly good film, it deserves to be seen as an important early entry in Spielberg’s career. Anticipating his so-called suburban trilogy, it centers on an American middle-class family from the city whose lives are torn asunder by the supernatural goings-on inside a rural farmhouse, where both mother and son end up possessed. Their possessions cannot be considered in isolation. As with other possessed/satanic child narratives, Something Evil plays and preys on cultural anxieties regarding the care and protection of children, as focalized through the hysterical mother. Most notably, Something Evil anticipates The Omen (1976), a film that, beyond its satanic explanation, may be similarly read as a narrative of paranoia and insecurity over child-rearing. 64 The maternal paranoia of Spielberg’s film not only bespeaks parental anxieties about the safety and safekeeping of childhood, but deep-seated—and quite irrational—fears of one’s own children, contemporaneous with anxieties about raising children. In her subordinate homemaker role, Marjorie must have seemed anachronistic for TV audiences in 1972, which may bespeak a streak of misogyny on both the part of Clouse and Spielberg. But in reading against the grain of the text, the film may well be critiquing the limits and restrictions on her freedom imposed by that role, while challenging the presumption of male reason and authority. For what makes Something Evil so Spielbergian, and what must have appealed to the director when he first read Clouse’s script, is how the father, absent physically if not emotionally, is unable to respond to the needs of his wife and children, while it’s the “New Age” mother who turns out be emotionally equipped to deal with the crisis of Stevie. In the end, the so-called maternal instinct is valorized over and above male order and rationality. Yet whether Something Evil should be seen as reactionary or anti-reactionary, or both, is a moot point. That the possessed child is saved through motherly love would seem to affirm the director’s


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faith in the mother, but this is not enough to mitigate what must be one of the most ambivalent constructions of motherhood in a Steven Spielberg production. NOTES 1. Mitch Tuchman, “Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg,” in Steven Spielberg Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 46. 2. Sue Cameron, “‘Something Evil’ Is Outstanding,” The Hollywood Reporter 219, no. 37 (Jan 1972): 28. 3. Cecil Smith, “Something Evil Accents the Eerie,” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1972, G18. 4. Quoted in Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 3rd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 2012), 208. 5. With the exception of Duel, little attention has been paid to Spielberg’s television work. While Warren Buckland in Directed by Steven Spielberg (2006) devotes a chapter to analyzing the technical aspects of Spielberg’s early work, including his awardwinning short Amblin’ (1968), work for episodic television and Duel, he doesn’t see fit to mention Something Evil. In point of fact, one gets the distinct sense that critics haven’t actually seen the film or at least watched it attentively. Witness Crawley’s woefully inaccurate description: “Spielberg’s malevolent force this time around was not out to run down the man [apropos the truck in Duel], simply to possess his daughter.” Tony Crawley, The Steven Spielberg Story (London: Zomba Books, 1983), 29. Or Taylor’s assertion that the Worden “children become the victims of demonic possession,” when only Stevie is actually possessed. Steven Spielberg: The Man, His Movies, and Their Meaning (New York: Continuum, 1992), 50. Something Evil is one of few Spielberg films not officially available on video or DVD, adding to its mystery and cult status. Could it be that the director doesn’t want the film to be seen by the general public? Is this his attempt at historical revisionism? 6. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 208 7. Neil Sinyard, The Films of Steven Spielberg (London: Hamlyn/Bison, 1987), 17. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Taylor, Steven Spielberg, 50. 11. Ibid., 50–51. 12. John Baxter, The Unauthorized Biography of Steven Spielberg (London: Harper Collins, 1996), 12. 13. Ibid. 14. Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen since the 1960s (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 218–19. 15. The influence of The Exorcist on the possessed child motif has been “mostly negative [. . .] a blind alley for filmmakers and writers.” Adrian Schober, Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 65. 16. This inspired inversion is reminiscent of Spielberg’s mentor Hitchcock and jibes with the British director’s comments on his black comedy The Trouble with Harry (1955): “I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out in the sunshine. It’s as if I had set up a murder alongside a rustling brook and spilled a drop of blood in the clear water. These contrasts establish a counterpoint; they elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level.” Francois Truffaut with Helen G. Scott, Hitchcock, rev. ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone Book, 1985), 227. 17. Cecil Smith, “Something Evil,” G18. 18. Taylor, Steven Spielberg, 51.

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19. One is also reminded of the “Dead Lights” in Stephen King’s horror novel, IT (1986), and Lucifer as a “bringer of light.” 20. David Tacey, Jung and the New Age (Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge, 2001), 54. 21. Ibid. 22. Andrew M. Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 56. 23. Ibid., 96. 24. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 51. 25. Ibid., 51–52. 26. In addition, the somewhat unhinged character of Lincoln’s nephew Ernest (John Rubenstein) exploits these anxieties about home invasion—on two occasions, he pays unwanted calls to the Worden residence, further unbalancing Marjorie. On the first occasion, he comes as Marjorie telephones Paul that she’s done “something horrible” to Stevie. Ernest is looking for his uncle, but Marjorie refuses to lift the latch—and here her overwrought visage through the slightly open door with the latch in place is a potent image of home invasion. Rather unseemly is how Lincoln puts his hand through the pet door to touch Laurie in the playpen. On the second, he bursts into the home and tells Marjorie that his uncle’s been the victim of an attack, and holds her responsible. 27. Thomas White, Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013), 11–12. 28. Ibid., 20 29. Ibid. 30. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, 40. 31. Throughout the period, the city would receive negative publicity in films such as The French Connection (1972), Mean Streets (1973), Serpico (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), and Cruising (1980). 32. According to King, the “picture’s subtext is one of economic unease” and “the main reason that people went to see it, I think, is that The Amityville Horror, beneath its ghost-story exterior is really a financial demolition derby.” Stephen King, Danse Macabre (London: Macdonald, 1981), 143–44. 33. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 157. 34. Catherine L. Albanese, America: Religions and Religion, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1992), 352. 35. Elaine Showalter, Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (New York: Columbia University Press; London: Picador, 1997), 15. 36. Ibid. 37. Quoted in Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg, 208. 38. Sinyard, The Films of Steven Spielberg, 17. 39. Pauline Kael, “Making Lawrence More Lawrentian,” The New Yorker, February 10, 1968, 104. 40. Ray Bradbury, “The Jar,” in The October Country, illustrated by Joe Mugnaini (London: Earthlight), 91. 41. Earlier, Lincoln cheerfully explains to the Wordens how he managed to ward off a devil in his house: “Well, I talked to him [the devil], you see, but when he talked to me I couldn’t hear him. It drove him crazy, so he left.” That we can’t always tell whether he is being serious or not is yet another reason why it’s difficult to trust him. 42. The role of Paul Worden, as played by Darren McGavin, is rather different from his “true believer” role as occult investigative reporter Carl Kolchak in the cult telefilm The Night Stalker (1972), which aired just prior to Something Evil on the rival ABC network. This was scripted by Richard Matheson (who also scripted Duel), which led to the follow-up The Night Strangler (1973) and a short-lived television series, Kolchack: The Night Stalker (1973–1974).


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43. According to Harry E. Wedeck’s Dictionary of the Occult, a pentacle is a “fivepointed figure used in the Middle Ages to ward off witchcraft. In illustrations of magic apparatus in grimoires and other occult treatises, the pentacle is a design, containing magic symbols, used in divination and conjuration of spirits.” Harry E. Wedeck, Dictionary of the Occult (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), n.p. Strictly speaking, the “pentacle” featured in the film and enthusiastically adopted by Marjorie in her mobile designs is a hexagram star: “A six-pointed figure, called the Shield of David, that was used in magic rites, particularly to control demons.” Ibid. 44. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, 58. 45. Schober, Possessed Child Narratives, 171–72. 46. Sinyard, The Films of Steven Spielberg, 17. 47. This hysterical scene is reenacted in a later possessed child narrative, Robert Wise’s Audrey Rose (1977), in which hysterical mother Janice Templeton (Marcia Mason) nearly wrings the life out of daughter Ivy (Susan Swift) for disobeying her: “You are never NEVER to leave school without me, do you understand me! Under no circumstances do you go away with strangers! You sit in that school office and even if you have to just wait and you wait and you wait. Do you understand me Ivy?” “Yes,” Ivy whimpers, “You’re hurting me.” “This suggests that hysterical mothers make hysterical daughters make hysterical mothers.” Schober, Possessed Child Narratives, 104. 48. Paul is galvanized into coming home when a film technician in New York shows him footage of the apple-bar commercial that reveals two luminous eyes staring through the window of the house. When Paul asks whether it’s in the print, the technician informs him that it’s on the negative. (This recalls Evangelist Billy Graham saying that the evil of The Exorcist “was embedded in the celluloid of the film itself.”) Based on this evidence, are we meant to infer that Paul has been suddenly converted to a belief in the devil? As a successful advertising man, who traffics in lies, untruths, exaggerations, he should know that pictures do in fact lie. 49. According to nineteenth-century American senator/statesman Daniel Webster (1782–1852): “There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession.” 50. John E. B. Myers, “A Short History of Child Protection in America,” Family Law Quarterly 42, no. 3 (2008): 454–56. 51. Stevie’s behavior toward his sister must have struck a chord with Spielberg, because he too enjoyed tormenting his younger sisters as a boy, along with the little girl next door (Janie) in her playpen, when he lived in Camden, New Jersey. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 51. 52. Henry Sheehan singles out the incident where Grant terrorizes the twelve-yearold boy with a raptor claw while on a dig. “The Fears of Children.” Sight and Sound 3, no. 7 (July 1993): 10. By rescuing the grandchildren of park creator and CEO John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), Grant is given the opportunity to become a heroic father figure, and so mend his child-hating ways. 53. Schober, Possessed Child Narratives, 80. 54. Douglas Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group, 1995), 112. 55. Richard Schickel, Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective, foreword by Steven Spielberg (New York: Sterling, 2012), 27, 32. 56. Sigmund Freud, “A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis,” in Art and Literature: Jensen’s Gradiva, Leonardo da Vinci and Other Works, ed. Albert Dickson, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin), 400. 57. Ibid., 401. 58. Tacey, Jung and the New Age, 8. 59. Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg, 112. 60. According to McBride, The Sugarland Express “reveals, if not a streak of latent misogyny, a fear of women in the youthful Spielberg, and a deep ambivalence about mothers,” a charge he also levels at Close Encounters. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 219.

Unconditional Love, Hysterical Motherhood, and the Lost/Possessed Child


61. Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 36. 62. Ibid., 7–8. 63. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, 65. 64. Tony Williams, Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film, updated ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), 118–19.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Baxter, John. The Unauthorized Biography of Steven Spielberg. London: HarperCollins, 1996. Bradbury, Ray. “The Jar.” In The October Country. Illustrated by Joe Mugnaini. London: Earthlight, 1998. Brode, Douglas. The Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group, 1995. Buckland, Warren. Directed by Steven Spielberg: The Politics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York & London: Continuum, 2006. Crawley, Tony. The Steven Spielberg Story: The Man Behind the Movies. London: Zomba Books, 1983. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Friedman, Lester D. and Brent Notbohm, eds. Steven Spielberg: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Gordon, Andrew M. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 1898. Edited by Deborah Esch and Jonathon Warren. A Norton Critical Edition. 2nd ed. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. London: Macdonald, 1981. L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. 1962. London: Puffin, 1995. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 3rd ed. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2012. Newman, Kim. Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen since the 1960s. London: Bloomsbury, 2011. Schickel, Richard. Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective. New York: Sterling, 2012. Schober, Adrian. Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Showalter, Elaine. Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Popular Culture. New York: Columbia University Press; London: Picador, 1997. Sinyard, Neil. The Films of Steven Spielberg. Twickenham, Middlesex: Hamlyn, 1987. Something Evil, directed by Steven Spielberg, teleplay by Robert Clouse. Starring Sandy Dennis, Darren McGavin, and Johnny Whitaker. New York: CBS, 1972. 74 mins. Tacey, David. Jung and the New Age. Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge, 2001. Taylor, Philip M. Steven Spielberg: The Man, His Movies, and Their Meaning. New York: Continuum, 1992. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Translated by Robert Scholes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975. Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

THREE Ambiguous Loss The Depiction of Child Abduction in Spielberg’s Early Films James Kendrick

In April 2014, a number of media outlets reported the news that Steven Spielberg was developing a new historical drama with screenwriter Tony Kushner, with whom he had previously collaborated on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012), about the true-life story of a seven-year-old Italian Jew who, in 1858, was forcibly taken from his parents by authorities of the Papal States and raised a Catholic. 1 If it is made, the film, to be titled The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, would be the first of Spielberg’s projects to include the word “kidnapping” in the title, but it would hardly be the first to deal with the topic. In fact, abduction or the threat of abduction of children, whether physically or supernaturally, has been a constant throughout Spielberg’s body of work—perhaps the most persistently depicted trauma in all of his films, significant enough that Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride calls it a “thematic obsession” 2—although it is particularly pronounced in the first half of his career. Of the seventeen feature-length films 3 he directed between 1971 and 1993, roughly the first half of his now four-decade career as a Hollywood director, eight of them—the made-for-television film Something Evil (1972), The Sugarland Express (1974), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Poltergeist (1982), 4 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987), Hook (1991), and Schindler’s List (1993)—feature children who are taken or are separated from their parents by forces personal, institutional, or supernatural. There are sig71


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nificant differences in the depictions of abduction and the narrative role they play. In the fantasy-adventure Hook, for example, the grown-up Peter Pan’s/Peter Banning’s children are kidnapped by his old nemesis Captain Hook as a means of drawing him back to Never-Never Land, whereas in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all the children in a small Indian village have already been stolen by a Thugee cult and forced into slavery. In the historical drama The Color Purple, the film’s oppressed African American protagonist, Celie, has her newborn baby immediately taken from her by her stepfather, who had raped her and fathered the child, while in the war drama Empire of the Sun, a young British schoolboy named Jaime is separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai and spends the next three years in various Japanese prisoner camps. And, while Spielberg is often associated with childhood (owing primarily to the massive international success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982), these films, with the exception of Empire of the Sun, tend to focus more on the trauma endured by the parents, who oftentimes don’t know what has happened to their child. The horrors of “not knowing” that follow a child who has suddenly disappeared—what psychologist Pauline Boss has termed “ambiguous loss” 5—forms a distinct thematic thread that cuts through the majority of Spielberg’s early work, regardless of genre. This chapter examines the role played by child abductions in several of Spielberg’s early films, particularly The Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Poltergeist, finding common links both narrative and thematic across the films themselves while also connecting them to the broader socio-historical period in which they were made, which Paula S. Fass has described as one of “elevated consciousness about the kidnap dangers lurking for America’s children.” 6 Anxiety over child abductions and the sense of parental and social failure that accompanied them was particularly acute in the United States in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s due to a series of widely mediated abduction cases, including those of Steven Stayner (1972), Etan Perez (1979), Adam Walsh (1981), and Kevin Collins (1984). While Spielberg did not produce or direct any films that dealt directly with such contemporary crimes, the prevalence of kidnappings and abductions in his films of this period suggest that he was reflecting, consciously or otherwise, one of the preeminent anxieties of the time. “A PSYCHIC SCAR”: LATE TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHILD ABDUCTION IN THE UNITED STATES The late 1970s and early 1980s, the period during which Spielberg rose to prominence as a popular director, witnessed a sharp rise in fears regarding missing children. The decade was marked by a series of disappear-

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ances that were widely mediated and captured national attention with their mixture of inscrutable mystery, “it could happen to anyone” relevance, and sense of innocence betrayed. As Paula S. Fass notes, “After the mid-1980s, [missing children] became everpresent, a psychic scar in American culture.” 7 The still unsolved disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz on the morning of May 25, 1979, as he walked alone the two blocks between his family’s apartment in the SoHo district of New York City and the school bus stop “focused attention on the plague of missing children as no other case had before.” 8 Etan’s disappearance was widely mediated by friends and neighbors, who covered the city with flyers bearing his face and description, and he became the first missing child featured on milk cartons. Two years later, on July 27, 1981, six-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Sears department store in a mall in Hollywood, Florida. His fate was revealed several days later when his decapitated head was recovered beside a canal along the Florida Turnpike one hundred miles away near Vero Beach. Adam’s story was particularly galvanizing in both the gruesomeness of his death and the fact that he was shopping with his mother, Revé, at the time of his kidnapping, which made the threat of abduction seem even more pernicious. Adam’s death helped spur the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984 and also compelled his father, John Walsh, to become a prominent advocate for victims of violent crime and later the host of the weekly television program America’s Most Wanted (1988–2011). Adam’s story was also turned into a widely viewed made-for-television movie Adam (1983) and a sequel, Adam: His Song Continues (1986). There had been widely mediated abductions of children before, starting with the kidnapping-for-ransom of four-year-old Charley Ross in 1874, which for the first time turned child kidnapping into “a fully constructed public issue.” 9 However, the abductions of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh, as well as the case of Steven Stayner, who had been abducted and held for seven years by a serial pedophile before escaping in 1980, moved the issue of child abduction to a new level of public consciousness. The increasing use of various forms of media to draw attention to and help locate missing children, from local television broadcasts, to roadside billboards, to pictures on milk cartons and mail circulars, was a new phenomenon, while legislation passed in 1982 that allowed for the inclusion of missing children in the FBI database “represented the new national recognition of the problem as something beyond the scope of local law enforcement.” 10 The topic also found its way into popular culture via a number of made-for-TV movies, including the aforementioned Adam films and I Know My First Name is Steven (1989), a docudrama about Steven Stayner’s ordeal, as well as the major studio theatrical release Without a Trace (1983), in which Kate Nelligan plays a mother determined to find her abducted six-year-old son, whose disappearance while walk-


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ing to school in Brooklyn clearly reflects the disappearance of Etan Patz. The similarities were not incidental, as the film was based on a 1981 novel titled Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon, who was a neighbor of the Patzes in SoHo. 11 Thus, by the mid-1980s, the abduction of children was viewed as a persistent national problem, perhaps most chillingly codified in the March 19, 1984, Newsweek cover featuring the image of nine-year-old Kevin Collins, who had disappeared a month earlier while waiting for a bus in San Francisco. The magazine’s bold headline—“Stolen Children: What Can Be Done about Child Abduction”—succinctly summarized the fears that had been growing throughout the previous decade, while the text underneath Kevin’s picture—“This Child Could Be Yours”—was a sharp reminder that child abduction was an issue that cut across race, class, and gender (although it tended to be the children of white middle- and upper-class families that got the most media attention when they disappeared). Simply put, no child was really safe, and every parent needed to be vigilant at all times, which led to parents giving strict lessons about not talking to strangers, giving them secret “code words” that only trusted adults would know, and even having their children photographed and fingerprinted. At least one U.S. insurance company capitalized on the moment by offering a Missing Child Assistance Plan, which helped cover the expenses of searching for a child who had disappeared. 12 Because no single law enforcement or government agency was in charge of maintaining statistics on child abductions, the exact number of such crimes in the United States was not known, which allowed for a great deal of speculation and sometimes unfounded apprehension about the extent of the problem and the kinds of people who were involved. The only numbers available came from estimates provided by various researchers and private firms, and those numbers tended to vary widely. For example, in 1982, Child Find, a private child-tracking agency in New York, was reporting that 150,000 American children were abducted each year, 50,000 of whom were taken by strangers. Of those 150,000, 10 percent were found alive and 10 percent were found dead, meaning that the other 80 percent—120,000 children a year—simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. 13 The next year, Richard Gelles, a professor of sociology at the University of Rhode Island, announced at the annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations that there were at least 313,000, and possibly as many as 626,000, incidents of parental kidnapping each year. 14 Such reported numbers continued to grow. According to an article in the aforementioned 1984 issue of Newsweek with Kevin Collins on the cover: Of the approximately 1.8 million children who are reported missing each year, 90 to 95 percent are likely to be runaways or youngsters

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abducted by a parent involved in a custody fight. By widely varying estimates, anywhere from 6,000 to 50,000 missing children are, like Kevin Collins, presumed to be victims of “stranger abduction,” a crime of predatory cruelty usually committed by pedophiles, pornographers, black-market-baby peddlers or childless psychotics bidding desperately for parenthood. Only a few cases are solved. Even fewer strangerabducted children are recovered alive. 15

Despite the fact that the vast majority of child kidnappings were the work of one of the child’s parents, the threat of an extrafamilial culprit—a pedophile, a sex trafficker, a serial killer—loomed largest in the public imaginary, especially since the most high-profile abductions at the time were ultimately attributed to such larger-than-life monsters. Thus, for most Americans, missing children were not the result of interfamilial quarreling and struggles over parental rights and child custody, but rather an issue of evil, faceless strangers preying on innocents, who had to be protected at all costs. A 1991 study showed that 72 percent of parents worried about their child being abducted despite the fact that “the incidence of classic kidnapping by a non-family member is 1 per 200,000 to 300,000 and of short-term abduction is 1 per 15,000 to 20,000.” 16 This intense concern and anxiety around abductions set up an impossible tension in that children, no matter how protected by their parents, can never be guarded every second of their lives. At some point, all children, even if it’s when they’re asleep in their beds, are somehow vulnerable, a never-ending parental fear that Spielberg’s early films grapple with over and over again in various manifestations. “THEY’VE TAKEN BABY LANGSTON!”: ESTABLISHING A PARENTAL FOCUS IN THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS The theme of child abduction appears early in Spielberg’s career—in Something Evil (1972), one of his early made-for-television films, and in The Sugarland Express (1974), his first studio-produced feature made for the theatrical market. The Sugarland Express is about a desperate young couple, Lou Jean and Clovis Poplin (Goldie Hawn and William Atherton), who become unlikely folk heroes after they kidnap a state trooper and use his car to lead state and federal police on a lengthy chase across Texas. The film is based on events Spielberg had first read about in an Associated Press article in 1969. Bobby and Ila Fae Dent kidnapped Texas state trooper Kenneth Krone and ended up leading a caravan of more than one hundred vehicles through southeast Texas before Bobby was shot by police in an ambush when he tried to see his stepchildren, who were living with Ila Fae’s father. Significantly, Spielberg, who wrote the original story treatment and worked closely with screenwriters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, was the one responsible for creating the


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fictional motive for Lou Jean and Clovis, the film’s version of Ila Fae and Bobby: to reclaim their toddler-age son Langston, who has been put into a foster home by social services while they were serving time in prison. The “abduction” of Langston by state social services is clearly distinct from the type of child abductions that would soon grip the nation. For one, Lou Jean and Clovis both know who has their child and why; in fact, they even know exactly where the foster family lives. Therefore, their child’s having been forcibly taken from them lacks the heart-wrenching element of not knowing that accompanies a stranger’s abduction. However, in The Sugarland Express Spielberg established what is clearly the most dramatically interesting aspect of the child abduction narrative and the one that dominates his subsequent films: the emotional devastation felt by the parents. Although Langston appears periodically throughout The Sugarland Express, his experience is not the focus of the film. Instead, it is a pretext for the dramatic core, which resides primarily with Lou Jean, a difficult character through whose eyes the majority of the film is told. Lou Jean’s tenacity and single-minded determination to reclaim Langston frequently comes across as child-like, manipulative, and hysterical, and part of the film’s seriocomic tragedy is that she ultimately gives in to her own self-interests once she realizes she and Clovis have become folk heroes due to the circus-like media coverage of their predicament. In interviews, Spielberg described the film as “political” and “an indictment of the media, more than anything else,” 17 but his affinity for the story and his push to get it made despite studio reluctance suggests that he clearly connected to the drama and the characters. As he put it, “The human drama of Lou Jean and Clovis Poplin . . . inspired me long before I was visually wooed by the thought of all those cars.” 18 Although Langston has been legally put into the custody of the state due to his parents’ incarceration, Lou Jean and later Clovis view it as an abduction and their trip across Texas to reclaim him as a kind of rescue mission. “Welfare’s come and taken Baby Langston forever,” Lou Jean tells Clovis in the opening sequence where she convinces him to break out of a minimum-security prerelease facility. “They’ll keep him in that foster home!” When one of Clovis’s fellow inmates tries to stop him from escaping, he says, “You don’t understand. They took my boy, Baby Langston,” and he later tells the state trooper they kidnap that the state will “take away my boy for good. They’ll change his name.” Thus, even though the circumstances of Langston’s “abduction” are quite different from the ones that kept many American parents in fear during the 1970s and 1980s, the tenor of the dialogue suggests that Lou Jean and Clovis were responding to it with the same kind of fearful desperation that would accompany any parent whose child has been taken from them. Most importantly, the story is told from the emotional perspective of the parents, a tendency that Spielberg will continue in subsequent films.

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AMBIGUOUS LOSS IN CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) AND POLTERGEIST (1982) We see this focus on parental anguish even more powerfully in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist, a science fiction and horror film, respectively, that were released in the midst of the rising anxiety about child abduction in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They both feature lengthy, special effects-laden sequences in which a young child—fouryear-old Barry (Cary Guffey) in Close Encounters and five-year-old Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) in Poltergeist—is forcibly abducted from his or her home, at which point the child all but disappears from the narrative, leaving the focus on the parents trapped in the emotional aftermath of not knowing. Psychologist Pauline Boss has termed this “ambiguous loss”: Ambiguous loss is a loss that remains unclear. The premise of the ambiguous loss theory is that uncertainty or a lack of information about the whereabouts or status of a loved one as absent or present, as dead or alive, is traumatizing for most individuals, couples, and families. The ambiguity freezes the grief process . . . and prevents cognition, thus blocking coping and decision-making processes. Closure is impossible. . . . Without information to clarify their loss, family members have no choice but to live with the paradox of absence and presence. 19

The predicament the parents in Close Encounters and Poltergeist face taps into fears of both losing one’s child and of the sanctity of one’s home being compromised. As in many other Spielberg films, the seemingly safe confines of the American suburban home is a thin veneer of protection that is easily penetrated. Safety is but an illusion. SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES IN CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Close Encounters depicts a number of characters who are visited physically and psychologically by extra-terrestrials. As Andrew M. Gordon notes, these extra-terrestrials are something of a paradox, as they have godlike powers and are ultimately benign, but “behave like imps or elves” and “seem to delight in wreaking havoc for no reason.” 20 Central to their paradoxical behavior is their abduction of people, both adults and children, some of whom they hold for decades. The fact that Spielberg never provides an explanation for this gives it a sinister air, even though he does not depict any direct negative effects on the people who have been abducted beyond general confusion and the obvious loss of time. The only character whom we see actually abducted during the film is four-year-old Barry. Close Encounters features two separate home invasion sequences that threaten him, the first of which focuses almost exclusively on his experience, which leads the viewer to believe that he will be


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the film’s primary point of identification, at least within his subplot. In this sequence Barry is awoken in the middle of the night by a strange feeling that is confirmed when all the toys in his room suddenly come to life, moving and beeping and clattering around as if suddenly possessed. Barry sees a light in the hallway outside his bedroom, and he follows it downstairs, where he is confronted with an offscreen alien or aliens that have just ransacked the kitchen and spilled most of the contents of the refrigerator on the floor. Although we do not see the otherworldly visitor(s), we get some sense of their presence via the nuanced expressions on Barry’s face, which shift from surprise, to bafflement, to fear, to wonder. Thus, it is established here that the aliens are not particularly threatening—more prankish and messy than anything, but not overtly dangerous, a sense that will be utterly contradicted in the second invasion sequence. Not incidentally, the second invasion sequence begins from Barry’s perspective, but unlike the first sequence, it soon alternates between him and his mother, Jillian (Melinda Dillon), and then ends almost entirely from Jillian’s perspective, which establishes firmly that the Jillian-Barry subplot of Close Encounters is ultimately about Jillian’s experience dealing with the inexplicable loss of her son, rather than Barry’s experience of being abducted, something that is left completely vague at the end of the film. The manner in which Spielberg alternates our identification between Barry and Jillian using editing, camera angles, and movement, as well as music, is indicative of his larger goal in this section of the film to make us feel the encroaching fear of the unknown descending on one’s family and then the abject terror that follows when the worst happens. The sequence begins with a tracking shot into a close-up of Barry as he runs to the window of the screened-in back porch and, while licking his lips, looks curiously up into the night sky offscreen right as the sound of thunder grows on the soundtrack. The second shot is an objective medium shot of Jillian, occupying the lower right-hand portion of the frame, outside in the backyard emptying a waste basket into the trash can; the rest of the frame is filled with the house behind her, where attuned eyes will spot Barry looking out the back porch window. Thus, these first two shots establish a connection with Barry, who sees something that his mother (and the viewer) does not. The third shot, to which we transition over Jillian turning when she hears Barry laugh, moves to a medium reverse of the second shot, this time from a lower angle looking slightly up at Jillian as she sees what Barry has already seen in the sky. Although we still do not see what they see at this point, Jillian’s body language and facial expression suggest that there is something to be feared, or at least something of concern, in the sky. That feeling is contradicted by the fourth shot, a close-up of Barry looking at the sky, smiling and laughing. This is the first, but hardly the last, contrast of the boy and the mother’s response to a threat.

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The fifth shot offers the first point-of-view shot of the sequence, as we cut from the close-up of Barry to what both he and Jillian see, which finally brings the viewer into their full visual experience: a mass of dark clouds spreading out ominously while creating a vortex, out of which extremely bright light begins to glow. Choral music, the first time nondiegetic music appears in the sequence, begins to play over the sounds of rumbling thunder and dogs barking in the distance. The music suggests that we should view the clouds and light with the same sense of wonder that Barry evinces in the next shot, which is a virtual repeat of the sequence’s opening shot. The camera again tracks in to a close-up of Barry’s face, full of excitement and wonder as he begins to exclaim, “Toys! Toys!” It is clear at this point that what Barry sees he takes to be not only nonthreatening, but playful and fun, which resonates strongly with stories of child abductions engineered around tempting children with toys, candy, pet dogs, and other enticing items. For example, it was determined years after his abduction that Adam Walsh had most likely been taken and killed by Ottis Toole, a serial killer who confessed to luring him into his car outside the mall with toys and candy. 21 The next shot offers a strong visual and aural break with Barry’s sense of wonderment, as we cut back to the same camera position and angle from the sequence’s third shot, looking up slightly at Jillian at the trashcan. As she steps back in fear, there is a sharp shift in the music, as the choral voices build to a crescendo that is interrupted by a sudden, fierce, dissonant chord, followed by a series of undulating chords, discordant sounds, and human voices that quickly build a sense of overwhelming dread that defines the rest of the sequence. In a long shot Spielberg shows Jillian moving slowly back to the house as the clouds continue to spread and the lights begin to come down out of the sky and move toward them. Spielberg cuts to another close-up of Barry looking up into the sky with bright, open eyes and a smile on his face, further emphasizing the disconnect between his experience and Jillian’s. Once Jillian runs inside and pulls Barry away from the window, she engages in a futile attempt to barricade the house against whatever is descending from the sky. She closes and locks windows and bars the door with a chair, but it is all to no avail, especially because Barry not only feels no fear, but at one point actively attempts to undermine Jillian’s attempts at protection by opening the front door, which bathes him in a fiery reddish-orange light and loud moaning sound. Barry’s attraction to the lights outside the house and lack of concern that they might pose any danger is typical of preadolescent innocence, which ultimately makes him vulnerable to abduction. Throughout this part of the sequence, Spielberg continues to alternate between Jillian’s and Barry’s experiences, although after Barry opens the front door and Jillian shuts it, the sequence becomes entirely about her. The transition is subtle, as Spielberg gives us a shot of both Jillian and


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Figure 3.1. Shifting perspectives between Jillian and Barry in the second invasion sequence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Barry together as they hear scratching and what sounds like footsteps above them. They are both looking up at the ceiling, and Barry starts walking forward, stepping out of the bottom of the frame. We then cut to what appears to be a point-of-view shot looking up and tracking forward, which would suggest that we are seeing the ceiling and rattling chande-

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lier through Barry’s eyes. However, as the camera tilts down and catches an oval-shaped mirror on the wall, it is Jillian’s reflection we see, not Barry’s. The camera then continues tilting down where it finds Barry standing in front of an open fireplace saying, “You can come and play now,” a continuation of his childish desire to engage with that which might hurt him. From that point on there are only a handful of quick shots of Barry alone, as the rest of the sequence focuses more and more on Jillian’s desperate attempts to protect him as the lights go out in the house and various electronic devices—a record player, vacuum cleaner, television, and virtually everything in the kitchen—spring to life and take on a threatening aura. When the screws on a heater vent in the floor start unscrewing themselves, it is Barry who first sees it, but the focus quickly shifts to Jillian, and Spielberg gives us two close-ups of her fearful reaction and her frantically screaming “Go away!” Jillian is literally surrounded in her own house, the components of which are turning against her, and her desperation becomes more palpable and strained as the intensity of the sequence grows. When she and Barry are both bathed in reddish-orange light from outside the kitchen window, Barry continues to maintain a sense of wonder, telling her to “look,” while she can no longer contain her terror. That terror ultimately immobilizes her, and Barry is able to get out from her grasp, at which point he begins to crawl through a doggie door and is grabbed on the other side by an unseen force. Jillian fights to hold onto him, but she cannot, and he is gone. Like the disappearance of Adam Walsh in the Sears department store just a few aisles away from where his mother was shopping, Jillian’s presence is not enough to save Barry from being taken. Her attempts to hold onto his legs as he is pulled away from her are not enough, and she is left frantically running out of the house toward the dissipating cloud vortex and fading light, screaming his name over and over again. At this point in the film, Barry is gone, and we never learn what exactly happened to him between the time he was taken from his home and the point at the end of the film when he is returned to Jillian along with dozens of others the aliens have kidnapped over the previous three decades. The focus is on Jillian’s experience and the aftermath of her losing her child, which is the subject of the very next sequence, which takes place at a government facility where the Air Force is holding a press conference to deal with the various reported “close encounters” that people have been having. Jillian is immediately surrounded by reporters and television cameras and lights; she is objectified as the distraught mother in an all-too-familiar narrative of unexplained abduction. All she can say is “They got him,” and the lack of definition of who “they” are resonates with the terrible not knowing that often accompanies a child who has disappeared. The reporters corner her by an elevator, barraging her with questions and compelling her to turn around, even though she is clearly


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not emotionally equipped to deal with both Barry’s disappearance and the sudden media attention it has engendered. Questions about her “fantastic” report to the police and whether or not she is involved in “any kind of parapsychology” suggest a level of doubt amongst the reporters that her story is true, which reflects the frequent assumption that the parents are somehow involved in the disappearance of their child (John Walsh was an immediate suspect when Adam disappeared, for example, as were John and Patsy Ramsey, the parents of six-year-old JonBenét who, in a highly sensationalized and still unsolved case in 1996, was reported missing and then discovered eight hours later dead in the basement of the family’s home). THE PARADOX OF ABSENCE AND PRESENCE IN POLTERGEIST Like Jillian, the parents in Poltergeist, Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams), suffer the abduction of a child by a powerful, mysterious entity that invades their seemingly safe domestic space. The film takes place in and around a suburban southern California house occupied by the Freeling family, which is defined primarily by its comfortable normality. That normality is upended by an intrusion of poltergeists, which are defined as ghosts or spirits that are particularly noisy, disturbing, and destructive. The poltergeists manifest their intrusion in multiple ways, including possessing various objects such as a clown doll and an ancient tree in the backyard, causing the house to shake as if it is in the midst of an earthquake, and ultimately abducting five-year-old Carol Anne, whom they take to an alternate dimension located somewhere within the house, the entrance to which is in the children’s bedroom closet (an “area of bilocation,” to use the film’s paranormal lingo). Even more so than Barry in Close Encounters, Carol Anne represents a particularly compelling illustration of “the paradox of absence and presence” associated with abducted children. 22 When children disappear they are not fully gone because, despite being physically absent, there is always hope that they are alive somewhere and will eventually be found. The ambiguity of their situation rebukes attempts at closure, thus leaving open all possibilities at all times. Press coverage of missing children routinely stresses the parents’ insistence that their child is still alive and will be found, framing it as the fuel that keeps them going as they work with investigators, initiate their own searches, and even consult with psychics and mediums. An article about Etan Patz’s parents a year after his disappearance, for example, stressed that they “are adamant in their faith that he [lives].” 23 Faith is all parents of abducted children have, as they do not have the terrible benefit of knowing that their child is dead and will therefore never come back, which at least allows for some kind of closure; rather, they are left in a perpetual state of ambiguity, an emotional and

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epistemological limbo in which they cling to the idea that their child will be returned to them. It is this emotional state that is most powerfully depicted in Poltergeist, which makes the film more compelling as a domestic drama about child abduction than a conventional horror film about a haunting. While Jillian in Close Encounters was a direct witness to Barry’s abduction and therefore has at least some notion of what happened to him, no one sees when Carol Anne is taken because her parents and older sister are frantically occupied with trying to save Robbie (Oliver Robins), her eight-year-old brother, from being devoured by the aforementioned possessed tree outside his bedroom window, which hindsight suggests was a purposeful attempt by the poltergeists to occupy the family so that the youngest member would be left unprotected and especially vulnerable. When the family comes back into the house, Carol Anne is simply missing, and they frantically spread out trying to find her before they hear her voice, which misleads them to think that she is okay. They discover, much to their horror, that Carol Anne is not okay, but is rather trapped somewhere within the house, a space they are unable to discover or enter. As Joseph McBride has pointed out, the plot of Poltergeist “bears a striking similarity” 24 to the 1962 Twilight Zone episode “Little Girl Lost,” in which a six-year-old girl named Tina rolls off her bed in the middle of the night and disappears into another dimension. As with Carol Anne, Tina’s cries for help can be heard even as her exasperated parents are unable to locate her physically. According to Richard Matheson, who wrote the script for “Little Girl Lost” based on his own short story, Spielberg requested a videotape of the episode before he made Poltergeist, which suggests that it had some degree of influence on the film. 25 However, there is a crucial difference between Poltergeist and “Little Girl Lost,” namely that Carol Anne is abducted by a malevolent presence that has invaded the safe confines of the domestic space whereas Tina accidentally falls into another dimension (at one point in “Little Girl Lost” when the father is on the phone with a friend, he explicitly says “No, she wasn’t kidnapped”). While the result is the same—parents trying desperately to reunite with their missing child—the active assault on Carol Anne by forces intent on harming her makes her disappearance profoundly more disturbing. Steve and Diane’s ambiguous loss in Poltergeist is particularly tormenting because they know Carol Anne’s location, although her apparent proximity to them is misleading. The film establishes from the opening shot that the television set is a potential portal to other dimensions, and when Carol Anne first makes contact with what she comes to call “the TV people,” it is through the static and white noise of the off-hours television screen, whose swirl of black and white pixels becomes a powerful visual symbol of her parents’ distress and confusion. Later, after she is abducted, her family can hear her voice crying out to them from the static of


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Figure 3.2. In Poltergeist, Steve and Diane Freeling experience the anguish of being able to hear their abducted child without being able to help her.

the television when it is tuned to an open channel. Her words, which often betray fear and confusion, are made all the worse by the aural distortion of her voice, which draws out her words and makes them linger and echo in an uncanny fashion. The Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA)

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explicitly cited the terrifying nature of the film’s Dolby surround soundtrack in justifying their initially giving the film a restrictive R rating, and while they were referencing the more conventional elements of the film’s intense, horrific sound design, it is difficult to discount the traumatic nature of Carol Anne’s disembodied voice evincing confusion, distress, and outright terror. 26 Paradoxically, being able to hear Carol Anne is reassuring, in that it assures Steve and Diane that she is still alive, but also distressing because, while they can hear her and talk to her, they cannot find her and must listen to her anguish without being able to help her—surely one of the most traumatic events a parent could experience. When Carol Anne cries out “Mommy, mommy, where are you?,” it strikes directly at every parent’s fear of not being able to help a child who is in imminent danger. Even worse, Steve and Diane come to realize that Carol Anne is not alone. “Mommy, there’s somebody here. Mommy, mommy, is that you?” she says at one point, to which Diane replies, “Who’s with you, baby?” Carol Anne then cries for help, and Diane can only say with mounting desperation in her voice, “God. My God. My baby,” which emphasizes the film’s intertwined nightmares: Carol Anne’s terror of being in a scary place she doesn’t understand and Diane’s distress in being impotent to help, which is literalized later in the film when Carol Anne and Robbie are being attacked again by the poltergeists in their bedroom and a ghostly entity physically blocks her from entering the room. Poltergeist depicts in unflinching terms the parental nightmare of experiencing a child’s abduction firsthand and not being able to do anything about it. Despite the fantastical nature of Carol Anne’s abduction, the drama is managed in such a way that it aligns very closely with what we would expect to see in an actual child abduction case, especially in its depiction of the parents’ emotional grappling with ambiguous loss, the stress on the family unit in the wake of a child abduction, and the importance of time in recovering the child. Like Close Encounters and, to some extent, The Sugarland Express, the fact that we do not see Carol Anne until she has been rescued from her ghostly abductors places all of the dramatic emphasis on her parents’ experience, which film scholar Douglas Brode argues is a weakness in the film. In suggesting that Poltergeist could be read as a variation on L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, he argues “Poltergeist suffers by focusing on the distraught parents while keeping the child offscreen. One legitimate complaint is that it is akin to watching Aunt Em and the farm people fret over a comatose Dorothy rather than taking us down the yellow brick road.” 27 What Brode misses is that the dramatic weight of Poltergeist lies precisely with the parents’ distress, with whom the viewer is aligned experientially by hearing Carol Anne’s voice, but not knowing her whereabouts and if she can be rescued. Interestingly, the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, a film with which Spielberg had no direct involvement, attempted to rectify this “complaint” by shifting


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much of the film’s focus to the children (who are renamed Madison and Griffin), rather than the parents, to the point of depicting with elaborate computer-generated imagery the hellish netherworld in which Madison is trapped during her abduction. The result is decidedly less effective emotionally, not only because the visual effects are both overly familiar and not particularly convincing, but because it robs the viewer of the gnawing horror of ambiguous loss. Seeing Madison in the remake surrounded by tormented souls who are physically embodied as gaunt, twisted human forms falls far short of the deep unease generated by listening to Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein), a medium hired by the Freelings to help rescue Carol Anne, describe their daughter’s predicament in her uniquely soft, but direct cadence: Carol Anne is not like those she’s with. She is a living presence in their spiritual, earthbound plane. They’re attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves: her life force. It is very strong. It gives off its own illumination. It is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures—something they desperately desire but can’t have anymore. Right now, she’s the closest thing to that and that is a terrible distraction from the real light that has finally come for them. . . . Now, hold onto yourselves. There’s one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal. I’ve never sensed anything like it. . . . It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It lies to her. It says things only a child can understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the beast.

Tangina’s unnerving description of both the “souls” that are holding Carol Anne and “the beast” that keeps her close resonate with descriptions of two of the most typical real-life stranger abductors of children: childless women who want a child of their own but cannot have one (“[Carol Anne’s] life force . . . is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures—something they desperately desire but can’t have anymore”) and serial predators who want to harm children to satiate their own sadistic needs (“A terrible presence. . . . So much rage, so much betrayal”). Tangina noting that the beast “lies” to Carol Anne and tells her things “only a child can understand” further resonates with the methods of real-life child abductors, who frequently tempt their naïve victims with lies about candy, toys, and puppies. It is important in this respect that Diane conceives of Carol Anne’s abductor as an individual, rather than a supernatural force, which aligns her experience more closely with those who have suffered the loss of their children. “You bastard!” she shouts at point. “She’s just a baby!” There is also a great deal of narrative attention paid to the stress on the Freeling family in dealing with Carol Anne’s abduction. When Steve, with dark circles under his eyes, looking haggard and worn, meets with a

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group of paranormal researchers at a nearby university, he tells them, “We don’t care about the disturbances. . . . We just want you to find our little girl.” When the researchers are touring the house, Diane tells them directly, “We’ve been trying to hold ourselves together as a family. Of course, no one’s been sleeping much. Steven has missed so much work. But he’s been wonderful, really wonderful.” The stress on the Freelings’s teenage daughter, Dana (Dominique Dunne), is more than she can handle, and she spends a great deal of time away from the house with friends, perhaps in a bid to repress the trauma that has invaded her previously safe domestic space. A third element of Carol Anne’s supernatural abduction that resonates with real-life abductions is the pressing element of time. The Investigative Case Management for Missing Children Homicides: Report II, a nationwide law-enforcement study conducted for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) by the Washington State Attorney General’s office, reported that, “in cases when a child is killed during an abduction 46.8 percent will die within an hour of the abduction and 76.2 percent will be killed within three hours of the abduction.” 28 Thus, in real-life abduction cases, time is a crucial factor. Early on in meeting with the paranormal investigators in Poltergeist, the lead investigator, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), says that the poltergeist intrusions are sudden and of unsure duration, so at any point the intrusion could end and, with it, any hope of recovering Carol Anne. “Then we don’t have much time, Dr. Lesh, because my daughter is alive somewhere inside this house,” Diane says, which further emphasizes the fervent desire of parents to believe their abducted child is still alive even if they have no idea where they are or what has happened. The ticking clock or deadline is a standard narrative device to generate tension, but here it works double in evoking the reality that the first few hours in any abduction case are the most crucial. Thus, even though Carol Anne has been taken by restless spirits into another dimension, Poltergeist follows a basic dramatic template that essentially matches with real-life child abductions, making it more dramatically compelling than most haunted house movies. The focus on the distraught parents and their grappling with ambiguous loss, the dramatic depiction of the stress on the family, and the important element of time all align the film’s supernatural abduction of Carol Anne with the realities faced by families who have lost a child. CONCLUSION The Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Poltergeist are all narratively predicated on the forceful taking of a child from his or her parents and the dramatic impact of the distress felt by those parents. As


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each of these three films would be conventionally categorized in a different genre (drama, science fiction, and horror) and they differ from each other in terms of tone and style, it is clear that the narrative trope of child abduction is both a regular and extremely flexible feature of Spielberg’s first decade making feature-length films. The consistency with which this trope appears in his early cinematic output is strong evidence of its prevalence in his creative mindset, even if he was not purposefully seeking to reflect on the increasing attention paid in the media to real-life child abductions. Especially in the cases of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist, it may very well be that Spielberg was simply unconsciously making use of a widely mediated, sharply rising social fear to give dramatic weight to films that are otherwise predicated on the fantastical. Spielberg has long been recognized as an intuitive filmmaker whose popularity derives largely from his ability to connect directly with his audiences’ fears and wonders, which makes it not terribly surprising that threats toward children would play such a prominent role in his work. Although often thought of as a filmmaker whose primary goal is to reassure the viewer, the prominence of abductions and lost children in his films suggests something quite different: that Spielberg should be best understood as an artist who is interested in grappling directly with the viewer’s fears and anxieties about vulnerability, which is so powerfully embodied in stories about parents who are faced with the terrible reality that, no matter how fervent their desire, they cannot protect their children at all times. NOTES 1. “Director Steven Spielberg Tackles ‘The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,’” Slashfilm, accessed May 6, 2015, 2. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 2nd ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 337. 3. This number includes fourteen films made for the theatrical market and three feature-length made-for-television films. 4. Although Tobe Hooper is credited as the director of Poltergeist and Spielberg is credited as co-producer and co-screenwriter, there is ample evidence to suggest that Spielberg, at the very minimum, co-directed the film, which is why it is included here alongside films for which he is credited as director. For further discussion of Spielberg’s extensive involvement in the film’s creation, see James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 37–39. 5. Pauline Boss, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). 6. Paula S. Fass, Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 238. 7. Ibid., 237. 8. Clyde Clyde Haberman, “A New Horror Recalls Another,” Blog, The Los Angeles Times (July 14, 2011), other/.

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9. Fass, Kidnapped, 10. 10. Ibid., 234. 11. Glenn Collins, “The Patzes: When Fiction Imitates Life,” The New York Times, July 26, 1982, sec. A. 12. Sally Hughes, “Guardian Women: Cashing in on a Parent’s Nightmare: U.S. Insurance Companies Offer Protection against the Risk of a Child Being Kidnapped,” The Guardian (London), October 3, 1984, lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?lni=40GH-DGG0-00VY-909S&csi=8411&hl=t&hv= t&hnsd=f&hns=t&hgn=t&oc=00240&perma=true. 13. Associated Press, “Child Abductions a Rising Concern: With 150,000 Incidents Each Year, Units Are Forming to Aid Victims’ Families,”The New York Times, December 5, 1982, 77, 4411PQ/1?accountid=7014. 14. Glenn Collins, “Study Finds Child Abduction by Parents Exceeds Estimates,” The New York Times, October 23, 1983, sec. 1. 15. David Gelman, “Stolen Children,” Newsweek, March 19, 1984, www.newsweek. com/stolen-children-207018. 16. G. B. Stickler, M. Salter, D. D. Broughton, and A. Alario, “Parents’ Worries about Children Compared to Actual Risks,” Clinical Pediatrics 30, no. 9 (September 1991): 527. 17. David Helpern, “At Sea with Steven Spielberg,” in Steven Spielberg: Interviews (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000), 5. 18. Andrew C. Bobrow, “Filming The Sugarland Express: An Interview with Steven Spielberg,” in Steven Spielberg: Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, n.d.), 18. 19. Pauline Boss, “Ambiguous Loss Theory: Challenges for Scholars and Practitioners,” Family Relations 56, no. 2 (April 2007): 105. 20. Andrew M. Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 67, login?url= 21. John Walsh, Tears of Rage—From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice: The Untold Story of the Adam Walsh Case (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009). 22. Boss, “Ambiguous Loss Theory,” 105. 23. Mary Cantwell, “The Long Year of the Patz Family,” The New York Times, June 8, 1980, sec. 6. 24. McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 337. 25. Ibid. 26. James Kendrick, Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema (Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 2009), 180. 27. Douglas Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Carol Pub. Group, 1995), 107. 28. Stephen E. Steidel and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (U.S.), Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management (Arlington, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1994), 33.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Associated Press. “Child Abductions a Rising Concern: With 150,000 Incidents Each Year, Units Are Forming to Aid Victims’ Families.” New York Times. December 5, 1982. ccountid=7014. Bobrow, Andrew C. “Filming The Sugarland Express: An Interview with Steven Spielberg.” In Steven Spielberg: Interviews, edited by Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, 18–29. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, n.d.


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Boss, Pauline. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. ———. “Ambiguous Loss Theory: Challenges for Scholars and Practitioners.” Family Relations 56, no. 2 (April 2007): 105–11. Brode, Douglas. The Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Carol Pub. Group, 1995. Cantwell, Mary. “The Long Year of the Patz Family.” The New York Times, June 8, 1980, sec. 6. Collins, Glenn. “Study Finds Child Abduction by Parents Exceeds Estimates.” The New York Times, October 23, 1983, sec. 1. ———. “The Patzes: When Fiction Imitates Life.” The New York Times, July 26, 1982, sec. A. “Director Steven Spielberg Tackles ‘The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.’” Slashfilm. Accessed May 6, 2015. do-mortara/. Fass, Paula S. Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America. 1st Harvard University Press paperback ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Gelman, David. “Stolen Children.” Newsweek, March 19, 1984. stolen-children-207018. Gordon, Andrew. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Haberman, Clyde. “A New Horror Recalls Another.” Blog. The Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2011. Helpern, David. “At Sea with Steven Spielberg.” In Steven Spielberg: Interviews, 3–17. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Hughes, Sally. “Guardian Women: Cashing in on a Parent’s Nightmare: U.S. Insurance Companies Offer Protection against the Risk of a Child Being Kidnapped.” The Guardian (London), October 3, 1984. lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?lni=40GH-DGG0-00VY-909S&csi=8411&hl=t& hv=t&hnsd=f&hns=t&hgn=t&oc=00240&perma=true. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. ———. Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema. SIU Press, 2009. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 2nd ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. Steidel, Stephen E., and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (US). Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management. Arlington, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1994. Stickler, G. B., M. Salter, D. D. Broughton, and A. Alario. “Parents’ Worries about Children Compared to Actual Risks.” Clinical Pediatrics 30, no. 9 (September 1991): 522–28. Walsh, John. Tears of Rage—From Grieving Father to Crusader for Justice: The Untold Story of the Adam Walsh Case. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

FOUR “I’ll be right here!” Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Peter Krämer

At the end of 1982, six months after the release of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, an article in the New York Times noted that the film “will soon become the biggest movie money-maker of all time, even ahead of Star Wars.” 1 In 1977, Star Wars had broken all (noninflation-adjusted) box office records in the United States by appealing not only to teenagers and young adults, who were the most frequent cinemagoers, but also to young children and their parents. 2 With regards to E.T., the New York Times article similarly acknowledged that the film had captured “the imagination of America’s children and many adults.” Indeed, the film’s hold on children was so powerful that the author felt compelled to look for explanations from psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. Relating E.T. to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm as well as to twentieth-century children’s classics like Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, the article quoted Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976) about the key message of all these stories: “a basic struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence—but . . . if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” 3 One of the psychologists interviewed for this piece pointed out that E.T. was of particular relevance for contemporary children because “[o]ur imagination has been totally captured by space travel”; there really “may be E.T. out there” (this presumably refers to the scientific search for extra-terrestrial intelli91


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gence and to the widespread interest in UFOs as well as the popularity of films such as Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977]). 4 Another expert reported on interviews he had conducted, immediately after a screening of the film, with fifty-four New York children between the ages of eight and twelve. Most of them had seen it before, and all of them had “seemed highly affected and enthusiastic” (unlike children under eight, who, according to their parents, were often frightened). 5 He argued that E.T. played out a conflict central to children’s development—“between the need to grow up and the desire to stay a child.” 6 The film offered two figures of identification for its young viewers, the human child Elliott and the extra-terrestrial. About the former’s decision to stay with his mother rather than joining E.T. on his spaceship, one of the young interviewees had said: “Elliott has to grow up and you can’t grow up on Jupiter; you stay small and a kid like E.T.” 7 Indeed, the psychologist explained, the children had “thought of E.T. as a child of ten or eleven who missed his parents” (and does, of course, return to them— or rather the mother ship—in the end). 8 Yet another expert commented on the fact that in the film’s story E.T. functions similarly to the role imaginary friends play in real children’s lives as “someone who can help them make sense in their switch from their parents to the outside world.” 9 In addition to this account of how the film’s story both parallels the general outline of children’s psychological development and helps them along with it, the article also pointed to specific socio-historical circumstances which made this story even more resonant. The writer noted that “Elliott feels alone because his parents have separated,” which is why he has a particularly strong need for his “magical friend” E.T. Similarly, one might argue, children in the audience, confronted with the possibility (increasingly likely in an age of rising divorce rates) of their own parents’ separation, were in need of the assurance provided by the filmic magic of E.T. that they would be able to deal with such “hardships.” But, the article highlighted, there was a limit to what the film could achieve. The psychologist who had conducted the interviews with child viewers “first became aware of the power of E.T. when he learned that some children had become ill in the final minutes of the film, when Elliott and E.T. must part. He found that all of these children were aged nine to eleven, with fathers who had recently left because of divorce.” This suggests that Elliott’s separation from E.T., which, in many ways, replays (but is also meant to help him to overcome) his separation from his father, was simply too close to a recent emotional trauma for these children to be able to cope with it. Importantly, one of the first academic essays about E.T., published in the Psychoanalytic Review in the summer of 1983, also analyzed the film’s story and appeal in terms of the general dynamics of childhood development (notably “the special problems of latency age children”—their

Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T.


move beyond the sphere of the mother into the wider world, their transition from “magical thinking” to “rational thought,” their reliance on “imaginary companions and playmates,” etc.), without however drawing on interviews with child viewers. 10 Indeed, the essay was mainly concerned with the strong resonance the film had for adults: “E.T. is an emotional movie about a subject that is easy to identify with. Spielberg takes us on an odyssey of a child who dwells within us.” 11 Throughout this odyssey, the adult viewer’s identification with Elliott “facilitates within us an awareness of our own feelings of aloneness and fear of loss and remembrances of actual loss, whether it is through death of a parent or friend, [or] loss of neighborhood because of a move by the family.” 12 Although the essay focused on how the film engaged adults, in its analysis of the film’s story it explored the particular difficulties that children of divorce (who, as we have seen, seemed to have been most deeply affected by E.T.) have to face. In discussing Elliott’s story, the writer referred to the experiences of actual children: “Elliott’s safe environment has . . . been . . . shattered by his father’s leaving the family [a typical scenario because in most divorce cases children stay with their mother, PK], the man to whom he had looked for love, protection, and help in understanding the mysteries of the world around him.” 13 The difficulties encountered by children of divorce are amplified by the fact that “the remaining parent [usually the mother, PK], as well, has suffered a loss and is often depressed and depleted by the loss . . . [,] unable to provide the child with the nurturance and support that the child needs.” 14 In this situation, the child of divorce does not only wish, like Elliott, “to connect with [the] lost father” but also “to return to the home he [or she] knew before his [or her] father left, a home with considerably more stability, safety and security.” 15 With this return being impossible, the child has to learn to accept, as Elliott does at the end of E.T., that he or she is now “a part of a new ‘family,’” which includes relatives as well as friends; and to appreciate that the absent father “will always remain there (in his mind),” that “we all have within us things we felt were lost.” 16 From the outset, then, E.T. was widely discussed in the United States in terms of its strong appeal to different age groups, with reference both to universal developmental processes (to do with growing up and dealing with loss) and to the specific experience of divorce. In the first two parts of this chapter, I want to discuss the film in relation to Steven Spielberg’s life and career, and also situate it within broader developments in American cinema and society, to do especially with the popularity of what I have elsewhere called “family-adventure movies” and with rising divorce rates. The third part then analyses the film’s themes and story, in particular its depiction of a family in crisis as well as its prolonged and extraordinarily intense staging of the protagonist’s experience of loss. The fourth and fifth parts return to the film’s impact in the United States, taking a closer look at its initial success at the box office


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and with critics in 1982 as well as its longer-term impact. In the conclusion, I briefly look at the film’s influence on Spielberg’s career and on Hollywood cinema more generally. 17 PART 1: SPIELBERG IN 1982 When E.T. was released in the United States on June 11, 1982, Spielberg was already, at the age of only thirty-five, one of the most commercially successful, most acclaimed, and most famous filmmakers in American history. Three of his theatrical features—Jaws (1975), Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)—had not only topped the annual U.S. box office charts (Close Encounters being beaten only by Star Wars in 1977), but also ranked very highly in the all-time charts, including charts which were adjusted for inflation. 18 Even 1941 (1979), widely regarded as a box office disappointment, was the fifteenth highest grossing film of its year of release (only Spielberg’s theatrical feature debut The Sugarland Express [1974] was a real flop). 19 Most of Spielberg’s theatrical features had also been (in places extremely) well received by critics. In her review in the New Yorker, Pauline Kael described The Sugarland Express as “one of the most phenomenal debut films in the history of movies.” 20 Time magazine declared Jaws one of the ten best films of the year 1975. 21 In 1977, Close Encounters was listed among the year’s ten best films by Time, The New York Times, and the National Board of Review. 22 There were indications that Spielberg’s films would come to be regarded as classics of American cinema. In a 1977 survey of the 35,000 members of the American Film Institute about the best American films of all time, Jaws made it into the top fifty. 23 When, in 1978, the film magazine Take One asked twenty leading critics to select the best American films of the decade 1968–1977, Stanley Kauffmann (of the New Republic) put the only recently released Close Encounters at number one and David Thomson ranked it second, while Jaws was at number two for Peter Biskind, and Sugarland Express at number ten for Janet Maslin (of the New York Times); most astonishingly, Gene Moskowitz placed Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-television movie Duel (an extended version of which was given a theatrical release in Europe where Moskowitz worked for Variety) at number nine. 24 In addition, Jaws was nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture), Close Encounters for nine, and Raiders of the Lost Ark for eight (including Best Picture); even 1941 received three nominations. 25 Between them, these films won ten Oscars (mostly in the editing, sound, music, cinematography, and special effects categories). More importantly perhaps, Spielberg was nominated twice as Best Director (for Close Encounters and Raiders).

Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T.


Not surprisingly, then, reviews of E.T. focused very much on Spielberg as a filmmaker, frequently mentioning his earlier films, especially Close Encounters and Raiders. With reference to these films and to E.T., David Sterritt’s review in the Christian Science Monitor described Spielberg as “a one-man fantasy factory,” while Andrew Sarris had this to say about Spielberg and Lucas (who had produced and co-written Raiders, and whose company Industrial Light and Magic had worked on the special effects for E.T.): “Like Disney and Hitchcock before them, they are their own genre.” 26 Several critics noted that whereas Raiders (and also 1941) had, in places, been criticized for being rather impersonal, purely “kinetic,” even “soulless,” with E.T. Spielberg returned to the “mythic experience,” “charming” story, “child-like awe,” and “beatific mood” of Close Encounters; indeed E.T. could be understood as “a grade-school version,” an “elaboration,” even a continuation of the earlier film. 27 More specifically, reviewers argued that E.T. captured the fantasy life of children as well as their emotional struggles within the confines of (often dysfunctional) modern family life—and pointed out that the film was able to do so because it drew on Spielberg’s own experiences. Sterritt quoted a conversation with Spielberg, focusing on the marginal status that the filmmaker felt he had had as a child: “There’s lots of me in Elliott and Elliott in me. . . . I was a weird little outsider.” 28 Pauline Kael wrote in her New Yorker review that the work of scriptwriter Melissa Mathison (which was based on a story idea by Spielberg) was informed by the fact that “Spielberg himself had experienced the separation of his parents”; the fantasy of an imaginary (alien) friend was a coping mechanism for the boy in the story, for children in the audience and also, presumably, for the filmmaker himself. 29 Spielberg expanded on this in two long interviews in American Premiere and Rolling Stone in July 1982: “E.T. is a personal film because it’s about people and personalities and relationships that I have some experience in. My childhood is still fresh in my memory.” 30 Indeed, it was the very presence of his past that allowed, even compelled him to make this film, as part of an ongoing process of working through emotional trauma: “things began to happen from its inception in 1980 that told me this was a movie I was ready to make. I’m not into psychoanalysis, but E.T. is a film that was inside me for many years and could only come out after a lot of suburban psychodrama.” 31 Spielberg added that he had also been pondering the question whether he “was suited to being a father,” using the experience of working with children on E.T. (and also on Poltergeist, a film he produced at the same time) as a kind of test and concluding that “I wanted to have kids of my own.” 32 A few years later, Spielberg explained that, by mining his own experiences, he had also hoped to capture something more universal: “My parents got a divorce when I was fourteen, fifteen [in fact they separated when he was eighteen and divorced when he was twenty, PK]. The


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whole thing about separation is something that runs very deep in anyone exposed to divorce, especially when you’re cognizant of what it means to not have a routine—no matter how stressful or antagonistic that routine may have been. The breaking up of the mother and father is extremely traumatic from four up. All of us are still suffering the repercussions of a divorce that had to happen.” 33 Spielberg was indeed talking about an experience that during his lifetime had moved from being highly exceptional (in the 1940s and 1950s) to becoming a regular occurrence: by the 1980s American children were almost as likely to see their parents’ divorce as to have them stay together, and married adults had to confront the likelihood of their future separation. 34 PART 2: FROM FIRELIGHT TO E.T. Before making E.T., Spielberg had dealt with marital strife and problematic relationships between parents and children (usually seen from the perspective of the adults) in a number of films, several of them placed within the science fiction and horror genres. He had started making short 8mm films (mostly Westerns and war movies, but also documentaries, crime dramas, and comedies) when he was only ten years old. 35 By far the most ambitious project of his early years was Firelight, a 135-minutelong 8mm science fiction film “about a small group of scientists investigating mysterious red, white, and blue balls of moving light coming from the sky to abduct people, animals, and objects,” which was shown to a paying audience at a movie theater in Phoenix in 1964 (Spielberg still being only seventeen). 36 Building on his personal interest in UFOs, which had also become something of a national obsession as well as being the subject of many Hollywood movies, Spielberg’s film centered on a couple whose “marital problems threaten to disrupt Tony’s [the protagonist’s] career.” 37 The following year Spielberg’s parents separated, he graduated from high school and, after being rejected by USC and UCLA film schools, went to California State College at Long Beach, where he took some television and film courses, while continuing with an informal trainee program at Universal Studios (where he had had his first internship in the summer of 1964) and with his own film productions, now also in 16mm. 38 By 1967, he was ready to become a professional filmmaker, starting work on a privately financed 35mm short entitled Slipstream, which did, however, remain unfinished because he ran out of money. 39 In 1968 he finally managed to make the transition by writing and directing the 35mm road movie short Amblin’ for producer Denis Hoffman (the film was shown at festivals and given a theatrical release), signing with

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top Hollywood agent Mike Medavoy and also getting a seven-year contract as a television director with Universal. 40 For the next five years, Spielberg, ranging across a number of genres (from mysteries, detective films, thrillers, medical and legal dramas to horror and science fiction) directed episodes of various television series and several made-for-television movies, while also working on projects for theatrical release. 41 One of his story ideas was developed (but not by him) into the movie Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1973). Interestingly, it dealt “with the troubled relationship between a barnstorming pilot . . . and his [twelve-year-old] son,” 42 while the made-for-TV horror movie Something Evil (1972), which Spielberg directed (but did not write), dealt with an extreme form of conflict between a couple and their adolescent son, who is being possessed by a demon. 43 In 1969, Spielberg came across a news story which he eventually developed (with scriptwriters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins) into The Sugarland Express, his first theatrical feature for Universal. The story revolved around a deeply felt, yet also highly dysfunctional relationship between a couple and their children, as is indicated by the opening sentence of the report that Spielberg read: “An ex-convict, freed just two weeks ago and willing to do anything ‘to talk to my kids and love them,’ kidnapped a Texas highway patrolman in his squad car today in a highspeed c[h]ase that ended seven hours later in a gunfight with lawmen.” 44 Both in reality and in the film the story ended in death rather than with a family reunion. During the production of The Sugarland Express Spielberg read the proofs of Peter Benchley’s as yet unpublished novel Jaws (1974), the film version of which was to be produced, for Universal, by Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who had also been the producers of Spielberg’s debut. 45 Although he was not the first choice, Spielberg eventually convinced Zanuck and Brown that he was the right man for the job. 46 Working on what gradually evolved into a very expensive and logistically nightmarish production with powerful producers, several writers and a cast and crew vastly more experienced with big budget filmmaking than he was, Spielberg cannot be said to have been fully in control of the making of Jaws. 47 But the film’s enormous success established him as a powerful Hollywood player in his own right, who, from then on, could freely choose his projects and determine exactly how they would be realized. Importantly, while the film version of Jaws largely removed the novel’s emphasis on the marital problems of the central couple (police chief Martin Brody and his wife), its first half focused instead on Brody’s failure to protect the members of the community he has been employed to serve; not only does he get slapped by a woman who holds him responsible for the killing of her young son by a shark, but he also endangers his own children, one of whom barely survives an encounter with the shark.


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This is the turning point at which Brody takes charge of the action, finally overcoming the resistance of community leaders against making the shark problem the town’s top priority, and going out on a hunt, which does, of course, separate him from his family for the second half of the film, and indeed threatens to remove him permanently because it increasingly looks like he will get killed in the process. However, at the end of the film he triumphs and swims back to his family. After completing Jaws, Spielberg turned to a science fiction project, which he had been working on (with several writers) since 1970 and which was in effect a big budget reworking of Firelight. 48 In 1975 Spielberg decided to write the script for this project, which, after several title changes, was now known as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, himself. At some point he concluded that Close Encounters would not only centrally deal with the traumatic experiences of two family units (the Nearys and the Guilers), but would also be made for an all-inclusive family audience, including young children, rather than being targeted more exclusively at teenagers and young adults as had been the case with his two previous theatrical features (as well as Amblin’) and also with most of the biggest box office hits in the United States during the decade 1967–1976, many of which featured graphic violence, explicit sex, and other material deemed unsuitable for children and also likely to alienate many older viewers. 49 Spielberg’s decision was informed by a variety of factors. There had been a debate in film industry trade papers and the general press about the overall dearth of films suitable for the whole family; at the same time, a cycle of hugely successful disaster movies had been welcomed as a return to old-fashioned entertainment values (without sex, violence, etc.). 50 By the mid-1970s, several studios were working on projects which extended key aspects of the disaster movie model (among them spectacular destruction, or at least the threat of such destruction, as well as the absence of graphic violence and explicit sex) into the science fiction genre. These projects included a big screen version of a sixties television series (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which, after long production delays, would eventually be released with a child-friendly G-rating in 1979), an adaptation of a classic comic strip (Superman [1978] and Superman II [1981] being made at the same time), and a film that his maker increasingly began to see as a modern fairy tale, an updated Disney movie, a children’s film: Star Wars. 51 Spielberg would have been aware of these wellpublicized projects. Indeed, he had been friends with Lucas since 1967 and closely followed the production of Star Wars. 52 And before deciding to write his own Close Encounters script in 1975, he had been talking to the producers of Superman about directing their project. 53 Reversing the recent trend of making family films on the cheap and granting them little respect, 54 Hollywood’s willingness to invest huge sums in family-oriented science fiction (Star Trek and the two Superman movies eventually turned out to be among the most expensive films ever

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made) must have encouraged Spielberg to move in the same direction; indeed Close Encounters also ended up with one of the biggest budgets in Hollywood history. 55 The investment paid off. In addition to Star Wars breaking all box office records in 1977, Close Encounters came in at number two in that year’s chart, Superman was at number two in 1978, Star Trek at number two in 1979, and Superman II at number three in 1981. 56 What is more, Lucas’s sequel to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, became the top hit of 1980, and the Lucas/Spielberg collaboration Raiders of the Lost Ark was at number one in 1981. A radical shift in U.S. box office hit patterns had thus taken place toward the dominance of science fiction and fantastic adventures addressed to all-inclusive family audiences (elsewhere I have subsumed such films under the category “family-adventure movies”). 57 These films tended to draw on cultural forms associated with childhood, to be marketed with a special emphasis on children and their parents, and to be received by reviewers as updates of classic children’s and family entertainment (especially Disney). 58 They often dealt with problematic familial relations, especially with young people who have lost their parents as well as their relationship to adoptive parents (Star Wars and the Superman films; this is also hinted at in Raiders with regards to Marion’s missing father who was Indiana Jones’s mentor), conflict among parents and children (most notably in the Star Wars saga, once it is revealed, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke’s father), the breaking apart of the nuclear family (the Nearys in Close Encounters), and incomplete families (the Guilers in Close Encounters). The emphasis on loss is particularly pronounced in Star Wars. After an opening sequence focusing very much on two somewhat childlike robots, the film deals primarily with the experiences of orphaned teenager Luke Skywalker who also loses the people who have raised him, and then witnesses the death of his fatherly mentor Obi Wan Kenobi—but is also reassured, by the latter’s ongoing ghostly presence, that death is not the end. Close Encounters focuses on devastating loss, and the eventually successful attempt to overcome it, primarily in a subplot about single mom Jillian Guiler, whose son Barry is, after a desperate struggle, abducted by aliens and returned to her at the film’s conclusion. The main storyline deals with the disintegration of the Neary family, but shows this to be necessary, because Roy Neary has a higher calling, being summoned by aliens to a mountain where he joins them in their mother ship and ascends to the heavens (the religious resonances of this are made explicit by the inclusion of a clip from The Ten Commandments [1956] shown in an early domestic scene). After Close Encounters, Spielberg became involved in a collaboration with Lucas which eventually resulted in Raiders, and in 1941, a spectacular slapstick comedy by the young scriptwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, which extended his long-standing interest in World War II


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(already in evidence in his amateur shorts, as well as several scenes in Jaws and Close Encounters) and turned, like Close Encounters, into one of the most expensive Hollywood films ever made. 59 While Raiders was less expensive, it was, Spielberg felt at the time, yet another overly complex production: “Action is wonderful . . . but while I was doing Raiders I felt I was losing touch with the reason I became a moviemaker—to make stories about people and relationships.” 60 When shooting on location in Tunisia, he therefore decided to base his next project on an extremely personal story which he had been thinking about “for maybe fifteen or twenty years” (that is all the way back to the time he made Firelight); it was about “a disenfranchised and lonely boy in a relationship with his siblings [of which Spielberg had three, PK]. I also wanted to tell a story about a young child’s reaction to his parents’ divorce and how that impacts him for the rest of his life. . . . Also, it was a childhood fantasy of mine to tell the story of a special, best friend who rescues a young boy from the sadness of a divorce.” 61 Spielberg picked up a key idea from his earlier science fiction blockbuster: “I began concocting this imaginary creature, partially from the guys who stepped out of the mother ship for ninety seconds in Close Encounters . . . What if I were ten years old again . . . and what if he needed me as much as I needed him?” 62 He quickly developed a story: “Then I remembered loving this movie called The Black Stallion [a 1979 adaptation of a classic children’s book, PK] which had been co-authored by Melissa Mathison, who was on the set of Raiders with Harrison Ford” (because she was his girlfriend at the time). 63 He asked her to write the screenplay, which she did, working closely with Spielberg. 64 Interestingly, drawing on Firelight’s ambivalent attitude toward the aliens, who appear menacing in the film but are ultimately justified in their actions, and on the subplot about the Guilers in Close Encounters, Spielberg had already commissioned a screenplay (entitled Night Skies) from John Sayles “about a band of extra-terrestrials terrorizing a farm family.” 65 After he had decided that his next film about extra-terrestrials would be about a boy and a wholly benevolent alien, he adapted the Night Skies scenario for a story about demonic forces attacking a suburban family which was the basis for Poltergeist (1982). 66 When working with Mathison on what was to become E.T., he was drawing on the Guilers subplot insofar as E.T. came to focus on the plight of a single mother and included scenes in which she fears for her son. He also reworked the main storyline of Close Encounters by examining the experiences of a mother with three children who is separated from her husband (whereas in Close Encounters their fate is ignored in favor of Roy Neary’s pursuit of his higher calling). Indeed, much later he would talk about his irresponsible and rather selfish approach to telling the story of the Nearys (insofar as he identified with Roy Neary’s need to pursue his calling)

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and stated that he had been able to take a more mature, considerate approach in E.T. 67 PART 3: SEPARATION AND LOSS IN E.T. E.T. lasts almost 110 minutes (at twenty-five frames per second). Excluding the opening and closing credits, the film’s story is told in just under 105 minutes. By noting temporal and spatial shifts, we can divide the film into thirty-five scenes (not counting the two credit sequences), so that the average length of a scene is three minutes. 68 The first scene is unusually long (just under six and a half minutes), which is appropriate because it establishes what is arguably the film’s main theme: the suffering that comes from vital emotional links being disrupted through physical separation. The film first develops this theme in a somewhat fantastical fashion, by relating the experiences of E.T. (this being the name later used by Elliott, who also perceives the little alien as male, which is why I refer to E.T. as a “he”), whereas most of the rest of the film focuses on Elliott (the close connection between the two characters already being suggested by the fact that their names begin and end with the same letters). As a member of some kind of alien plant-collecting expedition, E.T. is moving around the forest at night, getting farther and farther away from his companions who work close to the mother ship, yet he is nevertheless connected to them through signals exchanged by their glowing red hearts (one would assume this to be vital link, which should never be severed). When several men arrive in cars, E.T. is too far away from the spaceship to reach it before it takes off so as to evade the men, among whom the camera singles out one who has keys dangling from his belt (we can call him “Keys”). The scene ends with E.T. moving toward the lights of a city (or suburb), while Keys and the other men look around for him. The next four scenes (scenes 2–5, lasting almost eleven minutes) introduce Elliott and his family, while also linking his story to that of the alien. In scene 2 (which probably takes place during the same night as the first scene) Elliott hears noises from the shed behind his house and goes to investigate, first on his own, then with his mother Mary, his older, teenage brother Michael and the latter’s friends; he does not have much success although he knows that something is out there. The following night (scene 3) he hears noises again and, upon going outside, finds himself face to face with the alien who is as shocked as he is and runs away toward the forest. Cycling into the forest the next day (in scene 4), Elliott leaves a trail of sweets for E.T. and observes Keys who is apparently looking for the same thing that Elliott is looking for—which is an important point for the rest of the story, with Keys first seemingly posing a


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threat (in scene 5 Elliott expresses his fear that government representatives would conduct experiments on E.T.) and then becoming Elliott’s ally, precisely because they are, in terms of their belief in and search for aliens, so alike. Scene 5, taking place once again at night, then reveals that Elliott’s family, which is now shown to include a little sister (Gertie), does not think he has really seen an alien being. After Elliott says “Dad would believe me,” the curious absence of the father from previous scenes is finally explained. Not only has he left his wife and children, but, together with his new girlfriend Sally, he has gone all the way to Mexico, where he cannot be reached. This conversation leaves the mother in great distress; obviously she still has trouble dealing with her husband’s departure and is unable to talk about it with her children. The children are also shown in distress: Elliott misses his father, Michael takes out his anger on his younger brother, and Gertie is confused about what is going on. By this point, parallels and connections between the three storylines of E.T., Elliott, and Keys have been established. Elliott (together with his mother and siblings) has been separated from his father, while E.T. has been separated from his fellow aliens (who might include family members) and the mother ship. Elliott is looking for E.T. just like Keys is, and Keys believes in aliens just like Elliott thinks his father would believe in his account of an encounter with one. In scenes 6–18 (lasting thirty-five minutes and covering the events of the next two days)—with the exception of numbers six and twelve, all taking place during daytime—Keys and his men continue with their search for E.T. (scenes 7, 10, and 12), getting ever closer to Elliott, while Elliott does not only encounter E.T. again behind his house, but this time brings him inside (scene 6). In fact, he makes E.T. part of the family, introducing him to his brother and, somewhat accidentally, also to his sister (scene 9). Probably because he suspects that his mother would not allow him to keep E.T. (a suspicion to be confirmed by her behavior in scene 29), Elliott and his siblings do not tell her about him. He is a secret houseguest who Mary mistakes for a doll in scene 15, while in the very next scene, after Mary has left the house to go to work, he behaves like a caricature of a man (functioning as a kind of echo of the husband and father who has left)—lounging around at home, making a general mess of things, getting drunk, burping, and ogling women on television. The film also shows that Elliott and E.T. have a deep, psychic connection, perhaps similar to that between E.T. and the other aliens, but also evoking the special bond between father and son. In scene 6 Elliott and E.T. mirror each other’s gestures and get tired at the same time; two scenes later, Elliott experiences the same fright as E.T., although they are in different parts of the house; and in scene 16 E.T.’s drunken condition as well as his thoughts and feelings directly impact on Elliott’s behavior at school: feeling drunk as well, he liberates the frogs the class was meant to dissect and then kisses a girl. Here the connection to Elliott’s absent

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father is quite direct, because if he had stayed around, it probably would have been his responsibility to talk to Elliott about drinking and girls. This part of the film generally emphasizes E.T.’s extra-terrestrial origins and superhuman powers. He can lift objects into the air with his mind (this he does in scene 11 to give the children an impression of the solar system he comes from), and he can make withered flowers bloom (scene 13). However, the film emphasizes that, more importantly than anything else, he has the power to connect to Elliott and to bring the siblings closer together. Whereas Elliott was very much an outsider to the game played by Michael and his friends in the second scene, and got into an argument with Michael in scene 5, on the way to school in scene 14 Michael no longer sides with his friends against Elliott. Even little Gertie, who the two boys probably had previously thought to be too young— and too girly—to be bothered with, is now part of their conspiracy. The film does however continue to highlight age and gender differences, insofar as Gertie, who is not at all satisfied with Elliott’s answer to her question whether E.T. is a boy or a girl in scene 9, dresses E.T. in girl’s clothes in scene 18. And it is Gertie’s watching of Sesame Street which leads to E.T. speaking his first words (scene 17). Soon after E.T. has learned to talk, he reveals his wish to communicate with his fellow aliens so as to reunite with them: “E.T. phone home” (scene 18). This becomes the focus of the next part of the film (scenes 19–25, lasting just under fifteen minutes and taking place mostly at night across two days). It starts with the two brothers looking for material that E.T. could use for building a transmitter, while reminiscing about their father. Here an implicit connection is made between the father’s departure and the fact that E.T. is going to leave them as well, a fact that the boys fail to address directly. Since the men pursuing E.T. listen in on their conversation from a van outside the house, there is also a connection here between E.T.’s planned departure and Keys’s future actions, which, up to this point, have to be assumed to be hostile. If Elliott knew about how close Keys is he would fear that the latter will try to capture the alien before Elliott can help him get home. At the same time, yet again a link is suggested between the absent father and Keys’s presence. Scenes 20 and 21 foreground both how wonderful it would be if E.T. could stay, and how necessary it is for him to leave. In the former, Mary is for the first time together both with her children and with E.T.—although she is not aware of it, because Elliott sits with E.T. in the walk-in closet while outside of it Mary reads the story of Peter Pan to Gertie. When Elliott cuts himself, E.T. heals the wound with his finger. But E.T. himself is ill, as the boys have already started to notice in scene 19 and discuss again in scene 21, the implication being that he needs the proximity of his fellow aliens (with their glowing hearts) to survive. The following scenes show the children getting E.T. out of the house and back into the forest on Halloween (scene 22), with E.T. giving an-


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other display of his superhuman powers by lifting Elliott’s bike into the air (scene 23). Meanwhile Mary is shown to be alone, thinking about her (soon-to-be-ex) husband, probably missing both him and her children, and Keys’s people then search the house after she has left (scene 24). By this time, however, Elliott is far away in the forest; safe from the intervention of Keys’s people or of his mother, he helps E.T. set up his transmitter (scene 25). It is important to note that this is a possible conclusion to the storylines of E.T., Elliott, and Keys: Elliott has outwitted the latter and can now return E.T. to his people—The End. But if the mother ship would indeed land during this night to take E.T. away, there would be a lot of unfinished business. The mother was last shown completely alone, no remedy having been offered for the trauma of separation. What is more, Elliott has not dealt with the departure of his father either, nor has he managed to get close again to his distressed mother (quite on the contrary, he has been leading a secret life away from her). What is more, before the end of scene 25, Elliott asks E.T. to stay with him, so that they can grow up together—although he suspects that staying on Earth will kill the alien. Elliott still has to resolve this tension by learning to accept that sometimes you have to let the people you love go because it is better for them. This is what the last part of the film (scenes 26–35, lasting thirty-seven and a half minutes and taking place across two days, mostly during daytime) is all about. The suffering that comes with separation and loss is being foregrounded more than ever before. In scene 26, Elliott wakes up in the forest to find that E.T. is gone (although no spaceship appears to have arrived to fetch him). At home, Mary, who has alerted the authorities about Elliott’s failure to return home during the night, is asked by a policeman whether there are any reasons to assume that Elliott has run away from home, to which she answers that she has recently separated from her husband and that this has been hard on the children (scene 27). At this point, Elliott reappears, looking very ill. He tells Michael to look for E.T. in the forest, and, after eluding a car that is following him (Keys’s people getting ever closer), Michael does indeed find the alien in the next scene, looking so ill that he appears close to death. In scene 29 the children finally have to accept that they can no longer handle the situation on their own, but when Michael takes his mother to meet E.T. for the first time, all she can see is a somewhat monstrous figure and, close to it, her sick son, who says “I think we’re dying.” There is nothing else she can be expected to do but take her children away from E.T., although both Elliott and E.T. are screaming when she does so. Downstairs Michael, Gertie, Mary, and Elliott run into people in what look like spacesuits invading their house; the organization that Keys works for has finally decided to take control of the situation (which continues in scene 30). While initially this appears to Mary and her children (as well as the viewer) as a threat, it soon turns out to be a relief as well,

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because now the family is no longer alone with its insurmountable problems. Indeed, in scene 31 Keys reveals himself to be a kind and understanding scientist, a man who has wished for an encounter with aliens ever since he was as old as Elliott is now; in other words, he is a grownup version of the boy, but he is also like the father who Elliott imagined in scene 5 to be supportive of his belief in aliens (in later scenes Keys also perhaps begins to appear, from Mary’s perspective, like the husband she has lost). In scene 31, it is made clear that due to their psychic link, which apparently allows E.T. to draw on Elliott’s strength (as he would normally do with respect to his fellow aliens), E.T. is in fact the cause of the boy’s ill-health, and although Elliott is terrified to lose his friend and thinks that the scientists are harming him (when in fact they are only trying to help), E.T. knows that he has to disconnect himself so that the boy can live. When E.T. breaks the connection, his condition deteriorates quickly, while Elliott recovers. The next morning, a wilting flower in Elliott’s closet, the place Michael has withdrawn to, indicates that E.T. approaches death, and soon he does indeed (appear to) die (scene 32), with Elliott and Gertie looking on tearfully as the scientists try in vain to resuscitate him. This is also the moment that Elliott finally gets close to his mother again; he turns to her and they embrace, holding each other for a long time. After E.T. has finally been declared dead in scene 33, Keys arranges for Elliott to be left alone with E.T.’s body for a few minutes, during which the boy does not only express his love and say good-bye but also confirms that their psychic link is indeed gone because he cannot “feel” the alien anymore. Just before Elliott leaves, however, E.T.’s heart starts glowing and he revives because the mother ship with his fellow aliens is close enough for him to be able to draw on their life energy again (rather than on Elliott’s). Elliott immediately begins to plot their escape, and in scene 34, with the help of Michael and his friends, he manages to get the alien out of the house and, after a long drawn-out chase, to evade the pursuers, with E.T. once again lifting his bike and the bikes of Michael and his friends into the air so that they can fly to the spaceship’s landing site. As Gertie has given her mother a note informing her about Elliott’s plan, Gertie, Mary, and Keys also arrive at the site. In the final scene, the three children say good-bye to the alien, while Michael’s friends, Mary, and Keys look on. Elliott says his farewell last. When E.T. asks Elliott to board the spaceship, he responds by saying “Stay!” This is just an acknowledgment of their wishes, not a real demand; they both know that they have to separate. By saying “Ouch!,” they then express how painful this separation is for them. And when E.T. finally touches Elliott’s forehead with his finger, saying “I’ll be right here!,” he tells the boy that despite their physical separation E.T. will always be with him—in his memories, in the strong feelings he has for


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Figure 4.1. Elliott (Henry Thomas) and the alien saying good-bye. Separation and loss in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

the alien, and through the awareness that, wherever he is, E.T. will think of him and indeed love him. Of course, these are precisely the sentiments that Elliott’s absent father should have expressed before leaving him. They give the boy a sense of closure, enabling him to accept the separation and get on with his life—and it is made very clear that, for the time being, that life revolves around his mother (just like E.T.’s life revolves around the mother ship): During his final embrace of E.T. Elliott is looking at his mother and, having fallen to her knees so as to be at his height, she is lovingly looking back at him. The film ends with the spaceship’s departure and a series of shots showing Mary with an out-of-focus Keys standing next to her, Michael’s friends, Michael holding Gertie, and Elliott. These are the people making up the Elliott’s life (Keys being likely to stay in touch; something might even develop between him and Elliott’s mother). They have been brought so much closer together by E.T., especially when compared with the divisions characterizing the film’s opening scenes. At the same time, the people assembled in the film’s final scene also represent the hoped-for cinema audience—parents and their young children as well as teenagers— who, this ending suggests, will be moved and brought closer to each other by the film E.T. in the same way that the on-screen characters were moved and united by their encounter with the character so named.

Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T.


PART 4: E.T.’S INITIAL RECEPTION Spielberg had, as we have seen, many personal reasons for making E.T. and, true to his intention to move away from super-expensive blockbuster productions, he made the film for about ten million dollars, which was slightly less than the average budget of a Hollywood movie in 1982. 69 He was unsure about how audiences might respond to E.T.; with regards to its sneak preview he said: “You never know what you got until you show your movie to an audience for the first time. I didn’t pretend that E.T. was anything other than a kid’s movie about kids, so I didn’t know what to expect.” 70 That first audience’s response was rapturous; indeed, Spielberg described the preview screening as “almost a religious experience.” 71 Sid Sheinberg, head of Universal, used the same phrase to describe the event, and added: “It must be a little bit like the way people feel if they feel they’ve seen God.” 72 The film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1982 also provoked an enthusiastic reaction. 73 Variety reviewed E.T. at this point, declaring it to be “the best Disney film Disney never made,” and also linking it to George Lucas’s Star Wars saga as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, insofar as it would “capture the imagination of the world’s youth” (“youth” here referring mainly to preteen children rather than teenagers and young adults) like these earlier films had done. 74 The review predicted a “summertime bonanza” at the box office. 75 Another prerelease review was more cautious, sharing Spielberg’s initial concerns: “What’s commercially risky about E.T. is that—as Spielberg readily admits—the hero is a lot younger than the ‘core audience’ of teens and young adults that Hollywood pursues so eagerly these days. And the action is gentle, with hardly a shred of violence or vehemence. What if teen-agers find E.T. too tame, adults consider it too coy?” 76 E.T. was released into American movie theaters on June 11, 1982. It was not a particularly wide opening (especially not when compared with openings on several thousand screens that since then have become standard for big Hollywood movies), but the film performed extremely well from the outset, and its box office returns increased for several weeks (rather than dropping sharply as has become the norm), and then stayed fairly close to the first week earnings for months. 77 The film’s release was not preceded by the launch of a wealth of tie-in products (which would have helped to promote it), but in response to its success and the associated demand for dolls, toys, and other, mostly child-oriented merchandise, such products eventually flooded the stores. 78 Both the novelization of the movie by William Kotzwinkle (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in His Adventure on Earth) and Kotzwinkle’s illustrated E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Story-


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book for young children sold millions of copies; indeed the latter became the best-selling hardcover of 1982 in the United States. 79 Reviews of the film after its release agreed with the two prerelease reviews discussed above about the film’s special appeal to children, but judged this appeal in different ways. A few claimed that the film was only suitable for children, and that if anyone older liked it, they were either infantile to start with or being infantilized by the film (an argument which has become a mainstay of academic work on Spielberg and contemporary Hollywood cinema more generally). 80 Thus, the New Leader review concluded: “If you’re pre-teen, or have the mind of a kid, then E.T. is for you.” 81 Andrew Sarris described Spielberg and Lucas as “a somewhat regressive force in the American cinema”: “E.T. is guaranteed to make even proudly grown men cry. . . . E.T. is every childish fantasy we never outgrew. E.T. is the eternal child in all of us.” 82 Films like E.T. did “serve not so much as rites of passage but as pleas for a permanent childhood,” and hence were ultimately inappropriate for adults. 83 The majority of critics saw the film’s focus on childhood experiences in a much more positive light—as a welcome opportunity for adults to revisit their own childhoods (thus being able, among other things, to leave the emotional restrictions of adult life behind), and to gain an understanding of today’s children, especially the impact of divorce on them, while also having their own adult social reality reflected back to them. Thus, in New York magazine David Denby described E.T. as “a sublimely witty and inventive fable that goes so deep into the special alertness, loyalty, and ardor of children that it makes you see things you had forgotten or blotted out and feel things you were embarrassed to feel.” 84 Instead of feeling embarrassed, Denby fully embraced the emotionality of E.T., admitting that “[i]t’s been years since I’ve been this caught up in the emotions of a movie.” 85 He observed: “I have never seen so many grown men weeping at a screening. . . . I welcome this return to the honorable emotional fullness that was taken for granted in movies of the thirties and forties.” 86 Joseph Gelmis of Newsday declared E.T. to be “the one must-see summer movie for kids of all ages” and advised his (adult) readers: “Surrender to Elliott’s viewpoint and E.T. . . . can make you feel as exhilarated and thrilled as if you were ten again. It stimulates laughter and tears.” 87 But he also described the film as “an affectionate anthropological document about American suburban life,” sympathetically portraying the life of both children and adults: The children’s mother “recently deserted by dad, runs the household in a slightly dazed, slightly tearful, unfalteringly loving manner.” 88 Similarly, Sheila Benson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “you don’t need to bring a child [to the screening] to love it. You need only to have been one and have a tiny spark of memory left. E.T. will fan it into a glow to warm your days.” 89 She pointed to the film’s “solid foundations” in social reality: “screenwriter Melissa Mathison seems to

Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T.


know the newly separated young family, that sad American statistic, from its cracked heart out.” 90 In Films in Review, Jon Gartenberg explained the connection between social reality and fantasy as follows: “The father, separated from the mother, creates an absence in the household, and E.T. fills the void.” 91 Hence, the film’s fantastic elements ultimately served to reaffirm the importance “of feeling, caring, and loving” not only in this particular story but in the reality outside the movie theater as well: “In a world full of broken adult relationships and advanced technology, simple communication can still survive.” 92 Archer Winsten’s review in the New York Post described the film’s setting as “almost excessively normal,” and relationships within the “fatherless family” as highly “familiar”; E.T. does “exceedingly well in the handling of family disputes across the various age barriers,” its story working toward bringing mother and children together through their interaction with E.T. (in the same way that members of the audience might be brought together through their shared viewing of E.T.): “Gradually they all come to care for each other and understand.” 93 Far from being an escape from adult realities, in the opinion of these critics E.T. allowed, perhaps even forced, older viewers to confront not only their past, but also their present interactions with children and the difficult experiences that these children might be going through, as well as the rich panoply of emotions which they, as adults, were usually unable to express in their everyday lives. At the same time, the film’s story, and its very impact on diverse audiences, demonstrated that intergenerational understanding, based on shared experiences, emotional expressiveness, and honest communication, was possible. Some critics went as far as stating explicitly (whereas others only implied) that E.T.’s impact on audiences was going to last; this was a movie that did not only draw extensively on classic children’s literature and children’s films of the past (Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Disney being mentioned most often), but was also likely soon to be established as a cultural cornerstone in its own right, with the peculiar combination of timelessness and timeliness so characteristic of classics. Thus, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times: “E.T. is as contemporary as laserbeam technology, but it’s full of the timeless longings in children’s literature of all eras.” 94 He suggested that it “may become a children’s classic of the space age.” 95 Sheila Benson declared: “E.T. is so full of love and wonder, of pure invention and the best kind of screen magic, that it’s not only the film of the summer, it may be the film of the decade and possibly the double decade.” 96 And, in response to the many letters he had received about his rather negative review, to the fact that the film had been reviewed so positively by most other critics and to its extraordinary box office performance, Andrew Sarris, who held on to his original judgment, nevertheless felt compelled to declare in September 1982: “E.T. has emerged as the closest thing we have to a universal religion.” 97 As it


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turned out, E.T. was immensely popular not only in 1982, but for many years to come. PART 5: E.T.’S LONG-TERM IMPACT At the end of 1982, E.T.’s rental income (that is the distributor’s share of box office revenues, usually about 50 percent) was still behind that of Star Wars (which already had had several re-releases), but the following year E.T. overtook Lucas’s film to become the biggest box office hit in American history (if inflation is not taken into account). 98 The film’s U.S. box office revenues across 1982–1983 amounted to 368 million dollars (the vast majority of this being earned in 1982). 99 At an average ticket price of about three dollars, 100 this means that over 120 million tickets were sold for this film, which is the equivalent of over 50 percent of the American population at the time (of course, it is not the case that every other American actually saw the film in the cinema in 1982–1983, because many cinemagoers went to see it several times). 101 Another way of judging the magnitude of E.T.’s success is that its box office gross was about 10 percent of all money spent on the hundreds of films on offer in all U.S. cinemas in 1982; in other words, every tenth cinema ticket bought that year was for Spielberg’s movie. 102 E.T. had quite successful theatrical re-releases in 1985 and 2002, 103 and today it is in fourth place in Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted all-time U.S. box office chart. 104 However, if re-releases were discounted, E.T. would be far ahead of Gone with the Wind (1939), Star Wars, and The Sound of Music (1965) at number one. When E.T. was belatedly released on video in 1988, it was one of the few movies that, in terms of sales, could compete with Disney’s animated features and Jane Fonda’s workout tapes; indeed, it soon became one of the best-selling titles of all time in the United States. 105 The film was a huge hit outside the United States as well; of all the films released before 1992, only Star Wars earned more money than E.T. in non-American cinemas (if revenue figures are not adjusted for inflation or exchange rate fluctuation). 106 All of this demonstrates the enormously wide reach of E.T. across the decades. There are also indications that the film has continued to be deeply meaningful for generations of viewers. For example, in a 1993 poll about “America’s favorite movies” it came in at number twenty-three. 107 And in a 1991 poll of adult “film fans” in the United States concerning the “Best Movie of All Time,” it was ranked fourth. 108 In response to a questionnaire distributed in the 1990s, concerning people’s memories of movie watching, many Americans recalled their first encounter with E.T., usually when they were children and in the company of family members, extremely vividly. 109

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For some it was “the very first” or the “most memorable movie” they ever saw, and most of them remembered crying as well as laughing, being incredibly sad as well as joyful during and after the screening. 110 Sharing this intense experience created a bond with other people in the audience. One respondent came “out of the theater crying along with everybody else. . . . [I]t was kind of a group thing.” 111 Another remembered being “surprised” that his “ever-so-bullish brother [was] wiping his eyes of tears,” and that his mother cried as well, strongly implying that this brought them closer together. 112 Several respondents recalled that they asked their parents about E.T.’s departure at the end of the film, and feeling reassured when told that “he would come back,” or, alternatively, that “he must go home and see his family. . . . E.T. will be safe at home with his family.” 113 By and large, the responses of people who had seen the film as adults were more ambivalent. Some remembered feeling “manipulated” or alienated from the story, if not during their first encounter with the film, then during later viewings. 114 Others recorded the surprise and embarrassment they had felt when finding themselves deeply moved by the film. One man who had seen E.T. in his early thirties recalled: “I suddenly realized that tears were coursing down my cheeks and wouldn’t stop. . . . I have never been so glad for a long final credits sequence so that I could collect myself. It has affected me the same way again any time I see it in a theater.” 115 Another man who had seen the film with his fiveyear-old daughter reported: “Although I consider myself a tough guy, her tears were contagious.” 116 Several people stated that the film’s impact went far beyond the movie theater. One man, who had seen E.T. as a teenager, stated: “This was a particularly special film to me, because I was going through a rough time in my life, and things like this helped me out in little ways.” 117 A woman recalled: “I immediately began collecting every piece of E.T. merchandise around. . . . I still have these things, and I wonder if my interest in UFOs has been fostered by that movie.” 118 A Nigerian man who had seen E.T. during a visit to the United States was most impressed by the fact that “the complete audience [stood] up at the end of the movie and applaud[ed] enthusiastically,” which, he suggested, might have contributed to his decision eventually to move to the country. 119 Another respondent recalled a kind of subculture forming around the film. She had attended a screening “full of little kids squirming and all excited”; they had all seen the film before, and proudly told each other how many times. 120 Last but not least, it is worth quoting one man’s response which echoes the religiously inflected comments about the film’s preview screening I cited above as well as Andrew Sarris’s second article on E.T. from September 1982: “Jesus said he would be back; he just didn’t say what he would look like.” 121


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CONCLUSION: AFTER E.T. Drawing on Spielberg’s own past experiences of dysfunctional family life and his long-standing involvement in films focusing on marital strife and parent/child relations, as well as on important traditions in family entertainment and Hollywood’s recent turn toward hugely successful familyoriented science fiction and fantastic adventures, upon its release in 1982 E.T. did not only turn out to be an unprecedented box office success, but was also recognized as having an unusually deep impact on its viewers, especially children. Immediately acknowledged as a potential “classic,” since 1982 E.T. has indeed become a cornerstone of American culture (and, to a lesser extent, of world culture). Against the backdrop of a dramatic rise in the divorce rate, the film’s story revolves around the impact of marital break-up on children and adults (especially mothers who, in most cases of separation and divorce, take care of the children, quite often with little, or no, support from fathers), but also around general developmental issues (young children making connections with peers outside the family sphere). Most fundamentally, perhaps, the story deals with the fantasy of dissolving the self back into a larger whole (the unity of Elliott and E.T. as well as the unity of E.T. and the other extraterrestrials on the mother ship)—a kind of return to the womb—and also with the necessity of individuation (the initial separation of E.T. and the mother ship, the final separation of Elliott and E.T.), which is both a kind of birth and an experience of tremendous loss. 122 The unprecedented success and impact of E.T. consolidated the dominance of family-adventure movies (mostly within the generic framework of science fiction and fantastic adventure, but also across other genres) at the U.S. box office, and contributed to an important shift in focus. Whereas, with the exception of the two Star Wars films (Luke and Leia being teenagers), the most successful family-adventure movies from 1977 to 1981 focused primarily on the experiences of adults, since E.T. most have revolved around teenagers (or young adults just out of their teenage years) and young children. This applies, for example, to the following films ranked among the top two hundred on Box Office Mojo’s inflationadjusted all-time chart for the United States: 123 Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future (1985), the first two Home Alone movies (1990 and 1992), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Titanic (1997), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Frozen (2013). In addition there are more Star Wars episodes (since 1983) as well as the Harry Potter (since 2001), Spider-Man (since 2002), Transformers (since 2007), and Hunger Games (since 2012) movies. 124 Furthermore, several top-grossing family-adventure movies deal both with adults and children or teenagers, including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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(1984), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), the first two Jurassic Park movies (1993 and 1997), the Toy Story films (since 1995), The Sixth Sense (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), War of the Worlds (2005), The Incredibles (2004), and Up (2009). Even family-adventure hits focusing almost exclusively on adults often include scenes depicting formative childhood experiences, as in Batman (1989), Forrest Gump (1994), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). This shift of emphasis toward teenage and childhood experiences might be regarded (together with the films’ emphasis on spectacular attractions and their association with children’s culture, e.g., fairy tales, comic strips, toys, children’s books, animation, and ghost stories) as proof of the juvenilization or infantilization of Hollywood cinema and its audiences, but my analysis of the E.T. phenomenon in this chapter suggests otherwise. Most of these films, which, it has to be emphasized, make up the vast majority of the biggest hits at the U.S. box office since 1977, deal with fundamental experiences, to do with the most primary and most emotionally intense and resonant familial relationships (notably the mother-child bond, the death of parents, the disintegration of families), that in principle everyone can relate to, either because they have had such experiences in the past, or because they are encountering them in the present. In dealing with such experiences, the films aim to release, in a perfectly safe and controlled setting, powerful feelings of the kind that adults would normally try to avoid or suppress, and also to offer their audiences, especially children, reassurance that separation and loss can be overcome. It should be noted that the gender politics of these hit movies are deeply contradictory. On the one hand, most of them center on a male protagonist, in particular on his relationship with his father, substitute father figures, or male children. At the same time, the majority of these films portray fathers as deeply problematic characters: dead, absent, or detached; weak, incompetent, abusive, even evil. And they promote, in male characters and also in the audience, qualities traditionally associated more with females than with males: empathetic identification, emotional expressiveness, deep interpersonal attachments, selfless caring for others. And, as already suggested, going beyond the father-son dynamic at the forefront of many of these films, they often emphasize the primacy of the mother-child bond. It is also worth pointing out that female-centered family-adventure hit movies have become much more prominent during the last decade. The shift toward child and teenage protagonists and mother-child relations is particularly noticeable in Spielberg’s own work as a director and producer, with regards to both his family-adventure movies and his more exclusively adult-oriented, more “serious” films. Spielberg became the world’s foremost maker of films about children and teenagers with a string of big hits starting with E.T. and the concurrent release of Polter-


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geist (which he had co-written and produced). 125 In fact many of the post1982 family-adventures from Box Office Mojo’s all-time top two hundred list mentioned above were directed or produced by Spielberg. The success of these films helped to refocus, for about a decade, the filmmaker’s public image so that he came to be perceived primarily as a family entertainer, rather than the all-rounder he was and had always been. 126 Parallel to this development, many of Spielberg’s films—including The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), and Minority Report (2002)—came to focus (like E.T. and indeed Poltergeist) on the relationship between mothers and children, in particular on the trauma of their separation and the joys of reunion. NOTES 1. Bryce Nelson, “The Alien Already Here: Insights into E.T.’s Power,” New York Times, 20 December 1982, C1. 2. Cp. Peter Krämer, “‘It’s Aimed at Kids—The Kid in Everybody’: George Lucas, Star Wars and Children’s Entertainment,” in Yvonne Tasker, ed. Action and Adventure Cinema (London: Routledge, 2004), 358–89, 365–66. 3. Nelson, “The Alien Already Here,” C1. 4. Ibid., C4. 5. Ibid., C4. 6. Ibid., C4. 7. Ibid., C4. 8. Ibid., C4. 9. Ibid., C4. 10. Jeffrey L. Drezner, “E.T.: An Odyssey of Loss,” The Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 70, no. 2 (Summer 1983), 269–70. 11. Ibid., 269. 12. Ibid., 275. 13. Ibid., 271. 14. Ibid., 273. 15. Ibid., 273. 16. Ibid., 275. 17. I should point out that the academic literature on E.T. in particular and Spielberg in general is vast, and I make no attempt here to engage with it in detail. However, I can recommend several fairly recent books which offer sympathetic discussions of Spielberg’s work and also engage in considerable detail with the critical literature on his films: Warren Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster (New York: Continuum, 2006); Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Nigel Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (London: Wallflower Press, 2007); Dean A. Kowalski, ed., Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008); Andrew M. Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014). 18. Cp. Cobbett Steinberg, Film Facts (New York: Facts on File, 1980), 3–4; David A. Cook, Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979 (New York: Scribner’s, 2000), 501–3; and “The 1980s: A Reference Guide to Motion Pictures, Television, VCR, and Cable,” The Velvet Light Trap, no. 27 (Spring 1991), 82. Even today, Jaws (at number seven) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (at number twenty) are

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ranked very highly in Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted all-time chart; “Domestic Grosses Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation,”, last accessed 26 March 2015. 19. Cook, Lost Illusions, 502. The Sugarland Express earned only just over three million dollars in rentals; Lawrence Cohn, “All-Time Film Rental Champs,” Variety, 10 May 1993, C76. According to an unpublished chart compiled by Sheldon Hall on the basis of the data provided in “All-Time Film Rental Champs,” The Sugarland Express did not even make it into the top fifty for its year of release. 20. Quoted in Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography (London: Faber, 1997), 223. 21. Steinberg, Film Facts, 178. 22. Ibid., 175, 179, 285. 23. Ibid., 144. 24. Ibid., 159, 164–67. 25. For information on nominations and wins, see the entries on individual films in Derek Elley, ed., Variety Movie Guide 2000 (New York: Perigee, 2000). 26. David Sterritt, “Review of E.T.”, Christian Science Monitor, 3 June 1982, 19; Andrew Sarris, review of E.T. and Poltergeist, Village Voice, 15 June 1982, 59. 27. Pauline Kael, “Review of E.T.,” New Yorker, 14 June 1982, 119; Sterritt, “Review of E.T.,” 3 June 1982, 19; David Denby, “Review of E.T.,” New Yorker, 14 June 1982, 73. 28. Sterritt, “Review of E.T.,” 3 June 1982, 19. Spielberg’s self-perception as an outsider may be related to the fact that during his childhood and youth, his family moved several times, so that he repeatedly had to establish himself in a new social environment. What is more, the family moved into non-Jewish neighborhoods in which Spielberg encountered a considerable amount of anti-Semitism. Cp. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 35–134. 29. Kael, “Review of E.T.,” 119. 30. Susan Royal, “Steven Spielberg in His Adventures on Earth,” American Premiere, July 1982, reprinted in Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, eds., Steven Spielberg: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000), 87. 31. Michael Sragow, “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg,” Rolling Stone, 22 July 1982, reprinted in Friedman and Notbohm, Steven Spielberg: Interviews, 109. 32. Royal, “Steven Spielberg,” 89. 33. Myra Forsberg, “Spielberg at 40: The Man and the Child,” New York Times, 10 January 1988, reprinted in Friedman and Notbohm, Steven Spielberg: Interviews, 129. Also see Spielberg’s comments quoted in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 327–29. 34. Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life (New York: The Free Press, 1988), 178–79, 203–5, 217–18. 35. See the filmography in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 501. 36. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 11–15, 102–8, quotation from 103. 37. Ibid., 103. 38. Ibid., 109–14, 130–33, 138–51, 501. 39. Ibid., 152–55. 40. Ibid., 156–69. 41. Ibid., 502–3. 42. Ibid., 180. 43. Ibid., 208. 44. “New Bonnie ’n [sic] Clyde,” Hollywood Citizen-News, 2 May 1969, quoted and referenced in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 178, 473. 45. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 230–31. 46. Ibid., 231–33. 47. Ibid., 233–53. Also see Carl Gottlieb, The Jaws Log (London: Faber, 1975; 2001). 48. On the production history of Close Encounters, which was even more complex than that of Jaws, see McBride, Steven Spielberg, 226–27, 261–86; Ray Morton, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film (New York:


Peter Krämer

Applause, 2007); and Bob Balaban, Spielberg, Truffaut and Me: Close Encounters of the Third Kind—An Actor’s Diary (London: Titan, 2002). 49. Peter Krämer, The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (London: Wallflower Press, 2005), 6–66. On the marketing and audience address of Jaws, see Peter Krämer, “‘A Truly Mass Audience’: Movies and the Small Screen in the Mid1970s,” unpublished paper, presented at the 18th Conference of the International Association for Media and History “Television and History,” Leeds, July 1999. 50. Krämer, The New Hollywood, 60–65. 51. Krämer, “‘It’s Aimed at Kids,’” 361–65. On Superman and Star Trek, see Cook, Lost Illusions, 58–60. 52. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 137–38, 286–87. 53. Morton, Close Encounters, 75–76. 54. Peter Krämer, “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made’: Children’s Films and the Family Audience in American Cinema since the 1960s,” in Steve Neale, ed., Genre and Contemporary Hollywood (London: BFI, 2002), 190–92. 55. Steinberg, Film Facts, 50–51. 56. Cook, Lost Illusions, 501–2: “The 1980s,” 82. 57. Krämer, New Hollywood, 89–104; Peter Krämer, “Would You Take Your Child to See This Film? The Cultural and Social Work of the Family-Adventure Movie,” in Steve Neale and Murray Smith, eds. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (London: Routledge, 1998), 294–311. 58. On this last point, Krämer, “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made,’” 187. 59. Steinberg, Film Facts, 60. At this time, Spielberg also established himself as a producer of other people’s films, starting with two comedy-dramas by Robert Zemeckis (I Wanna Hold Your Hand [1978] and Used Cars [1980]). On Spielberg’s career during this time, see McBride, Steven Spielberg, 296–322. On Raiders, also see J. W. Rinzler, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films (New York: Ebury Press, 2008), 12–127. 60. Quoted in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 333. 61. Quoted in Linda Sunshine, ed., E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from Concept to Classic: The Illustrated Story of the Film and the Filmmakers (New York: Newmarket, 2002), 14. Spielberg’s willingness finally to deal with divorce may well have been enhanced by the fact that the top grossing film at the U.S. box office in 1979 was the divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer, which also won almost all the major Academy Awards; Cook, Lost Illusions, 502. 62. Quoted in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 322. 63. Quoted in Sunshine, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 14. 64. Ibid., 14–16; McBride, Steven Spielberg, 324–26. 65. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 104–5, 325, quotation on 325; Sunshine, E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial, 13. 66. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 336–40. 67. See the 1996 documentary The Making of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and McBride, Steven Spielberg, 329. 68. I should note that this is not an exact science; other people may well come up with a different division of the film into scenes. 69. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 325; “The 1980s,” 79. 70. Quoted in Sunshine, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 167. 71. Ibid., 167. 72. Quoted in McBride, Steven Spielberg, 333. 73. Ibid., 333; Sunshine, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 167. 74. Review of E.T., Variety, 22 May 1982, reprinted in George Perry, Steven Spielberg: The Making of His Movies (London: Orion, 1998), 114–15. 75. Ibid., 115. 76. David Sterritt, “Review of E.T.,” 3 June 1982, 19. However, two weeks later, when the film had been in cinemas for a few days, Sterritt, in a second review of the

Dealing with Emotional Trauma in and through E.T.


film, was convinced that it would be a huge hit; Christian Science Monitor, 17 June 1982, 18. 77. Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins, eds. Film Theory Goes to the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1993), 27. 78. Aljean Harmetz, “Thousands of E.T.s Are Heading for Stores,” New York Times, 16 July 1982, 68; McBride, Steven Spielberg, 335. 79. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 334; 2001 People Entertainment Almanac (New York: Cader Books, 2000), 305. 80. Cp. Krämer, “Would You Take Your Child to See this Film?,” 295–96. Also see Andrew Gordon, “Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Criticism: The Case of Lucas and Spielberg,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 2, no. 2 (1989), 81–94. 81. Robert Asahina, “review E.T. and Poltergeist,” New Leader, 12 July 1982, 20. 82. Sarris, “Review E.T. and Poltergeist,” 59. 83. Ibid. 84. David Denby, “Review of E.T.,” New York Times, 14 June 1982, 73. 85. Ibid., 73. 86. Ibid., 73. 87. Joseph Gelmis, “Review of E.T.,” Newsday, 11 June 1982, Part II, 3. 88. Ibid., 3. 89. Sheila Benson, “Review of E.T.,” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1982, Calendar, 1. 90. Ibid., 1. 91. Jon Gartenberg, “Review of E.T.,” Films in Review, October 1982, 486. 92. Ibid., 486. 93. Archer Winsten, “Review of E.T.,” New York Post, 11 June 1982, 47 94. Vincent Canby, “Review of E.T.,” New York Times, 11 June 1982, C14. 95. Ibid., C14. 96. Benson, “Review of E.T.,” 1. 97. Andrew Sarris, “Is There Life after E.T.?,” Village Voice, 21 September 1982, 47. 98. “All-Time Film Rental Champs (Of U.S.-Canada Market),” Variety, 12 January 1983, 30; “All-Time Film Rental Champs (Of U.S.-Canada Market,” Variety, 11 January 1984, 10. It is also worth mentioning that E.T. was nominated for nine Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), winning four (in sound, music, and special effects categories). 99. “The 1980s,” 81. 100. Joel W. Finler, The Hollywood Story (London: Octopus, 1988), 288. 101. Sam Roberts, Who We Are: A Portrait of America Based on the Latest U.S. Census (New York: Times Books, 1993), 263. 102. Finler, The Hollywood Story, 280, 288. 103. “Big Rental Films of ’85 (U.S.-Canada Market Only,” Variety, 8 January 1986, 22; “Top 250 of 2002,” Variety, 6 January 2003, 26. 104. Box Office Mojo, “Domestic Grosses Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation.” 105. 2001 People Entertainment Almanac, 110–11; Paul McDonald, Video and DVD Industries (London: BFI, 2007), 132–35; “Top 25 Overall Sellers of All Time (Through May 30, 2004)” (combined video and DVD sales chart), Video Store Magazine, 20 June 2004, 32. 106. Peter Krämer, “Hollywood and Its Global Audiences: A Comparative Study of the Biggest Box Office Hits in the United States and Outside the United States since the 1970s,” in Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Philippe Meers, eds., Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 175–76. 107. TNT press release, 18 October 1993, in folder “Surveys—Popularity Polls, 1993–,” press clippings collection, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Beverly Hills. 108. “Film Fans’ Tastes Revealed in Movie Channel Movie Lover Poll,” Boxoffice, December 1991, unpaginated clipping in folder “Surveys 1990–1996,” press clippings


Peter Krämer

collection, AMPAS. I should perhaps add that in such American surveys, Gone with the Wind tends to be far ahead at number one. 109. Tom Stempel, American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), xiii, 157–60, 254–55. There is confirmation for such memories in the letters cinemagoers sent to Universal in 1982–1983; Letters to E.T. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983). While some of these letters are written by adults and addressed to Spielberg, the majority is from young children writing to E.T., who is addressed as if he was a real extra-terrestrial or a movie performer. 110. Stempel, American Audiences, 157–59. 111. Ibid., 158. 112. Ibid., 158. 113. Ibid., 158–59. 114. Ibid., 159–60. 115. Ibid., 159. 116. Ibid., 159. 117. Ibid., 158. 118. Ibid., 158. 119. Ibid., 160. 120. Ibid., 159. 121. Ibid., 160. 122. On the powerful emotional appeal of these themes, see Ed S. H. Tan and Nico H. Frijda, “Sentiment in Film Viewing,” in Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith, eds. Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 48–64. 123. Box Office Mojo, “Domestic Grosses Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation.” 124. One might also add the Lord of the Rings (since 2001) and Hobbit (since 2012) trilogies, if one judges Frodo in the former and Bilbo in the latter to be at a developmental stage equivalent to a human’s teenage years (or just beyond those years). 125. For more details, see Peter Krämer, “‘He’s Very Good at Work Not Involving Little Creatures, You Know’: Schindler’s List, E.T. and the Shape of Steven Spielberg’s Career,” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (March 2009), 27. 126. Ibid., 25–28.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Cook, David A. Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979 . New York: Scribner’s, 2000. Drezner, Jeffrey L. “E.T.: An Odyssey of Loss.” The Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 70, no. 2 (Summer 1983): 269–75. Finler, Joel W. The Hollywood Story. London: Octopus, 1988. Friedman, Lester D. and Brent Notbohm, eds. Steven Spielberg: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Kael, Pauline. Review of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. New Yorker, June 14, 1982. Krämer, Peter. “‘The Best Disney Film Disney Never Made’: Children’s Films and the Family Audience in American Cinema since the 1960s.” In Genre and Contemporary Hollywood, edited by Steve Neale, 185–200. London: BFI, 2002. ———. “‘It’s Aimed at Kids—the Kid in Everybody’: George Lucas, Star Wars and Children’s Entertainment.” In Action and Adventure Cinema, edited by Yvonne Tasker, 358–70. London: Routledge, 2004. ———. The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars. London: Wallflower Press, 2005. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. London: Faber, 1997. Morton, Ray. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film. New York: Applause, 2007.

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Sarris, Andrew. “Review of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Poltergeist.” Village Voice, 15 June 1982. Steinberg, Cobbett. Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, 1980 Stempel, Tom. American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Sterritt, David. “Review of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Christian Science Monitor, 3 June 1982.

FIVE Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg Ingrid E. Castro

In Western society, the innocent child has been, and remains, the most “acceptable” child. A legacy of the Romanic Era, 1 the myth of the innocent child carries strong connotations of imagination, wonder, spontaneity, and purity; it is of a child uncorrupted by the adult world. 2 However, childhood innocence is an adult social construction, “a distinctly modern phenomenon and not something inherent to a child’s being.” 3 When children live through the social and moral problems of war, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and poverty they are described as having their childhoods “lost” or “stolen.” Their everyday realities, however, conflict with “projections of adult fantasies—fantasies that allow adults to believe that children do not suffer.” 4 But why is an assumed loss of innocence equated with a complete loss of childhood and instant propulsion into early adulthood? When children undergo trials and tribulations borne from adult mistakes on local or global scales we lose the ability to invoke the “utopian optimism” 5 of childhood innocence. And “[b]ecause innocence is synonymous with ignorance . . . adults seeking to ‘protect’ what they define as innocence results in prolonging dependency, ignorance, and disempowerment in children.” 6 Steven Spielberg’s cinematic children are no different; all too frequently they are considered through the lens of innocence and lost childhood. Critics such as Richard Schickel have readily applied this descriptor to Spielberg himself: “He recently turned 60, but there is about him a boyishness—even a kind of innocence—that is ineluctable.” 7 Most problematically, the attribution of innocence to children seemingly takes away their capacity for agency, as childhood inno121


Ingrid E. Castro

cence in Spielberg’s work is often equated with simplicity, naïveté, and harmlessness, 8 and therefore passivity. The criticism of Steven Spielberg’s work almost inevitably highlights themes of innocence lost and childhood dreams deferred. For example, Gary Arms and Thomas Riley note that “[t]he formula for many of Spielberg’s most famous films is innocence in great jeopardy. Normally innocence is represented by children.” 9 They discuss the theme of children’s innocence in jeopardy across films such as Empire of the Sun, War of the Worlds, and A.I., where adult redemption comes from the recognition that children’s innocence deserves preservation and protection. 10 In A.I. Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) moves through this process with child-robot David (Haley Joel Osment), whereby Joe “recognizes the potential for redemption in meeting his special obligations to the innocent David.” 11 James Kendrick also explores the innocence of Spielberg’s children in his discussions of Jim (Christian Bale) in Empire of the Sun and David in A.I. Kendrick asserts that the traumatic experiences of war force Jim to “grow up too fast, shedding all vestiges of childish innocence and naïveté in the pursuit of mere survival,” 12 culminating in “the final death and burial of his childhood.” 13 Kendrick likewise sees innocence in A.I.’s David, where humanity’s shortcomings are “viewed through the eyes of a child. . . . In the end, David’s journey to become a ‘real boy’ is really an innocent’s journey into a world full of weeping, none of which he ever understands.” 14 According to Kendrick, the social problems of war and abandonment in Empire of the Sun and A.I. ultimately lead to lost innocence and therefore lost childhood. But there is a dangerous repercussion to declaring children as inherently innocent, whereby children may suffer from being placed in the assumed role of “silenced spectator” 15 in their own lives and worlds. Expectations of child innocence are said to be “detrimental to children’s well-being and their development as competent, responsible, resilient, critical-thinking subjects with agency in their lives.” 16 When we do not recognize agency due to our essentialist assumptions of innocence we deny children are competent individuals with important and unique knowledge to contribute as valuable members of society. Very often children are left out of the conversation on human agency, likely due to the popular notion of children as passive. 17 The view of children as passive, innocent, and in need of adult protection and nurturance has existed for many centuries. 18 Complicating the discussion of agency in children is the agency/structure debate. There is a symbiotic relationship between children’s actions and their existence within the oftregulated and controlled spaces of childhood; 19 as a result, agency in children means making choices within a structure that may demand otherwise. The issue here is that children in the United States currently suffer from some of the most insurmountable structural barriers to enacting agency compared to any other group of people. This leads to the asser-

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


tion that submission to adult expectations of passivity, innocence, and complacency does not leave much room for children to invoke agency. Therefore, “[a]gency in motion is probably the most obvious in children, as opposed to other segments of the population, since kids are so regularly and categorically marginalized and infantilized.” 20 By accepting that children have the capacity to be agentic, we acknowledge they are “meaning makers” 21 within their own lives, in their own environments, and “from this perspective children then are not passively constructed into childhoods but participate daily in the articulation of their being.” 22 In order to be an agent, one must intentionally influence one’s own life circumstances and purpose. 23 There are four core properties of human agency including: (1) intentionality, (2) forethought, (3) self-reactiveness, and (4) self-reflectiveness. 24 Agency is central to all humans and encompasses desire, intention, and creativity. 25 In addition, “agency is defined as the ability to successfully negotiate the messages and meanings inherent within our value system as such messages occur in daily conversation and interaction.” 26 There must also be a belief that one’s agency will have the potential for some sort of desired effect or outcome, so conviction in one’s efficacy is a required element for the successful performance of agentic thoughts, expressions, and actions. 27 Finally, human agency is not insular; instead, it “is a product of a reciprocal interplay of intrapersonal, behavioral, and environmental determinants.” 28 Some developmental theorists argue there are differences in human agency, that children’s (juvenile) agency is inferior to adult (mature) agency. Here, child agency is merely practiced in preparation for a more mature and powerful adult agency. 29 Societal constructions of children as passive and helpless, victims of lost innocence and lost childhoods, lead us to wonder if there is any room for child agency in the films of Steven Spielberg. Are children in Spielberg’s films represented as passive and nonagentic, without the capacity to fulfill the role of effective actor in their lives? The pervasive “myth of the innocent and victimized child whom we must protect—the mute one whose voice we must assume” 30 is frequently invoked when discussing Spielberg’s cinematic children. Does Spielberg romanticize the innocent child to the point of diminished or absent agency even though child innocence “is often a figment of adult imaginations?” 31 In order to address these questions, the present study utilizes the sociological method of content analysis and subsequent coding/statistical evaluation of specific types of agency (thought, expression, or action) and particular directions of agency (for the benefit or purpose of oneself, one other person, or a larger group/society) exhibited by children in Spielberg’s films. Given the first core property of agency is intentionality, it is imperative to analyze what types of agency children perform in Spielberg’s films. Who or what inspires these innocent children to think, speak, and act of their own accord within adult-dictated and regulated structures? I


Ingrid E. Castro

contextualize agency type through examining the purpose of agency: are children enacting agency for their own benefit (self) or someone else’s benefit (one other person or group/society)? Agency for oneself can potentially translate into agency with a selfish component, while agency for one or more others (particularly a group or society as a whole) can be read as moral or altruistic agency. Moral agency 32 is the ability for an actor to recognize the difference from right and wrong in reference to agentic thoughts, expressions, and actions. I define altruistic agency as a child’s thoughts, expressions, and actions enacted for the express benefit of others instead of merely oneself. This differentiation is particularly essential to consider when investigating gendered agency. Does gender have a significant effect on agency type or direction for Spielberg’s children, given that females in our society are more likely than males to have the attributes of vulnerability, innocence, naïveté, and passivity ascribed to them? Following the report on methodology and results, I address whether or not the quality of childhood innocence militates against the capacity for agency and suggest possible reasons for Spielberg’s changing treatments of children. METHODOLOGY Content analysis with in-depth coding was employed for the present study. In order to examine Spielberg’s representations of children and agency, I identified the most relevant films for content analysis based on a variety of criteria. First and foremost, child characters had to be both identifiable as children and living, at least in part, as children. According to the United Nations, a person is considered a child when under eighteen years of age, which guided my initial definition of “child” in Spielberg’s work. Proof of child status was determined through (1) direct mention of age; (2) stature; (3) parent or guardian care for at least a portion of the film; (4) close sibling bond that indicated age and power differentials; (5) sociocultural indicators of childhood; (6) age-dictated material culture; 33 and/or (7) label, where the character was referred to as a “child” or “kid.” Finally, child characters had to be in the film for more than five minutes to ensure enough screen time for agentic action and analysis. I compiled a list of twenty-three Steven Spielberg films for possible inclusion in this study. After screening and applying the above constraints, a final fifteen films were chosen for further analysis: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Poltergeist (1982), 34 Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Hook (1991), 35 Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), War of the Worlds

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


(2005), and War Horse (2011). Eight films screened but ultimately not considered for further analysis included: The Sugarland Express (1974), Jaws (1975), 1941 (1979), The Goonies (1985), 36 Schindler’s List (1993), Minority Report (2002), The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), 37 and Lincoln (2012). The final fifteen films were rescreened, with detailed notes taken on all children’s agentic thoughts, expressions, and actions exhibited within each film. However, not all children’s thoughts, expressions, and actions were transcribed. There were many instances when a child was not being agentic in film, usually due to a child following the instructions, rules, or wishes of an adult/peer, or when a child was mimicking an adult/peer. If adults discussed children’s agency, this was noted, though a child had to be in the scene at the time of the exchange. In the event that more than one child performed similar agentic expressions or actions at the same time, only one instance of agency was recorded. Also, if a child performed the same type of agency several times in the same scene it was recorded as only one instance of agency. Transcription lengths varied in accordance with how many children were in the film, how much screen time each of the children had, and the amount of voice-overs/dialogue/ action children performed that were considered agentic. Agency Type Once content was transcribed, each entry was numerically coded. The first set of coding determined what type of agentic thought, expression, or action was demonstrated. No individual content was coded for more than one type of agency. In a second round of coding, those initial sixteen types of agency were conflated into a manageable number of agency types. In order to combine categories, the central meanings and/or outcomes behind each categorical group were closely examined for similarity. The final eight categories of coded agency type included: (A) Expression of Self-Knowledge/Ability, (B) Expression of Desire/Preservation of Self, (C) Expression of Peer/Group Culture/Identity, (D) Competition/ Fight against Others, (E) Act in Exploration/Search for Answers, (F) Defiance/Act against Oppression/Rule, (G) Act of Desperation/Survival, and (H) Need for Order/Belongingness. In the event content could qualify as more than one type of agency, the entry was contextualized via setting, circumstance, and surrounding dialogue in order to determine what type of agency was most represented. Agency Direction After the eight agentic types were finalized, I completed a third round of coding to establish the reason for agency. Three categories (1) Agency for Self, (2) Agency for One Other Person, and (3) Agency for Group/


Ingrid E. Castro

Society indicated the direction of children’s agency. In this study, I attributed the three directional categories to a child’s perceived benefit or outcome of their agency for self, other, or larger group. All agentic types were coded with only one self, other, or larger group motivational indicator and most agentic types clearly fell into one of the three directional categories. If the agency type could be coded as more than one self, other, or larger group category, the context, surrounding dialogue, and outcome of the agentic type were closely considered. Once all relevant thoughts, expressions, and actions of children were coded with one of the eight agency types and three agency directions, assigned numerical indicators were reviewed three times to ensure relevancy and accuracy. Entries for each category were evaluated utilizing basic statistical calculations of means, trends, and comparative percentages. The finalized indicators were organized and tabulated in spreadsheets where tables and graphs were generated. RESULTS A total of 427 agentic thoughts, expressions, or actions by children are enacted across all fifteen films. While that averages 28.5 38 incidences of child agency per film, closer examination is necessary given that Spielberg’s films vary greatly in child agency portrayal. Films like E.T. (fiftysix) and Empire of the Sun (sixty-three) have much higher numbers of child agency compared to Jurassic Park (twelve) and Lost World (fourteen). These four movies are ideal for comparison, given that children are present throughout all of them. One might be tempted to argue that more children = more examples of agency in film. This is obviously not the case given that Empire of the Sun tells the story of one child and E.T. that of three children; regardless, both films feature high levels of agency. One reason for the difference between the total numbers of agency among all four films could be that E.T. and Empire of the Sun depict children outside of parental purview. While the role of Mary (Dee Wallace) is an important one woven throughout E.T., children’s agency is often demonstrated beyond her mothering range, taking place in Elliott’s room, the neighborhood, or the forest. In Empire of the Sun, while Jim has “guardians” (the Victors, Dr. Rawlins, Basie) occasionally directing, guiding, or watching him, the adults seem to agree (and possibly encourage) that Jim is “running wild.” In addition, the children in both these films are generally characterized as individuals with very strong opinions and strong identities already in place or developing throughout, which arguably encourages children’s agency. In contrast, children in Jurassic Park and Lost World have very low agentic numbers even though they too are present throughout the films. Compared to Empire of the Sun and E.T., these two Jurassic Park install-

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


ments do not focus solely on the children; instead, the kids are part of ensemble casts sharing screen time with many adults and dinosaurs. The children of Jurassic Park and Lost World are often seen in states of fear and despair, in need of comfort, reassurance, and rescue; therefore, they do not particularly embody agency. Of the two, Lost World shows slightly more child agency, due to Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) 39 being featured as quite agentic at the beginning of the film (while in conversation with her father) as well as the very end of her time on-screen (when she fights off the velociraptors to save her father and his girlfriend). In comparison to the Jurassic Park installments, other low child agency films like “Kick the Can” (thirteen), Last Crusade (thirteen), and Poltergeist (twenty) do not have children depicted throughout. Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” is merely one segment in the longer multi-director film Twilight Zone; his contribution includes children for approximately six minutes. Young Indy (River Phoenix) has less than ten minutes of screen time in Last Crusade. Similarly, the children in Poltergeist disappear throughout the film: little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is sucked into the ether of the possessed house early on, teenage sister Dana (Dominique Dunne) continually leaves to go out with friends or stay overnight somewhere else, and middle child Robbie (Oliver Robins) is sent to live with his grandmother. If Last Crusade included young Indy for a longer duration of the film, I have no doubt the levels of agency would be much higher given the general agentic nature of the Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) character as a whole. However, even if the children of Poltergeist had more screen time I believe they would continue to be portrayed as helpless and distraught kids in need of rescuing, similar to those in the Jurassic Park installments. Figure 5.1 illustrates total percentage of agency compared to the whole (427 acts of agency). Here we can clearly see an interesting movement in Spielberg’s illustration of agentic children, with a very strong demarcation between films released in the 1970s and 1980s and those that follow. Rising from high levels of child agency in E.T. and peaking in Empire of the Sun, child agency in Spielberg films steadily wanes over the next three decades. One possible reason for higher levels of agency in Spielberg’s children during the 1980s could be media attention on “latchkey” children, whereby they were often depicted in film as clever, adept, and mature in order to ease parent (particularly maternal) guilt associated with leaving children home alone. 40 For example, in Spielberg’s highly agentic film E.T., Mary leaves her younger children unsupervised and home alone several times. 41 The children’s alienation from their mother, given her incapability to provide adequate child care and her inability to truly see and listen to her children, is revealed when Gertie (Drew Barrymore) does not call her “mom” or “mommy,” but instead calls her “Mary” 42 —a strong example of Gertie’s agency. An interesting result of targeting films in the 1980s toward middle-class concerns is that representations of children’s agency were meant more for parent, rather than


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child, consumption; 43 once again evidence that films often reference children in terms of adult needs. A second reason for children’s declining agency in Spielberg’s films is that he may be reflecting the growing societal culture of fear, 44 which has seemingly paralyzed US citizens since the 1990s. As a result, children are allowed less room to experience life on their own; they are inundated with more rules and their space is greatly restricted in the name of childhood innocence and protection from the possibility of danger, abduction, injury, and/or death. 45

Figure 5.1. Total Agency in Films by Percent of Whole

Looking closer at child agency found in Spielberg’s films, data in Figure 5.2 displays, in descending order, rates of occurrence for agency types. Agency that reflects (A) Expression of Self-Knowledge/Ability or (B) Expression of Desire/Preservation of Self is found at much higher levels compared to other agency types. This is perhaps predictable given that agency is first and foremost a quality of a person that is individualized and wholly associated with selfhood: self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. 46 Totaling over 45 percent of all agency types in Spielberg films, I believe agency related to self-expression (instead of action or thought) is also due to cinematic reliance on dialogue to convey child character motivation, regardless of writer or director. Films where nearly half of the agency falls into categories A and B are Empire of the Sun, Hook, Jurassic Park, Lost World, A.I., and War of the Worlds. More than half of the agency in Close Encounters and “Kick the Can” occurs in categories A and B. Of note, nineteen of Poltergeist’s twenty incidences of child agency fall under categories A or B. A film with much lower numbers of self-expressive agency is Catch Me If You Can (only eight out of twenty-nine agency types are expressions of self) be-

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


Figure 5.2. Percent of Child Agency by Type in All Films

cause so much of the film is reliant on visual depictions of agentic actions over several years in Frank’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) life. The Color Purple also has low numbers in the above two categories (only seven of the twenty-three types of agency are expressions of self), due to dependence on thought (via voice-overs) rather than action or expression in the coded portion of the film. 47 Temple of Doom’s Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) displays twenty-two out of thirty-six types of agency in categories (D) Competition/Fight with Others, (F) Defiance/Act against Oppression/Rule, and (G) Act of Desperation/Survival. This is because he is so action oriented, which befits the genre of the film, and his overall characterization as less Indy’s pseudo-adoptive child and more Indy’s servant or friend, depending on the scene. Figure 5.3 charts the directional motivation behind the 427 acts of child agency in Spielberg’s films. Is agency for the benefit or purpose of (1) Self, (2) One Other, or (3) Group/Society? One might assume that since 45.7 percent of coded child agentic acts fall under the two (A) and (B) Expressions of Self categories, a similar percent of the benefit/purpose of all expressed agency would place in the category of (1) Self. That assumption is correct, as 44.3 percent of all children’s agency in Spielberg films is for the benefit/purpose of (1) Self. However, agency categories (A) and (B) and agency direction (1) are not mutually exclusive. Just because an


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Figure 5.3. Percent of Agency Direction for Each Film

expression of agency is from oneself or about oneself does not necessarily mean it is absolutely done for one’s own benefit. For example, at two earlier points in Temple of Doom, Indy’s love interest Willie (Kate Capshaw) refers to him as “Mister”/”Indiana” and Short Round yells, “Call him Dr. Jones!” While this expression is coded as (A) Expression of SelfKnowledge, the purpose of the correction is ultimately for direction (2) One Other person, showing respect to and for Indiana Jones.

Figure 5.4. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) vigorously reinforces Indiana’s societal position by insisting that Willie call him “Dr. Jones.”

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


What I find particularly fascinating about the data in Figure 5.3 is that none of Spielberg’s films demonstrate agency for (3) Group/Society in great number. Of the three categories, agency for (3) Group/Society is quite lacking (18 percent) overall and nearly nonexistent in works like The Color Purple and A.I. Since the lowest benefit or purpose of agency is for (3) Group or Society, it makes sense that the lowest occurring types of agency are categories (H) Need for Order/Belongingness (4.7 percent) and (C) Expression of Peer/Group Culture/Identity (7 percent). A feeling of (H) Belongingness is an integral aspect of someone who has a (C) Group Identity, and since so few of Spielberg’s children utilize agency for (3) the Group, we might assume they are, at least somewhat, disassociated from larger society. A last trend is that outside of early films Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and “Kick the Can,” agency for benefit of (1) Self increases steadily across Spielberg’s career. The last four films in the present analysis, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, and War Horse, have much higher levels of children’s agency for benefit or purpose of (1) Self compared to the other two agency directions (2) One Other, or (3) Group/Society. Correspondingly, agency for the benefit or purpose of (2) One Other decreases over time and agency for (3) Group/ Society remains at low levels. Considering gendered agency, there are thirteen girls (39.4 percent) and 20 boys (60.6 percent) in the fifteen Spielberg films analyzed in the present study. One might hope that agentic thoughts, expressions, and actions would reflect similar percentage points, but that is not the case; of the 427 occurrences of agency, 108 (25.3 percent) are attributed to girls and 319 (74.7 percent) are attributed to boys. Five films include only boys (Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Empire of the Sun, A.I., and Catch Me If You Can) and two films only girls (The Color Purple and Lost World). The remaining eight films feature both girls and boys; in several, the boys outnumber the girls (Close Encounters, “Kick the Can,” E.T., and Hook). Poltergeist is the only Spielberg film where girls outnumber boys. The three films where boys and girls are equal in number are Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, and War Horse. Close Encounters and E.T. contain sharp differences between female and male agency; 12 percent of Close Encounters’ and 20 percent of E.T.’s agency is from girls, and 88 percent and 80 percent, respectively, is from boys. Girls and boys display nearly equal amounts of agency in Poltergeist and War Horse. Most notably, Jurassic Park’s Lex (Ariana Richards) is significantly more agentic compared with her brother; 75 percent of agency in the film is issued from Lex. An example of Lex’s agency is her declaration that she is a computer “hacker,” an identity which eventually leads to her getting the park’s security and communications systems back online. Even though Jurassic Park has low levels of agency overall, it is important to note Lex is the only female


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who enacts more agency than boys in any of Spielberg’s dual gender films. Finally, Figure 5.5 shows children’s agency direction by gender. The left side of Figure 5.5 depicts variance between groups; that is, direction of agency males and females produce in reference to total agency by all children in all films. As mentioned prior, we can clearly see that boys are responsible for the bulk of agency. What is more curious is that boys have a greater comparative likelihood of displaying agency for (3) Group/Society than (1) Self or (2) One Other, while girls have a greater likelihood of displaying agency for (2) One Other compared to (1) Self or (3) Group/ Society. Boys are least likely to be responsible for agency toward (2) One Other and girls are least likely to enact agency for (3) Group/Society. The right side of Figure 5.5 illustrates variance within groups; that is, the percent of agency direction girls display in reference to total agency for all girls and the percent of agency direction boys display in reference to total agency for all boys in films. Here we see that girls have relatively equal percentage points for agency toward (1) Self (44.5 percent) and (2) One Other (43.5 percent) and much lower percentage points for agency direction (3) Group/Society (12 percent). In contrast, percentage points for boys’ agency direction are almost equal to girls for (1) Self (44.2 percent), less for (2) One Other (35.7 percent), and greater for (3) Group/ Society (20.1 percent). Both girls and boys exhibit more agency in the direction of (1) Self compared to the other two categories.

Figure 5.5. Gender and Agency

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION In Spielberg’s films, just as in real life, there is a “tension between conceptions of children as developing beings who are vulnerable and in need of protection and of children in possession of agency, capable and able to make interpretations of their worlds and act on them.” 48 The present study investigates the type and direction of agency in Spielberg’s films with the purpose of determining what inspires or drives children’s agency. I find that children as a whole are much more likely to exhibit agency via expressions of their abilities, knowledge, and desires, and much less likely to enact agency for the purpose of belongingness, order, or group membership/identity. Children are also much more likely to express agency for the self, compared to other people, groups, or societies. This relates importantly to the current finding that females are particularly unlikely to display agency for a group or society as a whole. Gender theory states that females are often ascribed values of passivity, care, and compassion. They are also more likely to hold close relational ties via group membership and are socially instructed to be more dependent on others in comparison to boys. What I uncover in this study differs slightly from these traditional expectations. Yes, girls underperform acts of agency, which implies passivity, but they are not more likely to enact agency for the group or larger society. This is an unexpected result, since prior to analysis I hypothesized females would be more likely than males to invoke socially all-encompassing altruistic agency (agency for the benefit of group/society). I also assumed females would exhibit higher levels of altruistic agency (agency for one other or group/society) compared to agency for self. The coexistence of agency and innocence in Spielberg’s films is interesting, given that some theorists believe children can only be agents if they completely remove all vestiges of innocence from their person. 49 Others find that while the qualities associated with innocence can impede adult agency, children’s innocence is not necessarily an encumbrance to child agency, 50 and that the quality of innocence can in fact grant a specific type of agency for children 51 which we must view on its own terms. 52 Theorists are not very clear on what exactly constitutes this innocencebased agency, as “the ‘agency’ in ‘children’s agency’ remains inadequately theorized.” 53 However, they do argue that childhood can be a location which provides privileged access to a particular uniqueness within agency, characterized by children’s deep and meaningful relationships with others and the distinctive and unbound power of children’s imaginations. 54 I believe the uniqueness of children’s agency must always be considered within the limiting structure of childhood itself. Children are adept at acting as selective agents, where they “sometimes internalize meanings and messages, sometimes combine them, and, at other times, choose none of the prescribed values.” 55 Since children must employ


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these sophisticated strategies to navigate high structure environments in the effort to be agentic, we must recognize that their agency looks quite different compared with adults, but that does not mean it is any less powerful or meaningful. For example, the children of Poltergeist, E.T., War of the Worlds, and A.I. are said to have unique positions in relation to the truth: wise, perceptive, and intuitive children who see the world in clearer terms compared to the adults in these films. 56 There are two distinct limitations to the present study. First, replicability is unlikely given that there is a low probability others, even researchers in childhood studies, would code the films exactly as I did. Instances of children’s agency are to a certain degree subjective, and therefore I may see agency where others do not, or I may categorize an act of agency differently from another evaluator. A solution to this divergence of perception is to have two or more investigators watch the films and complete the coding sequences separately, bringing data together via discussion and compromise when there is deviation. A second limitation, mentioned briefly in the Results section, is that the time children spend on-screen varies greatly between films in this study. This is particularly true when comparing females to males in Spielberg’s films. In order to achieve more accuracy in data calculation, a similar project in the future could factor screen time into analysis for more statistically significant results. Future research that investigates the representation of children’s agency in film could include considerations of race, intersectionality, and genre. Are racial and ethnic minority children given more freedom to act with agency in comparison to white children or vice versa? How do race and gender, or gender and age, or race and age, etc., combine to dictate portrayals of children’s agency in film? Are children in animated, comedy, science fiction, and action films more likely to enact agency compared with children in drama and horror films? Further research could also give additional context to the current study; is Spielberg the only filmmaker whose cinematic children show diminished agency over the last few decades? Or are most, if not all, filmmakers adversely influenced by the growing social trend to participate in the protection of idealized childhood and the myth of children’s innocence at any cost? Previously I suggested a few potential reasons why incidences of children’s agency in Spielberg films decline from the 1990s onward. Scholars have also noticed a change in Spielberg’s films during this exact timeframe, though they disagree just when the change took place. Kendrick argues that after Schindler’s List (1993) the tonality of Spielberg’s films appears to grow darker while he more pointedly addresses the “disturbing and unsettling aspects of life.” 57 However, Kendrick goes on to state that “Spielberg’s films hadn’t suddenly gotten darker after Schindler’s List. Rather, the darker elements had always been there, and now they were simply moving closer to the surface.” 58 Douglas Brode also agrees

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


that Schindler’s List forced Spielberg to grow up, though he believes Hook, a film considered “too dark” for children, is the transition film that reflects the central change in Spielberg. 59 Lester Friedman, on the other hand, states that it was directing Empire of the Sun which ultimately caused Spielberg to become a different, more mature filmmaker. 60 In my study there is clear statistical evidence that Spielberg changed at some point between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Empire of the Sun is the point where Spielberg depicts child agency at its highest level, and in the films that follow agency wanes. This may be due to Spielberg’s own diminishing faith in the power of children and childhood to overcome the negative connotations of passivity, weakness, and vulnerability frequently associated with innocence. 61 Arms and Riley contrast War of the Worlds with Spielberg’s earlier film Close Encounters (and the different outcomes within), highlighting the importance of recognizing that War of the Worlds was “made by a middleaged man with seven children that describes a father who does everything he can to protect his children.” 62 Earlier in the director’s career, when he was both closer to childhood and not occupying the role of “Father” with such abandon, Spielberg had more conviction in the power of children’s innocence. But in recent years, his films reinforce the adult power that emerges from the protection of that very same innocence, a process which ultimately restricts children’s agency. In Spielberg’s films, the preservation of children’s innocence, a characteristic which is integral to adult redemption and character development/affirmation, transforms childhood into a “protectionist experience” 63 for adults. The problem is that adults can never fully control or protect children, and by “insisting that they can and should, we deprive kids of an important opportunity for learning to navigate the outside world and learning to make appropriate decisions.” 64 My hope is that Spielberg and other filmmakers like him find ways to convince audiences (and themselves) that agency is not just allowable, but necessary, in stories about children. Young viewers can find appropriately agentic child role models in films, children who function as mirrors that reflect back hope for more freedom, more space, and more voice. For Spielberg’s most memorable and inspirational films are those that depict childhoods full of possibility, imagining innocence that coexists with, and even inspires, children’s agency. NOTES 1. Julia L. Michenberg and Lynne Vallone, “Introduction,” in The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, eds. Julia L. Michenberg and Lynne Vallone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 15. 2. Henry A. Giroux, “Stealing Innocence: The Politics of Child Beauty Pageants,” in The Children’s Culture Reader, ed. Henry Jenkins (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 265.


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3. Michenberg and Vallone, “Introduction,” 15. 4. Giroux, “Stealing Innocence,” 265. 5. Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths,” in The Children’s Culture Reader, ed. Henry Jenkins (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 5. 6. Diana Gittins, The Child in Question (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 172. 7. Richard Schickel, “Age & Innocence,” DGA Interviews, Directors Guild of America, Winter 2006. 8. Gary Arms and Thomas Riley, “The ‘Big-Little’ Film and Philosophy: Two Takes on Spielbergian Innocence,” in Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book, ed. Dean A. Kowalski (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2008), 30. 9. Ibid., 8. 10. Ibid., 30. 11. Ibid,. 24. 12. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 144. 13. Ibid., 151. 14. Ibid., 182. 15. Allison James, “Giving Voice to Children’s Voices: Practices and Problems, Pitfalls and Potentials,” American Anthropologist 109 (2007): 261. 16. Kerry H. Robinson, Innocence, Knowledge and the Construction of Childhood: The Contradictory Nature of Sexuality and Censorship in Children’s Contemporary Lives (Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2013), 18. 17. Ingrid E. Castro, “Children’s Agency and Cinema’s New Fairy Tale,” in Sociological Studies of Children and Youth: Volume 11, eds. David A. Kinney and Katherine Brown Rosier (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2005), 222. 18. Reesa Sorin, “Childhood through the Eyes of the Child and Parent,” Journal of Australian Research in Early Childhood Education 14 (2007): 1. 19. Suzanne Shanahan, “Lost and Found: The Sociological Ambivalence toward Childhood,” Annual Review of Sociology 33 (2007): 420. 20. Castro, “Children’s Agency,” 226. 21. Myra Bluebond-Langner and Jill E. Korbin, “Challenges and Opportunities in the Anthropology of Childhoods: An Introduction to ‘Children, Childhoods, and Childhood Studies,’” American Anthropologist 109 (2007): 243. 22. Shanahan, “Lost and Found,” 419. 23. Albert Bandura, “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2006): 164. 24. Ibid, 164–65. 25. William H. Sewell, Jr., “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation,” American Journal of Sociology 98 (1992): 20. 26. Lori Baker-Sperry, “Gendered Agency: Power in the Elementary Classroom,” Women and Language 29 (2006): 38. 27. Bandura, “Human Agency,” 170. 28. Ibid., 165. 29. Colin Macleod, “Agency, Authority and the Vulnerability of Children,” in The Nature of Children’s Well-Being: Theory and Practice, eds. Alexander Bagattini and Colin Macleod (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 2015), 59. 30. Jenkins, “Childhood Innocence,” 25. 31. Ibid., 23. 32. Bandura, “Human Agency,” 171. 33. William A. Corsaro, The Sociology of Childhood, 4th ed. (Los Angeles: Sage, 2011), 139. 34. Though not officially directed by Spielberg, the question of who truly directed Poltergeist continues to circulate. Andrew M. Gordon states that Spielberg publically

Children, Innocence, and Agency in the Films of Steven Spielberg


denounced rumors he directed the film, all the while reportedly having a hand in most production decisions. Gordon sees Poltergeist, along with Close Encounters and E.T., as part of Spielberg’s “suburban trilogy”; paranormal films that contain American suburban families under stress, and films that explore themes of separation, abandonment, and loss. See Andrew M. Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008): 55–58; 93–94. Kendrick agrees that Poltergeist may have been directed by Spielberg and also reads the film as part of a “suburban trilogy.” See Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, 33–40. 35. Since the Lost Boys consist of many male children who act as one unit, the entire group was coded as one collective boy for this analysis. 36. Though meeting the conditions set forth, the decision to exclude The Goonies (1985) from this study was based on no critics to date discussing the film as a decidedly Spielberg work. But it is interesting to note that Sean Astin, who played Mikey in The Goonies, maintains that Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner, the credited director, “really were like co-directors.” Astin compares their two directing styles, stating that while they had different strengths Donner was “something of a drill sergeant . . . a bombastic leader” and Spielberg was “gentler, more whimsical” while directing scenes. This led him during the time of filming to assume Spielberg “had a more natural appreciation for the spirit of adventure.” See Sean Astin and Joe Layden, There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004), 135. 37. While it is generally accepted that Tintin (Jamie Bell) is fifteen years old in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), he lives alone in a well-appointed apartment, has a serious job, and in all other manner is treated as an adult in the film. For the purposes of the present study, Tintin is not constrained by the limiting structures of childhood; therefore, he really utilizes “adult” agency instead of “child” agency. 38. When discussed, all percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth percent. 39. Kelly is characterized as an “unnamed” child in Lost World. For most of the film Kelly’s father refers to her by a variety of nicknames instead of her given name, which exposes the relational distance between them. 40. See Castro, “Children’s Agency,” 217. Some non-Spielberg films that reflect the 1980s trend of featuring capable children (particularly teenagers) home alone are Risky Business (1983), Seven Minutes in Heaven (1985), Weird Science (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). 41. In actuality both Elliott (Henry Thomas) and Gertie are kept company by E.T., but since Mary has no idea E.T. is in her house this fact is inconsequential to her choice to leave them home alone. 42. This happens in the scene when Gertie tells her mother she is going to play in Elliott’s room (with E.T.); Gertie’s mother says “Don’t let him torture you” and she responds “I won’t, Mary.” 43. This is similar to theories on the production of fairy tales. See Castro, “Children’s Agency,” 216, for a brief discussion of fairy tale history and consumption. 44. Barry Glassner, “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things,” in Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology, ed. Susan J. Ferguson (New York: McGraw Hill, 2013), 108. 45. The theme of protecting children from the world’s evils is central to the plot of Minority Report. In that film, John (Tom Cruise) joins Precrime because his long-missing young son was abducted from a public pool and is assumed to be dead, an incident that ultimately causes John’s drug addiction and failed marriage. For more on societal fears of child kidnapping see Karen Sternheimer, “Kidnapped: Childhood Stolen?” in Childhood in American Society: A Reader, ed. Karen Sternheimer (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 76. 46. Todd D. Little, C. R. Snyder, and Michael Wehmeyer, “The Agentic Self: On the Nature and Origins of Personal Agency across the Lifespan,” in Handbook of Personality Development, eds. Daniel K. Mroczek and Todd D. Little (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006), 61.


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47. Nettie’s (Akosua Busia) and Celie’s (Desreta Jackson/Whoopi Goldberg) childhoods are featured in two portions of the film: the beginning, which tells the story of Celie’s adolescent (and Nettie’s childhood) years, and later when Celie finally gains access to Nettie’s childhood letters sent from Africa. 48. Bluebond-Langer and Korbin, “Anthropology of Childhoods,” 243. 49. Robinson, Innocence, Knowledge, 51. Kendrick echoes this sentiment in his discussion of David in A.I. See Introduction of this study for full quote. 50. Macleod, “Agency, Authority,” 60. 51. Michenberg and Vallone, “Introduction,” 16. 52. Macleod, “Agency, Authority,” 58, 60. 53. Alan Prout, “Childhood Bodies: Construction, Agency, and Hybridity,” in The Body, Childhood, and Society, ed. Alan Prout (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 16. 54. Macleod, “Agency, Authority,” 60. 55. Baker-Sperry, “Gendered Agency,” 38. 56. Arms and Riley, “Spielbergian Innocence,” 31; Gordon, Empire of Dreams, 90. 57. Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, viii. 58. Ibid., ix. 59. Douglas Brode, “Visionary Children and Child-like Heroes: Steven Spielberg’s ‘Primal Sympathy,’” in A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, eds. Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 329; 335–336. 60. Lester Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 220. 61. James R. Kincaid, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), 77. 62. Arms and Riley, “Spielbergian Innocence,” 12. 63. Shanahan, “Lost and Found,” 414. 64. Sternheimer, “Kidnapped,” 82.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Arms, Gary, and Thomas Riley. “The ‘Big-Little’ Film and Philosophy: Two Takes on Spielbergian Innocence.” In Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book, edited by Dean A. Kowalski, 7–37. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008. Astin, Sean, and Joe Layden. There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Baker-Sperry, Lori. “Gendered Agency: Power in the Elementary Classroom.” Women and Language 29 (2006): 38–46. Bandura, Albert. “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2006): 164–80. Bluebond-Langner, Myra, and Jill E. Korbin. “Challenges and Opportunities in the Anthropology of Childhoods: An Introduction to ‘Children, Childhoods, and Childhood Studies.’” American Anthropologist 109 (2007): 241–46. Brode, Douglas. “Visionary Children and Child-like Heroes: Steven Spielberg’s ‘Primal Sympathy.’” In A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, edited by Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins, 327–41. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000. Castro, Ingrid E. “Children’s Agency and Cinema’s New Fairy Tale.” In Sociological Studies of Children and Youth: Volume 11, edited by David A. Kinney and Katherine Brown Rosier, 215–37. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2005. Corsaro, William A. The Sociology of Childhood. 4th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

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Giroux, Henry A. “Stealing Innocence: The Politics of Child Beauty Pageants.” In The Children’s Culture Reader, edited by Henry Jenkins, 265–82. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Gittins, Diana. The Child in Question. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Glassner, Barry. “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.” In Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology, edited by Susan J. Ferguson, 105–13. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013. Gordon, Andrew M. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. James, Allison. “Giving Voice to Children’s Voices: Practices and Problems, Pitfalls and Potentials.” American Anthropologist 109 (2007): 261–72. Jenkins, Henry. “Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths.” In The Children’s Culture Reader, edited by Henry Jenkins, 1–37. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Kincaid, James R. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Little, Todd D., C. R. Snyder, and Michael Wehmeyer. “The Agentic Self: On the Nature and Origins of Personal Agency across the Lifespan.” In Handbook of Personality Development, edited by Daniel K. Mroczek and Todd D. Little, 61–80. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Macleod, Colin. “Agency, Authority and the Vulnerability of Children.” In The Nature of Children’s Well-Being: Theory and Practice, edited by Alexander Bagattini and Colin Macleod, 53–64. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 2015. Michenberg, Julia L., and Lynne Vallone. “Introduction.” In The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, edited by Julia L. Michenberg and Lynne Vallone, 3–21. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Prout, Alan. “Childhood Bodies: Construction, Agency, and Hybridity.” In The Body, Childhood, and Society, edited by Alan Prout, 1–18. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Robinson, Kerry H. Innocence, Knowledge and the Construction of Childhood: The Contradictory Nature of Sexuality and Censorship in Children’s Contemporary Lives. Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2013. Schickel, Richard. “Age & Innocence.” DGA Interviews, Directors Guild of America. (Winter, 2006): Sewell, Jr., William H. “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation.” American Journal of Sociology 98 (1992): 1–29. Shanahan, Suzanne. “Lost and Found: The Sociological Ambivalence toward Childhood.” Annual Review of Sociology 33 (2007): 407–28. Sorin, Reesa. “Childhood through the Eyes of the Child and Parent.” Journal of Australian Research in Early Childhood Education 14 (2007): 1–18. Sternheimer, Karen. “Kidnapped: Childhood Stolen?” In Childhood in American Society: A Reader, edited by Karen Sternheimer, 76–86. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010.

SIX Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple Debbie Olson

As other authors in this volume have expressed, Steven Spielberg is one of America’s quintessential “Hollywood” directors and is second only to Disney as the purveyor of American Childhood on the big screen. As either writer or director, Steven Spielberg’s films have been an integral and defining part of childhood for multiple generations of children: the Indiana Jones series (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Poltergeist (1982), Empire of the Sun (1987), Hook (1991), the first two Jurassic Park entries (1993 & 1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), War of the Worlds (2005), The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse (2011), and the upcoming The BFG (2016). Spielberg was also executive producer for the widely successful Back to the Future, Men in Black, and Transformers series and he produced Gremlins (1984), The Goonies (writer 1985), Gremlins 2 (1990), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Joe Versus the Volcano and Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990), We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story (1993), The Flintstones (1994), Casper (1995), Cowboys and Aliens and Super 8 (2011), Jurassic Park III (2001), and Jurassic World (2015). What all these films have in common is their contribution to what is considered by many as the defining elements of an American and specifically Spielbergian childhood: innocence, purity, the middle class, and whiteness. I specify whiteness because, like Disney, Spielberg privileges white Western childhood over any other childhood, as can be seen from his extensive list of films featuring white child protagonists. When the rare child of color does appear, 141


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such as Vietnamese child actor Jonathan Ke Quan, who played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies, or the African American adopted girl, Kelly, in The Lost World, Spielberg reinterprets and repackages historical stereotypes to reassure the audience that the white middle-class is still the model for what is considered “normal” childhood. For instance, Data is a math and science whiz who speaks in an exaggerated broken English, while Short Round—with the same broken dialect—embodies all the Asian stereotypes reminiscent of the old Fu Manchu films. To date, Steven Spielberg has made only one film that features children of color in a lead role: The Color Purple (1984) based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The film garnered harsh criticism by the popular press, African American viewers, and many scholarly critics, mostly for specific but important deviations from the original novel’s focus on the black female voice. While much of the criticism of the film’s narrative lapses is justified, my singular concern here is to examine the way the film portrays black children and black childhood in connection with notions of dirt and filth. As per my focus, I am only looking at the visual representations of Celie and Nettie as children throughout the first half of the film (as played by Desreta Jackson and Akosua Busia, respectively). In this chapter, I argue that in The Color Purple Spielberg situates African American children as Other, as inherently impure, unclean, and not innocent by visually re-articulating historical associations of blacks with dirt, filth, contamination, ugliness, and corruption. The film ultimately embraces the established ideological presumptions of “normal” childhood as white and middle class, blocking any real attempt to extend childhood, as popularly conceived, to the black child. RACIAL DIRT Notions of the unclean—dirt, filth, corruption, waste, contamination, refuse, and debris—have been used to describe and subjugate black and brown people since the colonial and slavery eras. Blacks were routinely considered unclean and were depicted as such in literature and print media. In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas argues that there is “no such thing as dirt,” 1 that dirt is not soil so much as it is part of the complex classification systems societies use to deal with things that are out of place, out of the ordinary, or things that indicate a social/cultural “taboo.” This system functions to reinforce “specific dangers if the code is not respected”; for instance, many of the Jim Crow customs in the deep south until the mid-1960s were “unofficial” official societal rules that carried harsh social or physical penalties, including death by lynching if a rule were broken. 2 Douglas explains that dirt’s perceived contaminating

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properties affect cultural assumptions about economic, gender, and racial difference. 3 Pollution and dirt are “a matter of aesthetics, hygiene, or etiquette” that can elicit significant social condemnation, ostracism, or even legal sanctions. 4 As Douglas argues, “Purity and Danger presupposed that everyone universally finds dirt offensive,” but she asks a key question: “what counts as dirt?” 5 In Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life, William A. Cohen believes “filth represents a cultural location at which the human body, social hierarchy, psychological subjectivity, and material objects converge.” 6 And race is a particular point of convergence for ideas about filth, dirt, the unclean, and African Americans. In a general sense, filth is a term of condemnation, which instantly repudiates a threatening thing, person, or idea by ascribing alterity to it. 7 The negative images and beliefs connecting blacks and filth served as part of the complex socio-political power structure that historically upheld white supremacy. Dirt imagery also functions as a marker for racial deviance and operates to further the “pathological stereotype,” which uses social and economic position, rather than personal characteristics, to classify a group of people as inherently inferior. The stereotype of blacks as unclean was a significant factor for the justification of many American Jim Crow era laws and social practices that kept blacks from mingling with white folks. 8 In Anne McClintock’s Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in

Figure 6.1.

Soap ad originally published in Graphic, December 1884.


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the Colonial Contest, she compellingly argues that the role of soap advertising in the “mass marketing of empire” during colonialism played a large role in the discourse of “racial hygiene.” As McClintock explains, “Imperial kitsch . . . could package, market and distribute evolutionary racism on a hitherto unimaginable scale. No preexisting form of racism had ever before been able to reach so large and differentiated a mass of the populace.” 9 McClintock discusses Pears and Monkey Brand soap ads, which spectaclized imperialism for the consumer and solidified notions that equated black and brown people with dirt and contamination. Victorian era and early twentieth-century iconography regularly featured black children in cleaning product advertisements as a contrast to the purity and presumption of innocence of the white child, thereby upholding Anglo superiority. Black children continued to appear in ads for a variety of European and American cleaning products (as well as other types of products) throughout the twentieth century, widely disseminating the association of dirt and filth with blackness. SPIELBERG’S DIRT One pattern that emerges in Spielberg’s oeuvre is the presence of dirt and filth imagery when the film is set in a “foreign” land. For example, the Indiana Jones series frequently uses dirt and filth imagery to indicate a land of “Others” as somehow evil or corrupt in contrast to Europe or America. The Jones films are famous for the trope of the protagonist landing in or covered by some kind of creature—snakes, spiders, rats, etc. Each of these animals is associated with filth, decay, or the unclean. Raiders of the Lost Ark begins in the jungles of South America and as Indy and his companions come into frame, they all sport sweaty, dirty clothes torn and covered with stains. The first shot of the river highlights its dirty brown water. The entire opening scenes take place in the jungle and a cave where filth and dirt are highlighted—tufts of dirt fall from the roof as the men move through. Cleanliness and order first appear in the scenes at the fictional Marshall College in Bedford, Connecticut, where Indiana teaches. Cleanliness in the Indiana Jones films is often reserved for scenes taking place in America or Europe, but never scenes in less developed countries. The dirt scenes in the beginning of Raiders are repeated when Indiana travels to Cairo, Egypt, where sand and dirt appear dripping and oozing from every space. These dirt and filth images are repeated throughout the Indiana Jones series, from the muddy streets of Shanghai and Mayapore in Temple of Doom to what is modern-day Turkey in The Last Crusade. The dirt/clean contrast is particularly evident in Last Crusade as all the scenes in Europe feature clean castles (even in the rain), manicured outside spaces, and elegantly pristine inside spaces. Even during the motorcycle chase scene through the Austrian countryside on a

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


dirt road, none of the characters are covered in dirt or sweat, yet dust flies constantly from their vehicles. When in Europe, all the characters—including the Nazis—are depicted as clean. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s parodic opening shot is of a dirt hill—full frame—that begins to move as a prairie dog pops out of the top just as a car comes along and drives over the mound. This image alludes to the dirt of the American West(ern) as the camera pulls backward to reveal the broad expanse of open Nevada desert where dust and dirt swirl endlessly yet never settle on the characters. It is only when they head south to Peru that we see the familiar sweaty, grimy faces of natives and dirt encrusted interior and exterior spaces. This dirt/clean imagery exemplifies the ideological separation between East and West described by Edward Said as Orientalism, the process whereby the West positions itself as superior, thereby otherizing those who are not in or of the West. 10 Spielberg’s use of filth and dirt as a motif for foreignness is not limited to the Indiana Jones series. Tamás Bényei suggests that the depiction of the Chinese in Empire of the Sun (1987) associates them with “debris, refuse, rubbish, waste: the Chinese (exemplified by the beggars that populate Shanghai like some undergrowth) literally grow up out of the debris of the world (like a secretion) and in their turn generate and secrete new rubbish and waste.” 11 In this film, Jim and his family are literally separated from the Chinese by a wall, which fails to protect him as war infiltrates the city. Inside the wall is order and cleanliness, outside the wall is chaos and filth, which penetrates inside the formerly clean spaces when the wall is breached. The film’s visuals of numerous Asian stereotypes (particularly the way Jim’s family’s servants “pretend” to care for him) rearticulate racist notions that privilege whiteness as more civilized, and more “clean,” than the Chinese. In Empire the worlds of China and Japan are filled with filth, garbage, chaos, and evil while the white world of the West is associated with order, safety, cleanliness, and goodness. Most would agree that the Jim Crow South could be considered a “foreign” land for the Cincinnati-born, California-raised Spielberg. As a white director, all of his previous films reflected middle-class white childhood as the norm. As David Ansen contends: “What could be stranger than America’s popular practitioner of boy’s adventure—a man who leftist critics have assailed for his white-male-supremacist fantasies—adapting Alice Walker’s feminist, matriarchal novel about the Southern rural black experience?” 12 Gender references aside, Spielberg’s foray in the “foreign” world of the black rural south offered a significant opportunity to present black childhood in 1920s–1930s America in a way that reflects the same innocent childhood as his white counterparts. Instead, Spielberg associates African American childhood with images of dirt, filth, corruption, and pollution, most particularly impurity and deviance. The same association between foreignness and filth in his other films, the “filth of the Other,” I will argue, is evident throughout the


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depiction of black children in The Color Purple, underscoring the historical notion of the nonchildness, the impurity, of black children. THE COLOR OF RACE The opening scene in The Color Purple is a low-angle, close-up of purple flowers swaying gently in the breeze. The camera tilts up slightly to reveal flowers and field grass as two young black girls sing and dance in a circle. The image suggests innocence and the free abandon of youthful joy among the field flowers, the trope of natural (nature’s) innocence inherent in childhood. A tracking shot follows the girls as they run through the field, then cuts to a high-angle shot of the flowers, followed by its tilting down to flower level to reveal the girls playing a handclapping game. They begin to run again and the camera tracks them as the flowers in the field begin to disappear, leaving nothing but tall grass. As the girls come running out of the tall grass, the second child stops, looks up at the sky and smiles. She is noticeably, and disturbingly, pregnant. Thus begins Spielberg’s depiction of black childhood. Gary Arms and Thomas Riley explain that the Spielberg “formula” is usually one of “innocence in great jeopardy . . . [coupled with] missing or neglectful fathers and lonely children.” 13 With this opening shot, Spielberg effectively removes innocence from black childhood. Instead, Spielberg sets up the scene in such a way as to elicit the white Romantic pastoral expectation of natural/nature childhood innocence, using the great many shots of the flowers, and then intentionally “pollutes” that

Figure 6.2.

Celie (Desreta Jackson) disturbingly pregnant in The Color Purple.

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


pastoral childhood scene with young Celie’s (Desreta Jackson) protruding belly as she comes out of the field. In Race and Nature: From Transcendentalism to the Harem Renaissance, Paul Outka examines the intersections of race, identity, and nature. He argues that “for African Americans . . . the natural world ha[s] historically often . . . produc[ed] traumatic inverse of white sublimity, rendering both subject and nature abject.” 14 In this opening scene, Spielberg renders both children abject, and non-innocent, contaminated by the adult stain of sexuality. The film situates the two black girls, not with Romantic pastoral nature, but with the degradation and filth of nature, “splitting nature into two places, one forever wild [innocent] and one forever exploitable [corrupted].” 15 This notion of splitting is particularly relevant to The Color Purple, as the next scene after the field of flowers is of Celie screaming with birth pains as she delivers a baby girl into the equally contaminated, non-innocent arms of her sister, Nettie (Akosua Busia). Oddly, steam wisps appear from between Celie’s legs from the bottom, screen left, as the child is born (yet not from either of the girls mouths), suggesting both the child’s entry into a cold world, and its ontology as a by-product of the incest process, a stain, something to throw away or erase. Indeed, as Nettie lays the steaming baby on Celie’s stomach, her father’s large ominous hand fills the screen as he reaches for the child. When Celie’s father takes the steaming baby from her, he warns her, “Better not tell nobody but God, it’d kill your momma,” confirming the filth of incest that infects the young girl’s childhood, just as the steam suggests the baby itself is corrupt. Pedophilia is a prominent theme throughout the first half of The Color Purple. As Celie follows her mother’s casket, her voice-over tells of her father’s rape and her concern for her younger sister, Nettie. The next scene shows Nettie, schoolbook in hand, about twelve years old, heading to school. Her leering father keeps blocking the terrified child as Celie, in voice over, vows to protect her. In the church scene, Celie’s father is marrying a child almost the same age as Celie (fourteen), and Mister, i.e., Albert (Danny Glover), ogles Nettie from across the aisle. Outside the church, a large group of black boys run up and vie for space to peer through the church windows to watch the old man marrying a child, suggesting a generational pattern of pedophiliac abuse. The film’s collection of predatory black men is presented in a light-hearted way, punctuated by the playful soundtrack which contradicts the girls’ fear of these men and the men’s problematic sexual desire for female children. In Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, James R. Kincaid explains that the pedophile “is a role and position, brought into being by and coordinate with the erotizing of the child . . . the pedophile acts out the range of attitudes and behaviors made compulsory by the role we have given the child.” 16 But Celie is anything but erotic. Throughout the film, her father, Mister, Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), and others constantly tell Celie she is ugly, that she has the “ugliest smile” they’ve ever


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seen, resulting in Celie covering her mouth at moments of joy throughout the film. Celie’s perceived ugliness is reaffirmed by her “defilement,” her contamination by sexual knowledge. But Celie does not act or dress suggestively; in fact, quite the opposite—her clothing is bland, often colorless, and loose, almost masculine at times, as if to discourage male attention. And none of the other girls dress suggestively, flirt, or otherwise “encourage” male attention. But there is a long history of erroneous beliefs about black females being promiscuous, the Jezebel, 17 which the film seems to reinforce rather than challenge. The Jezebel archetype refers to the belief that black girls and women are naturally lascivious, naturally sexually aberrant. As Wilma King shows in Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America, the sexual abuse of black women and girls was a common occurrence before, during, and after the slavery era. 18 Such abuse was based, in part, on the belief that black girls are “naturally” inclined to have sex, that they are “hyper-heterosexual devian[ts],” who “want it,” even if they do not know they do. 19 And while Celie has had two children by her father by age fourteen, the tone of her voice-over suggests that even she accepts this as natural, as something obedient children just do. Much of the criticism of the film, and rightly so, is of its portrayal of black men as savages, abusers, and sexual deviants, which are all age-old stereotypes about black males. While the men are not my focus here, their function in the film as sexual predators and pedophiles works to pollute the notion of black childhood innocence. In the scene when Mister visits Celie’s home and makes an offer of marriage for Nettie, Celie’s father refuses and suggests Celie instead: “I can let you have Celie. She oldest and should marry first. She ain’t fresh, but I expect you know that. She’s spoiled, twice. Celie is ugly but she works hard, and she can learn. And God fixed her. You can do what you like. She won’t make you feed or clothe it.” Using his signature wide over-the-shoulder-shot, the camera just behind Celie’s shoulder, Celie and Nettie watch Mister through a clear hole in the frost-covered window. Oddly, Celie is loudly chewing an apple; in fact, the sound of her chewing and smacking and biting into the apple are loud enough to compete with Mister’s voice as he asks to marry Nettie. The significance of the apple is clear—it is the symbolic fruit of the Fall of Man, Eve’s sin and the pollution, corruption, of “innocence,” as we hear her father describe her as “not fresh” and “despoiled,” i.e., dirty. He also hints that Celie is physically damaged by his sexual abuse (“God fixed her”) and cannot bear more children. Her “despoilment,” her dirt, then is sold to Mister as a benefit, furthering the notion of Celie’s non-childness. The film next reaffirms the intergenerational aspect of pedophilia when Celie is made to stand in front of Mister for inspection. Reminiscent of historical slave auctions, Celie’s father tells her to stand, turn around, so her “buyer” can “get a look at her.” The camera cuts to a young boy

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


sitting on the steps who asks “huh . . . what she doing that for?” and her father answers “your sister’s thinkin bout marriage.” The cut to the young boy underscores the notion of polluted innocence: the boy learns that marriage equals an impersonal display of “goods,” a “choosing” of a bride rather than courting or love, and that girl children are the objects men should desire. THE COLOR OF SNOW In The Color Purple, Spielberg effectively uses the whiteness of snow as a strategy to suggest dirt, corruption, and ugliness. Snow often symbolizes peace, love, cleanliness, purity, and innocence. But in The Color Purple, snow suggests pollution, pain, loss, dirt, impurity, and ugliness. While the film begins with clear, beautiful colors—the purple flowers, the golden field grass, bright blue sky—in the following scenes, the colors change to dark browns and oranges. The birth scene follows the film’s opening and the cabin is awash in the yellow-orange of candlelight, which contrasts with the frost-covered windows and the dirty-white snow falling heavily outside. The falling snow is clearly visible, yet its whiteness is diluted by the darkness indoors. In this scene, the snow appears to protect Celie’s abuser who waits outside for the birth. A wide-angle shot foregrounds Celie as she raises her head and screams; behind her we see the frosty door bang open, framing her father. His hovering image while she gives birth to his child underscores Celie’s impurity, her contamination by incest. Spielberg continues to frame Celie’s father in the doorway as he walks away, the tainted snow swallowing him and Celie’s baby. Snow here accompanies pain and loss; it protects the corrupt and the profane. The next scenes—Celie’s mother’s funeral and Mister’s marriage request—take place in the snow also, but not a “full” snowfall that would cover the ground. Rather, there is a sprinkling of snow, enough to see snow but not enough to blanket the ground or “cover” the soil, the dirt, underneath. The beauty of a landscape blanketed with snow suggests purity, serenity, even God. This landscape is not white, but a diluted gold-brown, dirt and grass poking through patches of white as Celie tells “God” she is a “good girl,” but that she has two children by her own father. In the scene when Mister comes to ask to marry Nettie, he passes a tethered cow standing in its own feces, which mixes with the dirt and snow, further suggesting the pollution of innocence and the ugliness of pedophilia that cannot be hidden by the white snow. The snow does not cleanse here; instead, its whiteness, its suggestion of purity, is subverted against the dirt and corruption underneath, underscoring the lack of cleanness, innocence, and purity in the black children. This idea is clearly evident in the scene when Celie follows Mister to his home.


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The scene opens with a low-angle, long take and we see Celie, loaded down with packs, leading a horse, trudging through the snowfall. The ground is not fully covered in snow, as discussed above. As she moves toward the camera, Mister appears on his horse from screen left, leading the way. Celie’s position as a child bride is not one of reverence, rather the opposite. Celie, loaded down with packs and on foot, leads a cow through the snow while Mister effortlessly rides his horse unencumbered. The whiteness of the falling snow on a “new bride” would normally suggest promise and happiness, innocence and love. But here the falling snow merely emphasizes Celie’s isolation and a dread of the “new” rather than promise. There is no love, no “marriage” in the conventional sense as the meeting with Mister’s children in the next scene demonstrates. The next shot highlights Spielberg’s intuitive cinematic style. Though the cut from the snow to the house is awkward at best (it is snowing heavily in the previous scene, but blue sky in the next), Spielberg expertly frames Celie’s new home and family. Mister’s three children stand center screen on a dirt road, behind them the house pillars vertically match the two end children. The children are dark silhouettes against the bright white house waiting to meet their new “mammy,” who is not much older than they. Two tall trees flank the children; branches reaching down to seemingly hold hands over the children. The trees, the pillars, and Mister’s children create a barrier against Celie’s arrival, resistance to the suggestion of cleanliness and order that a new “mammy” brings. The camera tracks in to the children and stops as the only boy, Harpo, throws a rock at Celie—“she ain’t my mammy”—striking her head. The children scatter, laughing, underscoring the notion of the violent black male. Celie, dazed, stumbles to the ground, leaving a bloody handprint on a rock, marking both her arrival and her violent coming of age. For Celie, the snowy-dirt indicates the complex merging of purity, ugliness, and filth that she embodies. The bloody handprint, coupled with the snowy dirt, subverts notions of both childhood and marriage. Bloodstains on snow-white sheets are the historical evidence of the purity (both moral and physical) and virginity of the new bride. 20 And childhood is often assumed to be a condition of pure innocence, but in The Color Purple childhood innocence is thwarted for black children by the dirtiness of sexual knowledge and violence; indeed, in the next scene, Mister is having sex with a cringing Celie. Symbolically, Mister’s hand momentarily “wipes” her face as he thrusts, bed banging against the wall, silencing her and nullifying her identity at the same time. The bloody handprint in the dirty snow then, subverts the notion of bridal innocence and joy and instead highlights Celie’s non-innocent status, her nonchildness, and represents “the black [child] body as torn and shamefully abused,” which is clearly evident in the sex scene. 21

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OF FILTH AND FLOWERS The Color Purple cunningly foregrounds the punishment of strong females who try to resist sexual advances, attempt autonomy, or in the case of Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), resist White power. The trauma of Celie’s first night as Mister’s wife continues with her arrival next morning, bucket in hand, to the kitchen. Both Mister and his children refer to Celie as their new “mammy,” indicating her true role as servant. The kitchen is a cacophony of garbage—old, rotting food, dirty dishes, every space is covered with some kind of waste. Significantly, she begins by wiping a grime-covered wall to reveal the pattern of yellow flowers underneath. Flowers in The Color Purple are the visual manifestation of the nostalgia for lost innocence, a Spielbergian symbol of youth and promise. Flowers in the film suggest, however momentarily, hope: the film opens in a field of flowers, the flowers revealed under the kitchen grime, and the sunflowers that Celie and Nettie play with under Mister’s lecherous gaze. But each image of flowers in the film prefigures a crisis or corruption of that promise of hope or a return to childhood innocence: the film’s opening field of flowers reveal the filth of incest, the kitchen flowers reveal Mister’s violence (he hits her for the first time in the kitchen in the next scene), and the sunflower dance between Celie and Nettie foreshadows Mister’s attempted rape, and then banishment, of Nettie. Flowers in The Color Purple denote punishment, and suggest the “racial scripts that naturalize the negative capital of black bodies in pain.” 22 Celie’s physical and emotional pain reveals the symbolic slippage between child/adult and innocence/filth. The power of dirt, as with flowers, lies in its power to conflate and re-articulate racial assumptions rooted in historical notions that locate blacks (dirt) as the natural opposition to (white) clean. As Looby suggests, flowers serve as “objects onto which fantasies of gender, sexuality, and race (not to mention class) could be projected.” 23 The conflation of race/dirt/flowers in the film suggests the “anxiety about the space of legitimate nature” coupled with the “threat of erotic disorder,” that the black female child body and the incestuous sexuality it represents. 24 The threat of sexual and physical violence against black girls overshadows every relationship in The Color Purple. Kincaid argues that the child is “the embodiment of desire and also its negation.” 25 Celie is sexually desired but not desired—negated—at the same time (remember Mister’s hand wiping down her face as he has sex with her). She is a surrogate for Nettie, who Mister wanted but could not have, and for Shug Avery, an old flame he still desires but cannot have (whose picture he keeps on his bedside table). Celie is regularly and violently punished for her “not-being” the object of Mister’s desire; for instance, when Celie is trying to comb through one of the younger girl’s hair and Mister slaps her for talking back to him. We do not see the actual slap, but we see his


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hand swinging down, hear the sound of the slap, then Celie rocking backward, holding her face. Oddly, Spielberg resists showing Celie’s physical abuse throughout the film, but he does not shy away from showing her sexual abuse (the early scene of her child’s birth, her first night with Mister, (arguably) the love scene with Shug, for example). Lester Friedman observes Spielberg’s “acute discomfort with depicting any type of sexuality on screen,” and yet he does not shy away from depicting Celie’s rape and the birth of her child. 26 Spielberg’s uncharacteristic focus on young Celie’s forced sexuality undermines any images related to notions of childhood innocence. DIRTY LITTLE GIRLS The conflation of dirt, sex, and children in The Color Purple is particularly clear when Nettie arrives at Celie’s home. Nettie has left her father’s because of his sexual advances and believes she will be safer with Celie. In contrast to Celie’s passivity, Nettie is strong, outspoken, and fiercely protective of her (presumed) virginity. But Nettie’s happy presence is overshadowed by Mister’s sexual threat. When Nettie first arrives and Celie haltingly asks him if Nettie can stay, the camera is behind Mister on the porch, leaving him in silhouette, his dark presence looming large over the two girls. When Celie asks if Nettie can “stay for a spell,” the camera is stationary and Mister steps to the right, blocking Celie from view. The shot reveals the sexual threat Mister poses to Nettie: only Mister’s ominously large midsection—his thighs, buttocks, hand, and lower back—is visible, but his buttocks is directly in line with Nettie’s midsection. His

Figure 6.3. Mister (Danny Glover) looming large over Nettie (Akosua Busia) and blocking Celie from view.

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


hand, hanging loosely on his right side is positioned directly with Nettie’s, who is holding Celie’s hand. This movement prefigures the sexual threat he poses to Nettie and is repeated in the scene when the girls dance with the sunflowers. We see a watchful Mister, again on the porch, elevated and in silhouette, move his newspaper to cover his view of Celie as he lusts after Nettie. For black girls, innocence in The Color Purple is rendered void as they constantly negotiate the sexual threats posed to them by adult males. Kincaid suggests that “Child sexuality becomes the measure of the adult’s . . . a child sexuality we affirm by denying.” 27 The film does very little to contest the notion of the sexually knowledgeable African American child and instead visually couples that knowledge with nature—flowers and dirt—to infer that sex is natural for black children. Spielberg’s famous shadow silhouette shots function as premonitions of change in The Color Purple. The scene following Nettie’s arrival underscores the merging of dirt and black female sexuality through the use of a shadow shot. Nettie and Celie are hanging bed sheets that are oddly colored reddish-brown. Though we can assume the sheets are white—the lighting hints that the setting sun is the cause of the discoloration—the discoloration mimics the dirt of the road and yard—also reddishbrown—as well as functioning as a symbol of the abject pedophiliac nature of the girl’s relationship with Mister—impure, dirty, discolored. The girls are behind the sheets and in shadow. As they hang the wet sheets, Nettie explains that she would rather die than go back to their father’s incestuous advances, then the younger children run through the sheets, laughing, tearing them and Celie, to the ground, soiling them. The discolored sheets (marriage/sex) combined with the dirt (sheets and Celie on the ground) and Nettie’s declaration that she’d rather die than have sex with her father, visually converge here to suggest that, despite her desire to “remain” innocent, Nettie will also be as degraded, as non-innocent, as Celie. 28 Mister’s large shadow then appears from behind the remaining sheets screen left. He leans over the top of the clothesline to tell Nettie she “looks good this mornin’,” threatening Nettie with the same sexual corruption Celie endures. And finally, images of dirt and the visual suggestion of “being soiled” are especially evident when Nettie physically defends herself against Mister’s attempt to rape her. Significantly, Nettie is wearing a white dress—symbol of innocence—as she walks to school. Mister appears on horseback in a tracking shot that moves parallel to Nettie. The shot mimics Mister’s stalking of Nettie: the horse’s large trotting legs fill screen left in a match shot with Nettie’s smaller body as she tries to run away screen right. Mister is smiling lecherously, attempting to seduce her as Nettie walks faster to elude him. But he slips from the horse and surprises her from behind.


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What follows is an odd dance—Mister, laughing, grabs Nettie’s hands, forcing her into a darkly spinning twirl while she pulls away, resisting, stating over and over “I’ve got to go to school.” Amidst the pastoral beauty of the field and the playful musical score, Mister drags Nettie behind the nearby trees to rape her. As she screams we hear a thud and Mister cries out in pain. Nettie runs away through the field flowers screaming, while Mister falls lengthwise across the screen, into the dirt, clutching his crotch. He turns his head, which is in the dirt, to face the camera, groaning “I’ll git’cha, I’ll git’ch” as dirt puffs around his mouth as he speaks, reminiscent of the steam puffs from the birth of Celie’s child. The dirt symbolizes Mister’s pedophilia in general, as well as his sexual assault on Nettie. The child Nettie walking to school, dressed in white, surrounded by the edenic deep green grass, field flowers, and trees suggests nature’s beauty and purity as equated with childhood (childhood = nature = purity). Jill Terry suggests that the “romanticized pastoral settings in the film, described as ‘Georgia looks like Eden’ . . . indicate a quite different ideological perspective from that of the novel’s far-from-edenic milieu of drudgery and abuse.” 29 But this tranquil setting is contested by the heavy weight of historical beliefs about the “fallen nature” of African Americans, and particularly African American women, and the pedophilia rampant among The Color Purple’s men, which is often reinforced by the film’s odd use of light and playful music during such disturbing scenes. 30 Indeed, Patricia Hill Collins argues that social contexts in the United States “routinely depict men and women of African descent as the embodiment of deviant sexuality” 31 and while the scene does uphold Nettie’s innocence and her resistance to sex on the one hand; on the other, her resistance to her “historically aberrant sexual nature” results in her later banishment from Celie’s home. In some ways, the film suggests that the tragedy in this scene is not so much the attempted rape, but rather that she did not give in, did not “just stay alive” as Celie told her to do. Like Sofia later in the film, Nettie is a strong black female who is punished for contesting her “natural” subservient and sexualized role. Robin Bernstein argues that U.S. “popular culture purged innocence from representations of African American children [and] the black child was redefined as a ‘non-child’ . . . black children, like black women, were assumed to be ineligible for sexual purity.” 32 Within this ideology (which persists to this day), sexual knowledge itself corrupts, and so while Nettie resists the sex act itself, she nevertheless is as “dirty” as Celie because of her knowledge about sex (she delivered Celie’s baby) and because she is an object of adult male sexual desire. Following the attempted rape scene, we see Nettie and Celie clinging hysterically to each other as Mister throws Nettie’s things off the porch to the dirt. He forcibly pries the girls apart and, picking Nettie up backward, her rump—which he couldn’t access—significantly positioned below his face, carries/drags both girls down the porch stairs until he falls,

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


dropping Nettie in the dirt. When she and Celie grab onto a pole, he viciously hits her hands with his fist to make her let go, picking her up and ultimately, in an extended long take, throws her onto the dirt road. Nettie slides in the dirt, face first, toward the low-angle camera, ending in a close-up. Her face in the dirt here is similar to Mister’s face in the dirt in the earlier scene when he tried to rape her. Her virginal white dress, now the same color as the sun-stained (dirty) sheets earlier, highlights both Celie’s advice to give in and “stay alive” and the “filth” of sexuality (in the form of pedophilia) that stains both girls. Nettie’s refusal to have sex with Mister culminated in her being outcast, thrust out alone to an uncertain future. Black children in U.S. popular culture are viewed as “unhurtable and unchild-like,” and thus, while the attempted rape scene might suggest Nettie’s innocence, her resistance to her expected “role” and her banishment by Mister undermines it. 33 We are left with Nettie screaming “why?” as Mister throws dirt clods at her as she walks backward down the dirt road. She and Celie handclap in the air to each other as the soiled Nettie moves off to an uncertain fate, leaving Celie at the mercy of Mister. This separation marks the moment of transition for Celie from child to adult. The next shot shows Celie’s shadow (as reproduced in the movie poster) in a chair as she reads Oliver Twist—a Charles Dickens novel about an unloved child—out loud. 34 The camera then cuts to the same shadow silhouette image but of an adult Celie—in the same chair, reading the same book. For Celie, and the film’s narrative, what small vestiges of childhood existed ended when Nettie was expelled. CONCLUSION In the end, The Color Purple visually underscores historically white beliefs in African American’s “filthiness and inherently diseased existence [which] pose[s] a danger to orderly, civilized, and clean [i.e., white] America,” while at the same time attempting to contest those notions through the film’s narrative which follows the plight of sexually abused young girls. 35 The film’s few poignant moments of childhood abandon attempt to foreground innocence for the black child, but those poignant moments are sharply dislocated by physical and sexual abuse, and the visual conflation of race with dirt, filth, and contamination. Throughout The Color Purple there are touching scenes featuring what dominant society would deem part of a happy “normal” childhood: reading Oliver Twist on the swing, Nettie teaching Celie words in the kitchen, the sunflower dance, the hand-clapping game, mimicking Mister in the bedroom. Indeed, throughout the film, the girl’s hand-clapping game becomes the trope that signifies both the loss of and nostalgia for innocent childhood. But each of these references to childhood normality is equally


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negated by threats of physical or sexual abuse by adult males. For Spielberg, innocent African American children would submerge long held cultural traditions that “maintain identifiable boarders between purity and pollution” and could blur the socially constructed lines between white and black. 36 Kincaid suggests that stories about children designate the type of adult that story has in mind, and The Color Purple’s imagery of African American children suggest Spielberg’s embrace of historical notions about adult blacks: the savage, sexually threatening Black Buck; the sexually promiscuous Jezebel; and the passive, long-suffering mammy, all of which populate this film. In his unauthorized biography, Joseph McBride claims that “Spielberg may have blundered into the appearance of racial stereotyping because of a limited ability to relate to male authority figures and an inadequate understanding of the film’s sociohistorical background,” an excuse which rings somewhat false considering Spielberg’s particular awareness of both his whiteness and the film’s subject before he agreed to do the project. 37 Indeed, Terry argues that Spielberg’s handling of The Color Purple “signaled the reconstruction of the novel by a ‘white,’ Jewish male who until that time had been popularly regarded as the creator of fantasies of the white American dream.” 38 Ed Guerro convincingly claims that the film uses “slave motifs” and constructs “Black folk as simple, country beings,” and is particularly critical of Spielberg’s conflation of “Mister as [slave] Master,” complete with the “white columned facade of the ‘Old South’ mansion.” 39 I find it hard to imagine a director of Spielberg’s caliber “blundering” into depictions that were not well thought-out and planned. Spielberg instead reverts to his standard theme of achieving the American Dream. As Mcmullen and Solomon argue, it is Celie’s “persistence, hard work, and capitalistic acumen that secure her eventual triumph. In short, for Celie, the patriarchally [and white] controlled system works.” Ironically, the “system” only worked for Celie as an adult, not as a child. In his displacement of key issues of race, gender, and sexuality, Spielberg also manages to displace, and make dirty, African American childhood. 40 NOTES 1. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (New York: Routledge, 1966), xvii. 2. Ibid., xiii. 3. Ibid., 5. 4. Ibid., 92. 5. Ibid., xii–xiii. 6. William A. Cohen and Ryan Johnson, eds., Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), viii. 7. Ibid., ix.

Childhood, Race, and the Politics of Dirt in The Color Purple


8. Monnica T. Williams, “African Americans and Pathological Stereotypes,” Psychology Today (26 December 2011), date of access culturally-speaking/201112/african-americans-and-pathological-stereotypes. 9. Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995), 209. 10. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 7. 11. Tamás Bényei, “White Light: J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun as a War Story,” The AnaChronisT: The Literary Journal of the Department of English Studies 6 (2000): 249–75. 12. David Ansen, “We Shall Overcome,” Newsweek, 30 December 1985, 59–60. 13. Gary Arms and Thomas Riley, “The ‘Big-Little’ Film and Philosophy: Two Takes on Spielberg Innocence,” in Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book, ed., Dean A. Kowalski (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008), 8. 14. Paul Outka, Race and Nature: From Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 25. 15. Outka, Race and Nature, 26 16. James R. Kincaid, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), 5. 17. For more on the Jezebel figure, see the Jim Crow Museum, jimcrow/jezebel.htm. 18. Wilma King, Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 247–61. 19. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (New York: Routledge, 2005), 120. 20. See Hanne Bank, Virgin: The Untouched History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007). 21. Debra Walker King, African Americans and the Culture of Pain (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 6. 22. Debra Walker King, Culture of Pain, 18. 23. Christopher Looby, “Flowers of Manhood”: Race, Sex, and Floriculture from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Robert Mapplethorpe,” Criticism 37, no. 1 (1995), 125. 24. Christopher Looby, “Flowers of Manhood,” 115. 25. Kincaid, Child-Loving, 7. 26. Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 260. 27. Kincaid, Child-Loving, 174. 28. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 115. 29. Jill Terry, “The Same River Twice: Signifying The Color Purple,” Critical Survey 12, no. 3 (2000), 65. 30. Kincaid, Child-Loving, 71. 31. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics, 35. 32. Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 34, 42. 33. Bernstein, Racial Innocence, 55. 34. As noted in the introduction, Dickens’s influence finds its way into many of Spielberg’s films, including The Color Purple. I believe the Oliver Twist book is a reference to Spielberg’s own experience—perhaps his affinity with the isolated and abused Celie—rather than a reference to black childhood or girlhood specifically. What the reference to Oliver Twist does do (and Dickens generally), however, is present idealized, innocent child characters—an innocence that is not a part of the lives of The Color Purple’s children. Yet the notion of innocent childhood is something that is desired, but unattainable, by both Celie and Nettie. 35. Fabio Terence Palmi Zoia, Sanitizing South Africa: Race, Racism, and Germs in the Making of the Apartheid State, 1880–1980. PhD Dissertation, Indiana University. Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI [Publication number 3702579 (2015)], 65.


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36. Joseph Bristow, “Dirty Pleasure: Trilby’s Filth,” in Filth, edited by William Cohen and Ryan Johnson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 161. 37. Joseph McBride, Spielberg: A Biography (New York: Check, 2010), 375. 38. Terry, “The Same River Twice,” 63. 39. Ed Guerro, “The Color Purple, Brother from Another Planet: The Slavery Motif in Recent Popular Cinema,” Jump Cut no. 33 (1988): 52–59. 40. Wayne J. Mcmullen and Martha Solomon, “The Politics of Adaptation: Steven Spielberg’s Appropriation of The Color Purple,” Text and Performance Quarterly no. 14 (1994): 170–71.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ansen, David. “We Shall Overcome.” Newsweek, 30 December 1985, 59–60. Arms, Gary, and Thomas Riley, “The ‘Big-Little’ Film and Philosophy: Two Takes on Spielberg Innocence,” in Steven Spielberg and Philosphy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book, edited by Dean A. Kowalski. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008. Bényei, Tamás. “White Light: J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun as a War Story,” The AnaChronisT: The Literary Journal of the Department of English Studies 6 (2000): 249–75. Bristow, Joseph. “Dirty Pleasure: Trilby’s Filth,” in Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life, edited by William Cohen and Ryan Johnson, 155–81, 161. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Cohen, William A., and Ryan Johnson, eds. Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. New York: Routledge, 1966. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Guerro, Ed. “The Color Purple, Brother from Another Planet: The Slavery Motif in Recent Popular Cinema.” Jump Cut no. 33 (1988): 52–59. Hill-Collins, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Routledge, 2005. Kincaid, James R. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. King, Debra Walker. African Americans and the Culture of Pain. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008. King, Wilma. Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. Looby, Christopher. “Flowers of Manhood: Race, Sex, and Floriculture from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Robert Mapplethorpe.” Criticism 37, no. 1, (1995): 109–56. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. New York: Check, 2010. McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995 Mcmullen, Wayne J., and Martha Solomon, “The Politics of Adaptation: Steven Spielberg’s Appropriation of The Color Purple.” Text and Performance Quarterly no. 14 (1994): 158–74. Outka, Paul. Race and Nature: From Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978. Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. Terry, Jill. “The Same River Twice: Signifying The Color Purple.” Critical Survey 12, no. 3 (2000): 59–76. Williams, Monnica T. “African Americans and Pathological Stereotypes,” Psychology Today, 26 December 2011. 1112/african-americans-and-pathological-stereotypes.

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Zoia, Fabio Terence Palmi. Sanitizing South Africa: Race, Racism, and Germs in the Making of the Apartheid State, 1880–1980. PhD Dissertation, Indiana University. Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI (Publication number 3702579), 2015.

SEVEN Betwixt-and-Between Reclaiming Childhood in Hook Jen Baker

In one of the first published renditions of Peter Pan’s origin story, the infant Peter escapes from the confines of human life and dwells on an island with fairies and birds, but as a consequence struggles to comprehend his place in the natural order. 1 The boy implores the great old bird Solomon Caw to help him solve the mystery of his identity: If he no longer resides with humans but is not a bird or a fairy, he asks, then what is he? Solomon replies that Peter is a “‘Poor little half-and-half’” who may never belong to one world or another and so will forever be a “‘Betwixtand-Between.’” 2 In his various incarnations over the last century Peter has not only represented the betwixt-and-between of the human and the other, but of life and death, male and female, and adulthood and childhood. Further, it is not only the figure of Peter, but the space of Neverland which acts as a limbo: it is a threshold between childhood and adulthood, but has wider connotations as a space between a childhood lived and the childhood remembered. Consequently, J. M. Barrie’s creation has long been considered representative of the problematic powerplay between the adult writer and the child character and what that relationship reveals about the notion of childhood. Peter Pan and his cultural symbolism reveals childhood as an artificial construct created by the adult who mourns the loss of their own, and exposes the conceptual breach between adulthood and childhood, between childhood of the past and of the present, and between the joys and sorrows, the light and dark that comprise it. 161


Jen Baker

Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) offers a significant contribution to the field of Peter Pan studies, because, at its most basic level, it attempts to bridge the chasm between childhood and adulthood by experimenting with a concept which no other version, nor even creator Barrie himself, had dared: it lets Peter Pan “grow up.” 3 As Henry Sheehan’s survey of Spielberg’s work explains, the “Peter Pan” theme dominates the director’s oeuvre, but, as this chapter suggests, due to the wealth of intertextual references, Hook is perhaps the ultimate homage. 4 The premise of the plot is as follows: as a child, Peter Pan returned to Wendy’s home to find she was an elderly lady. He fell in love with her granddaughter Moira and resolved to abandon Neverland forever, renouncing his “privileges” (freedom from responsibility, master of his own ego, endless play, asexuality) in order to experience the life and loves of a mortal adult. He was adopted by the Bannings, who took him to America, and he later married Moira. However, as a consequence of growing up, he lost his childhood memories, his ability to be child-like, and correspondingly to connect with his own children. When the audience meets Peter he is a husband and father who is afraid of flying and heights, is enslaved by his work as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer and, due to the constant pressures of the corporate world, is neglectful of his children. After a ten-year absence, Peter and his family visit Wendy in London, where Hook kidnaps Peter’s children Jack and Maggie in order to provoke a desired final battle between the two enemies. This sceptical lawyer must battle not only his bulge but his “adult” psyche, in order to regain his memories and the freedom of imagination he possessed in childhood—the tools he needs to win back his children. Coached by the Lost Boys and Tinker Bell, Peter is in constant danger of losing his adult-self, but, temporarily finding a balance between past and present, he defeats Hook, and regains his son’s trust and respect. By reconnecting with the topographies, objects, and symbols representative of the Western conception of childhood, Spielberg ensures he caters to a child audience, but ultimately re-creates an intermediate space in which Peter can reconnect with his past and enjoy being child-like even as an adult. As a result, Hook is, or at least attempts to be, the ultimate representation of the betwixt-and-between; that is, for both the adult and child viewer, the film is an entity which not only represents the transitional within it (in its spaces, its use of light and dark, and its dialogue) but attempts to be the bridge between adulthood and childhood, between the past and the present. Yet, as this chapter demonstrates, while trying to reconcile the adult with the loss of childhood, Spielberg’s film unwittingly documents and stresses the tension between the two and leaves certain conflicts of the adult/child relationship unresolved. Like its literary predecessor, despite its seemingly happy overtones, a discordant note lingers beneath the film’s seemingly positive outcome.



CONCEPTUALIZING THE LIMINAL FROM PETER PAN TO HOOK As the literal and figurative representation of the liminal space between two opposing ideas, the notion of the betwixt-and-between has inspired many critical analyses of Peter Pan and its adaptations and reappropriations. Approaching the subject from various angles, scholars have explored how the idea of liminality extends beyond Peter himself to the spaces he inhabits and his wider contextual signification. David Rudd, for instance, performs a Lacanian reading to suggest that, in his ability to bestride both the two worlds which represent the Imaginary and the Symbolic, Peter is the ideological epitome of the sublime. 5 Fabio L. Vericat draws attention to the instability of the story caused by Barrie’s varied and competing attempts to capture and project his child figure. Vericat’s notion of Peter Pan as textual hybrid resonates throughout this chapter: Hook is not only a continuation of Barrie’s story but, through dialogue and symbolism inspired by or even lifted from the original text, it provides an intertextual banquet of representations of Peter in his past and present forms. 6 In the tradition of the secondary worlds of children’s literature, Neverland, too, has long been read by critics as a place of death, or as a manifestation of the limbo between life and death, rendering Peter a sort of spectral apparition who guides children away from their parents to play with him in this intermediary world. 7 As well as its roots in the Edwardian reappropriation and popularization of the ancient Pan myth, the story is also a significant and enduring expression of the Romantic notion of childhood as the space in which we are able to unleash a connection with the sublime, but mourns what it sees as the inevitable loss of the connection as adulthood approaches. 8 Yet the poetry of the Romantics often demonstrates an acceptance of the passing of time and the loss of childhood, which challenges the modern isolation and idolization of childhood. For instance, in the poem “Tintern Abbey” (1798) by William Wordsworth, a seminal figure in the Romantic conception of childhood, the speaker confronts the bittersweet joy evoked by past memories, but acknowledges that it is the blend of his past and present experiences which afford him more powerful capabilities: For I have learned To look on nature, not as in the hour Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The still, sad music of humanity, Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power To chasten and subdue. And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns. 9


Jen Baker

Often cited as a “man who wouldn’t grow up,” with a kinship to the sensibilities of childhood, Barrie might have seemed, if not quite as reconciled as Wordsworth, then at least resigned to his role as an observer and documenter of the elusive joys of childhood. 10 Yet Peter Pan’s narrative, its components and Barrie’s endless adaptations, are indicative of a futile attempt to capture childhood and forestall its expiration, revealing a persistent cultural inability to be fully reconciled with its loss in adulthood. 11 Spielberg’s adaptation attempts to perform that reconciliation—to allow the grown-up (be that Peter or anyone else) to maintain or re-create that connection with the sublime offered by childhood. According to Hook’s prevailing critical catalog, this is a desire that motivates all of the director’s films. Analysis of Hook (and Spielberg’s works more generally) has been dominated by pseudo-Freudian and Jungian exegesis and auteur theory, which identify the film as the apex of Spielberg’s “unresolved Oedipal conflict” filmic motif up until that time. 12 Such analysis relies heavily on the biographical affiliations between Spielberg and Barrie—both seen as living the life, and creating the art, of the “perennial Peter Pan.” 13 Spielberg acknowledges his own complex relationship with growing up, identifying himself as simultaneously reveling in childhood while clearly “‘a victim of the Peter Pan syndrome.’” 14 The critical emphasis on the role of the auteur means that Hook is often categorized as an exposé of troubled sexuality and anxious masculinity that focuses on contemporaneous concerns about workaholism, regressive parenting, and impotency. 15 The late Bob Hoskins (who played the role of Smee) succinctly summarized the cultural shift that many critics have suggested defines the film and distinguishes it from the text: “‘Peter Pan is about lost childhood. Hook is about lost fatherhood.’” 16 While I do not necessarily agree with this gloss—after all, fatherhood cannot exist without childhood—the prevailing critical interpretations of Hook as a film “concerned with male identity and with the problems of contemporary American men (and of Spielberg) as businessmen, husbands, and fathers” only reinforces the thesis of this chapter: that Hook is unsure who it is for. 17 For, if those are the concerns which preoccupy the film, then how does the film, in its entirety, maintain its appeal to the child audience? In part, it does so by vividly displaying all the existing conceptual components associated with “the children’s film”; it depicts troubled family relationships through the fantasy genre, is watched by children, contains “childish” jokes and slang, and involves endless play by children who are free from reprimand and responsibility. Visually, Neverland is depicted as it might be in a children’s game or drawings; merging the historical and the fantastical to form a recreational hybrid which is not constrained by the rules and regulations of accuracy which adulthood insists upon. The Lost Boy’s lair exemplifies a constructed, idealized space of childhood: Adorned with hammocks and tree houses, traps, a skate park, and a basketball hoop, and housing boys of different races



and sizes dressed in a variety of clothes from different eras such as boyscout uniforms, gangster suits, street urchin-ware, grunge, and punk clothing, Spielberg captures a century of boyhood and provides it with a stomping ground. The scenes featuring the pirates and the Jolly Roger not only emulate a theme park, and so tap into late twentieth-century culture, but each pirate resembles a caricature of a picture book villain, shouting and growling in a stylized manner. 18 This overt example of the performativity of childhood is emphasized when Tink dresses Peter in pirate clothes and tells him how to adjust his posture, walk, and manner, in order to fit in: in Neverland Peter plays at being a pirate. This specific identification recurs throughout the film to place significant emphasis on the complexity of the betwixt-and-between; when Jack explains that his father’s job involves sailing in, and, “if there’s any resistance,” Peter “blows them out of the water” Wendy playfully refers to Peter as a pirate. 19 Rufio also declares that the adult Peter must be a pirate, because “all adults are pirates.” Yet later, when he faces Hook for the first time as an adult, Peter’s nemesis exclaims with disappointment “you’re not even a shadow of Peter Pan” and urges Peter to “stop the charade [. . .] stop pretending.” To Hook, Peter Pan must be playing at being a grown-up, because this is not Peter as Hook knew him. Peter must therefore learn to embody something between a rebellious child and a tyrannical adult, and Neverland potentially is the place in which he can morph between these different forms before (re)settling on an identity. The film also features a large cast of child characters who are central to the plot, not least Peter’s children Jack and Maggie, as well as Rufio, his “rival” for the leadership of the Lost Boys, and (according to the film) some of the “original” Boys who were left behind—Pockets, Thud Butt, Ace, Don’t Ask, Too Small, Latchboy, and No Nap. And yet it is through this very concept of the child character that a suspicion is raised that this is not ultimately a film for children, but rather one that is about the cultural, social, and personal idea(l) of children and childhood. It is a film that visualizes and idealizes childhood itself. For even if their speech, play, reactions, and movements are recognizable features in real children, the child actors are nevertheless performing childhood as constructed by the adult. Furthermore, the title of the film alludes to the preoccupation of its basic plot—a final battle between two men, and a narrative driven by the egotistical desire of the pirate Captain (and his actor) to be a central focus of the story. The key roles are assumed by an array of famous adultactors such as Peter (Robin Williams), Wendy (Maggie Smith), Hook (Dustin Hoffman), Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), and Smee (Bob Hoskins), who dress-up and play at being the characters in a story that was inspired by children’s games, the death of a child, and the apparent longing of a man to never grow up. 20 The film is also haunted at the diegetic level by Peter’s memories of Wendy, Moira, and himself in their childhood forms, as well as the unseen ghosts of the children that were, such as


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Tootles, Michael, John, and Nibs. Only one of these, Tootles, is seen onscreen and as an old, seemingly senile man (though what is read by some characters as delusion is actually Tootles’s ability to retain his childhoodself), while the others are merely mentioned in reminisces and their names are only spectral inscriptions on the entrance to the Wendy House in Neverland. Hook’s (re)enactment of childhood by children, seemingly for children but constructed by adults, encapsulates an institutionally ingrained power-play between adults and children that has troubled critics since, at least, Jacqueline Rose’s seminal study The Case of Peter Pan (1984). Using the figure and his numerous incarnations as exemplary sources, Rose forced an examination into the motives behind the endless production and dissemination of children’s fiction, and its place in the lives of adults. Despite the more contentious aspects of her work, which relate to definitions of “desire,” the strength of the basic thesis is difficult to refute: Peter Pan is a front—a cover not as a concealer but a vehicle—for what is most unsettling and uncertain about the relationship between adult and child. It shows innocence not as a property of childhood but as a portion of adult desire. 21

Although Peter Pan is undoubtedly considered an archetypal piece of children’s literature (that is, literature for children) Rose claims that, as evident from Peter’s first textual incarnation in Barrie’s novel for adults The Little White Bird (1902), the various versions contain considerably dark undertones and subtexts that suggest a much more complex agenda motivated the author. 22 According to Rose, any text, film, or production, created by adults which is written for and marketed for children, is in fact a conduit through which adults perpetuate their fantasies about the ideals of childhood and attempt to regain access to it. Even Barrie’s own contemporaries recognized that children were not necessarily the “intended,” or even appropriate, audience for Peter Pan. And yet, the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Barrie’s play were, in part, actually a result of its crossover appeal, with The Bookman’s review (1904) rejoicing in the play’s exploits as “not fictitious adventures for boys, but the actual adventures of the Soul of Boyhood.” 23 In terms of its production and release Hook also grappled with the artificial division between the child and the adult. Originally rated PG (parental guidance) as a result of “some mildly scary moments and impolite language,” the film has since been reclassified as U (for Universal). 24 Hook calls attention to the problems of classification labels which are historically and socially fluid, and which evolve according to the changing perception of what is appropriate for children. Further, its branding as a “family film” exposes the inability of marketing to comprehend exactly who the film is for. The notion of a film that “the whole family can enjoy” is rendered abstract; for can all elements of a film that deals with



childhood speak to both audiences equally? After all, a child cannot know what it means to be a grown-up, and a grown-up can no longer view the childish elements of the film while free from adult experience. And it is this precarious balance between the two that preoccupies the motifs central to the film and which are derived from the original incarnations. THE PRECARIOUS TOPOGRAPHIES OF HOOK Peter Pan is predicated on the divide between different worlds and realms which are, nevertheless, codependent spaces. For instance, according to Peter’s invented directions, Neverland lies, “second star to the right and straight on until morning,” and functions as an escape for the child from the other, adult world. 25 Barrie’s conceptualization of childhood demonstrates a comprehension of spaces and places as not only the tangible delineations of the earth and its natural and man-made constructions, but as subject to individual psychological perception as well as a collective concept. For Barrie, childhood consists of various spaces but is, itself, a place; a realm formed of physical and imaginary landscapes which are not only central to the way in which a child constructs and perceives the world around him/her, but are also imprinted onto memories and so retained (if subconsciously) in adulthood. Yet, as implied by the narrator’s lament in Peter and Wendy, Barrie recognized childhood as a space adults cannot colonize but only observe; “On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.” 26 In his work on the so-called Golden Age of children’s literature, Robert Hemmings posits that the structural contours of these memories are bound up with desire and loss: “Nostalgia is a function of the imagination steeped in temporal and spatial longing, and the illusive object of that longing is childhood.” 27 Nevertheless, by channeling the Romantic vision of the sublime as an internalized realm, Peter Pan and its incarnations ensure that even if, like Peter Banning, you have lost touch with your childhood, and even though Neverland must be physically left behind, it can always be visited in the mind. 28 The impact of the topographies of childhood, the longing to return to it in adulthood, and how we can navigate it once we do return, is a preoccupation of Spielberg’s film. Hook is the means by which the adult can once again play on those magical shores. In his vision of Neverland Spielberg undoubtedly provides a visual feast of playgrounds; each of which comprises a repository for childhood in both its past and present forms. In his conception of the journey between the spaces of America, London, the Nursery, and Neverland, Spielberg also aids the delineation of the adult/child dichotomy as concepts which are topographically di-


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vided but conceptually connected. For instance, the postmodern landscape and culture of America, accentuated in Hook through its office buildings, its technology, and its sport, perhaps enforces the parental relationship between old England and its progressive colonial offspring. 29 Moira and Peter are therefore the embodiments of children returning to their parents, an attempted reconciliation between the past and the future. Barrie also used “real” physical locations to differentiate between the generational conceptions of the same place, and to call attention to the specific cultural division of spaces for adults and spaces for children. For instance, the nursery is a room designated for children within a larger place that is owned by or ruled by adults, and plays a central role in Peter Pan and its variations. The night before the child Wendy first leaves for Neverland, her father threatens to remove her from the nursery because he insists that it is time she grew up. Therefore, if she continues to reside within the nursery, it is implied that she will remain a child. It is the earthly mirror to Neverland; the place to which, according to his textual history, the child Peter longs to return, the place in which the friendship between Wendy and Peter, and their adventures and our adventures as readers/viewers were enacted. It is one of the key locations for the intersection between past and present in both Hook and the wider context of Peter Pan. The potential joy of the nursery’s history is, however, tinged with sadness. For it is a place Peter may visit, but which holds experiences inaccessible to the eternal child: When the Darling children are reunited with their parents, the narrator calls attention to Peter observing the scene and comments that the boy “had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.” 30 In the film this dual role as a place of joy and sorrow is indicated by an emphasis on how, as a space designated for children, the adults Wendy, Moira, and Peter are no longer its inhabitants, but only visitors who once belonged there. Peter’s reunion with the Darling nursery in Hook, the first since he has had children of his own, begins with him ascending the dark stairs and heading alone to the nursery with a look of trepidation and hesitancy. He has no need to visit it, he is not carrying bags or escorting his children; rather he seems drawn to it. Yet as he casts his eyes around the dim room, taking in the painted scenes from (what he sees at this point) as a fictional story, an ominous wind blows through the open window and shivering he closes and locks the window doors, keeping his memories locked in. The nursery window itself is a central motif in the history of Peter Pan because it represents the threshold between the entrance and exit of the Darlings’s house and therefore between the other world and Neverland. In Hook its importance is translated in the adult Peter’s obsession with windows (suggested as an effect of his “fear of heights”); he keeps them barred at home, he shouts at Jack to stay away



from the open nursery window, and fears being sucked out of the airplane window. Peter Banning wants to stop things getting both in and out, but, most particularly, prevents his own exit to the outside world. In Hook this is also the place in which Peter reunites with Tinker Bell. The interaction between them in this space once again attempts to evoke the history of their relationship both inter- and extratextually, ensuring that Hook is always a hybrid of the past and present forms of Peter Pan. When Peter tries to swat Tink away, for instance, he gets thrown back and lands into a cradle—reminiscent (according to the film) of their very first meeting when she rescued him from his perambulator after he ran away. Tink says she knows he is Peter Pan because he smells of the places and behaviors of his childhood; “the smell of someone who’s ridden the back of the wind Peter, the smell of one hundred fun summers of sleeping in trees, adventures with Indians and pirates.” Like many other characters, Tink tries to revive his sense of identity by recounting the adventures they had in the past, and the places in which they happened, but the words alone are powerless. She indicates that she did not equate his being tall and older as a sign of maturity, rather it is his inability to remember and to fly that causes her to lament, “You really did grow up.” The role of spaces in accessing the past is interwoven through references that extend beyond the character of Peter’s own personal history, beyond the confines of the film, and to the history of the story and its production. In the opening scene of Hook, for instance, Peter’s daughter Maggie is playing the role of Wendy Darling in a school production of Barrie’s play. The choice of scene from Barrie’s play—in which Wendy first meets Peter—substantiates and makes use of Vericat’s notion of Peter Pan as a productional hybrid by emphasizing the multiplicity of mediums in which the story is performed. The complex layering of different conceptions of childhood is stressed by an amateur production which literally involves children “playing” the game of acting and in particular a game that is part of the fantasy genre. Furthermore, it stresses the diegetic and extradiegetic biographical history of the story: according to Maggie Smith’s character, she, as the “real” child Wendy, is said to have invented these scenes and inspired the writings of her neighbor, Mr. Barrie, while the real Llewellyn-Davies boys did play out these very narrative episodes for the real author. The irony of Peter Pan watching this fictionalized version of his childhood without realizing it, and without really paying attention to it, is one of the many instances that emphasize the extent of Peter’s loss. When he and his family visit Wendy in London, Peter begins to climb the steps to the wrong house until Moira corrects him, stressing the gulf between the Peter that was (who, as a child, could return from Neverland after decades and still remember the right house) and the one who arrives at the door of the past. For Moira, being in London, and Wendy’s house specifically, immediately allows her to regain access to the past. Inside


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the house, Moira’s giddiness is reflected in its brightness; the room is ablaze with lights on the wall, from the Christmas tree, from lamps. When Peter asks, “what’s got into you?” she replies, “this house, this house has got into me. Some of those things I was when I was young have never left me. Peter we were children in these rooms.” Receptive to its magic, Moira conflates the spatial and temporal contours of childhood, believing not only the memories but the feelings of childhood to be reignited merely by being physically present in the space. In contrast, Peter displays physical discomfort at his surroundings, unsure where to stand, forgetting people’s names, and when Wendy insists that the rule of the house is “no growing up,” he retorts with an uncomfortable laugh that it is “too late.” Face to face with a photograph of his childhood self, he asks Moira “who’s that?” and to her reply he exclaims, with unrealized significance, “Was I ever that young?” Peter’s presence in the house also highlights Wendy’s own desire for the past and accentuates the sense of loss she feels. Following the disappearance of Maggie and Jack, she determines to tell Peter who he “really is” but is distracted by the personal pain of her memories. Presaging the later scene in which Pockets feels Peter’s face in order to remind himself who this man is, Wendy touches Peter’s face, but to help him remember who she was. The ensuing exchange hovers uncomfortably between emotional and queer, as Wendy strokes his cheek and laments, “When I was young, no other girl held your favor the way I did. I half expected you to arrive at the church [. . .] on my wedding day.” Like Tinker Bell, Wendy attempts to remind Peter of the romantic love she had for him in their youth, temporarily forgetting, as the fairy does, that he did not reciprocate those feelings because he was free from the concerns of childhood sexuality. Despite the significant place Wendy held in his childhood, merely recounting the stories does not help him—the past is not only, as L. P. Hartley famously posited, “a foreign country,” but one from which Peter has barred himself. 31 When Wendy asks him how far back he remembers, Peter can only locate memories from the age of around twelve—the edge of puberty. She urges, “Somehow you must go back, you must make yourself remember [. . .] Peter, don’t you know who you are?” Wendy equates visiting the past, “going back,” with a physical undertaking. Huddled like a disheveled and vulnerable child amidst her bedclothes, while Peter stands over her like a parent attempting to understand his child’s fantastical stories, the aged Wendy clings to the book that represents his personal history and tries to coax his memories from him. But, as with Tinker Bell, her attempts are futile: always a forgetful boy, on the cusp of adolescence Peter lost his memories of childhood, and therefore lost who he is. Although in London Peter struggles to reconnect, the longer he is in Neverland, the more the space reveals his memories to him. Led by his childhood reflection and his child shadow, he finds the old Wendy-



House from his childhood. Inscribed on the entrance, as a permanent fixture of the past, are the names of those who had built, and played in, the house. Peter climbs in and revels in the imprints of what is now lost. He picks up a thimble and remembers that it is—as Maggie’s play reminded the audience—“a kiss.” He excitedly recalls the function of the room, and as he physically and audibly maps both the space and his memories he finds his pre-Neverland teddy bear. This childhood toy opens the proverbial floodgate and happiness begins to tinge with sadness as he begins to piece together his life up until his decision to leave Neverland and stay with Moira, and beyond. The moment he became a father is a happy thought and he begins to fly once more, yet these memories are problematic, for they cannot be relived without paying a price. As he flies across the Lost Boys’ lair the boys cry “Pan’s back!” But with the return of Pan, comes the loss of Peter. He begins to forget the very people who made him happy and allowed him to regain his childhood abilities and has to be reminded by Tink that he is only in Neverland to save his children. “THE LIGHT OF SETTING SUNS” For both Barrie and Spielberg time and lighting are integral to promoting a more rounded view of childhood as simultaneously light and dark, eternal and mortal, safe and threatening. Inevitably, the focus on childhood from the adult perspective involves a fixation with temporality— the end of childhood always haunts even the happiest of representations. The film’s references to time are used as a means of emphasizing the fleeting experience of childhood, which Spielberg translated from Barrie’s texts and the prevailing ideological version of childhood proposed by the Romantics. Peter Pan and Neverland reiterate that temporal measurement is a social construct. They romanticize the child’s lack of concern with the passing of time as a gift which, in turn, suggests that the adult obsession with time is a signifier of the loss of childhood. Arriving in Neverland, Peter’s first sight is a clock held in the mouth of the gigantic, erect, stuffed crocodile killed by Hook while Peter was away, and on which the hands are speeding in opposite directions, echoing the confusion of time in Neverland. The adult Peter Banning has an uneasy relationship with time that is governed by the pressures of capitalism: he understands the urgency of closing a business deal, but he is so late to his son’s baseball game that everyone has left, and views the ten years since he last visited Wendy in London as a short interval. Following Peter’s angry outburst at his children, Moira lectures him on what is perhaps the intended “message” of the film: “We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. [. . .] It’s so fast,


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Peter. It’s a few years, then it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.” Time lost cannot be regained, warns Moira, which is perhaps an omen of the temptation Peter will face to be a boy again forever when he returns to Neverland. The film underscores the tension between the desire to “turn back the clock” or to “halt time.” The reality of this preoccupation in American culture is realized early on in the film, in the form of John Williams’s tongue-in-cheek song performed by the children on stage which begins: We wanna be like Peter Pan We don’t wanna grow up Wanna stay kids as long as we can

A childish, almost monotonal ditty, typical of the school play, Williams uses American childish colloquialisms and slang such as “neat,” “kids,” “gonna,” and “Yuck” in order to create an endearing image of contemporary childhood while also depicting the notion of eternal childhood as a prevailing, if not persistent concern. The children sing the words autonomously without true understanding of its connotations; it is a performance for adults. Yet the final two lines of the song seem contradictory to the story at hand by suggesting that growing up means being unable to stay and having to “fly,” when of course that is what the adult Peter cannot do. However, the same lines also portend and reinforce the decision of the adult Peter to tell the Lost Boys he cannot stay and play before abandoning Neverland once again. Thus echoing the loss which awaits even the adult who has reconciled with childhood. The preoccupation with time is encapsulated throughout the film in the material form of numerous time pieces such as Big Ben, the clock Tink sleeps in, and Hook’s room full of various stopped clocks. Before Jack goes to sleep, and the Bannings go out with Wendy, Peter gives Jack his pocket watch and says “you’re in charge now, this is my very special watch so you can keep track of the time.” In his expectation that Jack will take responsibility and start thinking about time, Peter is urging his child, as he did on the plane to London, to “just grow up.” Later on, having been manipulated by Hook, Jack destroys his father’s pocket watch, and with each blow to the watch Jack recites his feelings, from the childish to the deep-felt: “for never letting me blow bubbles in my chocolate milk. For never letting me jump on my own bed. For always making promises and breaking them. For never doing anything with me.” Jack does not just want to be given a watch, a representation of time, he wants Peter to give him time. The interplay between light and dark used to inspire the ambiguity between comfort and threat, so familiar from other Spielberg films, is present throughout both Hook and its literary precursor. 32 One of the key tropes employed to demonstrate this interplay is Peter’s shadow. 33 Shad-



ows are, of course, reliant on the casting of light, but are themselves comprised of darkness; in the original story it is the detachment of Peter’s shadow by Nanna the dog, and Peter’s return to look for it in the nursery that provokes the first meeting between Wendy and Peter. Yet shadows also feature throughout Barrie’s text as ominous signs; “In the old days at home the Neverland had always begun to look a little dark and threatening by bedtime. Then unexplored patches arose in it and spread; black shadows moved about in them.” 34 Throughout Hook Peter’s shadow is increasingly in focus, morphing into Peter’s childhood shadow and interacting with him the more his childhood is recaptured; yet shadows are also cast throughout the London scenes as sinister portents of Hook’s impending arrival. In both film and text the shadow encapsulates the very essence of childhood as fleeting and temporary, a fluid concept constrained by time which may disappear at any moment, but is never completely gone. Throughout the film the symbolic use of light also oscillates between the comforting and the threatening—it is never subtle, and Spielberg always confronts the audience directly with it. For example, when Moira, Wendy, and the children are in the nursery together, a warm rosy hue glows from the night-lights above the children’s beds, while between the beds the nursery window continues to emit a faintly sinister and contrasting blue light. As they leave for their evening out, Wendy—evoking the words of Mrs. Darling in Barrie’s text—implores the lights to keep the children safe, but when Hook arrives at the house, the light through the window flashes loudly and changes color in a threatening mode while the children scream in horror. When the adults return from their grown-up occasion—as Mr. and Mrs. Darling did in Barrie’s text on the first night Wendy, John, and Michael met Peter Pan—the house is plunged into darkness, in stark contrast to the luminous scenes depicted when the Bannings arrived. There are no lights available, and they can only follow the line that Hook has scraped into the wall from the door all the way up to the nursery; a trail on a map to their loss. Alone in the nursery, drinking to ease the pain of his inability to resolve the loss of his children and the strangeness of Wendy’s revelations, Peter sees Tink’s small bright white light speeding toward him, which he interprets negatively as a “firefly from hell” while his shadow, the shadow, looms on the nursery ceiling. When, immersed in the excitement of the past, Tink glows (echoing Moira’s glow earlier), Peter again interprets her light as a negative omen, exclaiming, “I’m dying, I’m heading towards the white light,” propagating the associations of Neverland with death. Tink’s physical constitution is presaged in the earlier scene at the hospital dedication, when duplicates of this light (in the form of lamps) are littered across the walls and tables—seemingly a joyous occasion, but a distraction from the kidnapping happening back at the Darlings’s house. This particular form of light then reappears later in the Lost


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Boys’ bunks to suggest (echoing Wendy’s pleas to the nursery lights) that these are the things that keep them safe at night, and features in Peter’s prebattle speech to the Boys, as a signifier of boyhood innocence: “Let’s get ready to show them the white light we’re made of, boys.” Yet these same qualities that give them light (bravery, a willingness and desire to fight) are also comprised of shades of darkness connected with the notion of childhood as reckless and blithe.

Figure 7.1.

Robin Williams’s Peter deciding whether to stay and play.

Death and violence are an integral part of childhood play that has always characterized the darkness in Peter and the Lost Boys. When the adult Peter first arrives back in the lair the boys chase him through tunnels and across bridges and he cries, “What is this, some sort of Lord of the Flies pre-school?” The reference to William Golding’s 1954 novel is more than a case of casual intertextuality. Although there are many corresponding elements between Barrie’s texts, the nineteenth-century “Robinsonade” and Lord of the Flies, it is the darkness of Golding’s novel represented in the form of anarchy and the insensibility to the seriousness of life and death, which offer the greatest representation of both the lure and fear of childhood from the adult perspective. 35 At the dinner table with the boys the reenactment of and triumph in his old childish cursing game reignites some of the old Pan in Peter, and he begins to experience the paradoxical light of childhood in which the imagination produces luscious feasts in order to engage in anarchic food fights. 36 It is the exercising of “bad behavior” that guides Peter back to his old Self. This is, of course, child’s play, seemingly harmless, until the jealous Rufio maliciously throws a coconut at Peter’s head, which the newly revived Peter cuts deftly in half with a sword. These demonstrations of “bangarang”—the Lost Boy’s buzzword for their style of play—defined as “hubbub, uproar, disorder, or disturbance” are not meant as sinister pursuits. 37 However, in the initial hunting of Peter their persecution of this invading adult is relentless, ending in Rufio approaching Peter with a



sword shouting “kill the lawyer!” Yet in Neverland death is just a game; epitomized in Peter Pan’s famous declaration “to die would be an awfully big adventure” or, as Hook tauntingly reminds Peter in the film, death “is the only adventure you’ve got left.” Throughout the various adaptations the inhabitants endlessly play at war with pirates and “Indians” and in Hook war involves the use of “fun” weapons such as eggs, paint, and mirrors to temporarily blind the pirates with bright reflected light. Peter cannot kill Hook as he wishes to, because his children are watching, and so allows him to cause his own death by crocodile. However, these wars do involve the loss of life—with some pirates killed by Rufio and Peter, and the desired battle ending with the murder of Rufio by Hook. Barrie’s text was just as, if not more, violent than Hook, but like Spielberg’s appropriation, the notions of death and violence are presented and perceived ambivalently. William Blackburn argues that the violence of Barrie’s text does not compromise the idyllic depiction of boyhood, because this is Barrie’s notion of true happiness, innocence, and freedom; albeit one that includes darker undertones. 38 During World War I Peter’s famous line about death was used both directly and indirectly to romanticize conflict as a great adventure that immortalized young men as eternal children. And yet it is worth noting the cultural unease with this notion as Barrie also “sanctioned the removal of Peter’s infamous comment [. . .] when most of the audience consisted of soldiers on Christmas leave” and, according to Linda Robertson, it was removed during the war years “from children’s versions of the story used in British classrooms.” 39 The attempt of the adult to “stop the clock” extends beyond the forestalling of childhood’s end to the end of life itself. Hook’s chronophobia is not merely the result of the ticking clock’s association with the pursuing crocodile, but what it represents: aging and death. During the final sword fight between Peter and the Captain in Hook, Peter chants “ticktock, tick-tock, tick-tock, who’s afraid of an old dead croc? I think not! I think Hook’s afraid of time, ticking away” and, forcing Hook to the ground, removes the black wig to reveal the balding, gray head and the aging man beneath the costume. Irene Lacher suggests that Hook’s fears mirror those of Peter Banning, and argues that the film, and the depiction of Peter particularly, “resonates to the dark underbelly of this very Victorian tale,” that reveals “a chiaroscuro shading” which is often overlooked in other adaptations; “It’s the side of youth that is singed with loneliness, abandonment and orphanhood. It’s Peter’s desire not to grow up because he is afraid of dying.” 40 Hook also attempts to overcome this fear by clinging to the illusion of Neverland as a space where one may enact dying in glory without suffering the consequences, but in doing so reveals the callous heart at the center of child’s play: though Peter cries in semi-anguish as Rufio utters his dying wish to have a father like him, Rufio is soon forgotten by the


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Lost Boys in the thrill of the battle between Hook and Pan. Hook, too, though declaring that “James Hook is Neverland,” was just a feature of the boys’ make believe, and his loss is not mourned by anyone. Later, explaining to his work friend Brad where he has been, Peter blithely states, “Neverland. Lost Boys. Jim Hook. Duel to the death. I’ll fill you in later.” Having retained some of his childhood-self, Peter seems to no longer approach the reality of death as terrifying. As Peter flies away one of the boys declares “that was a great game,” implying that they will soon move on to the next one. Robertson asserts that J. M. Barrie “presents the case that the make believe world of fighting and dying has to remain just that: the killing is only imaginary, one is always a hero, and one never dies.” 41 Yet Moira’s outpouring of her internalized grief when Jack and Maggie return, represents the suffering of parents left behind when Barrie’s Peter took their children to Neverland but they did not return; a heartache to which the child-Peter was oblivious. Barrie denotes the contradiction of the beauty of childhood which is, in part, defined by its darkness in the text’s final line, when the narrator declares that adventures with Peter will continue “so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.” 42 The Lost Boys have not been emotionally challenged or changed by their experiences as Peter Banning has been. Furthermore, Peter leaves the boys in this lawless, makeshift existence without considering taking them with him. He does not fear for them; they will continue to enjoy their anarchic adventures, while he must face his return home with the next best thing—an appreciation for adult life. Jack and Maggie are returned to the nursery, but despite his reacquired childishness Peter is still unable to fully reconcile with that space. He wakes up under the statue of Peter Pan in London’s Kensington Garden (a real statue, in a real place), once again clothed in his tuxedo, as if the whole experience was a dream. Despite the apparent positivity of Peter’s final declaration, “To live. To live will be an awfully big adventure,” it is difficult to escape the dissonant undertones of Spielberg’s fantasy. Peter has regained the love and respect of his family, and is finally a playful parent. Yet, he has only achieved what Barrie’s narrator insists is available to the adult—impressions of childhood. Tink informs him that he will not see her in real life anymore, but she will be waiting in “that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming.” The adult audience knows that Peter will never return to Neverland again. Like Wordsworth’s re-encounter with a place from childhood, Peter’s triumph is bittersweet.



CHILDHOOD’S END; OR, HOW HOOK FAILS TO BE A BETWIXT-AND-BETWEEN On the surface Hook appears to be a film for children, because it indulges in elements often (mistakenly) associated only with children’s stories, or derogatively with “the childish.” Yet Spielberg uses these tropes to warn adults of something child viewers cannot yet understand—that one day you will become a grown-up and will not recognize who you are anymore. Paralleling Barrie’s text and the criticism which followed, Spielberg’s film wavers between the darker sides of both growing up and an eternal childhood: after all, Peter Banning is not an abnormality, but a standard white Western father with responsibilities, who is urged on by contemporary Western capitalist ideals to not only provide for his family, but to also excel at fatherhood and business. Yet, when he rejects this role upon remembering who he was in childhood, he initially forgets his children altogether. As Banning he is a boring disciplinarian who is afraid of flying, prioritizes work over family and rejects any flights of the imagination. As Pan he is an asexual bombast who indulges in gratuitous violence, is selfish and dominant, and is the first to volunteer for acts of heroism as long as they earn him praise and honor. By employing the enduring figure of Peter Pan, and the cultural components of childhood employed by Barrie (Neverland, dressing up, make believe, playing war), Hook endeavors to visually appeal to real children while conceptually allowing the adult to access the “foreign country” of the past. As such, Spielberg’s film can be read as a cathartic act that not only allows the director or the aged Peter to reconnect with childhood, but also acknowledges the adult audiences’ need to do so. Yet the director’s attempt to domesticate this foreign land of childhood, by re-creating its spatial and behavioral aspects, only results in its inevitable colonization in the name of adulthood, as predicted by Jacqueline Rose. His representation continues, like Peter Pan himself and his early textual manifestations, to oscillate precariously between the light and dark, and joy and sorrow of childhood, in both its past and present forms. Despite its best intentions, Hook is never quite sure where it belongs and how to reconcile the socially enforced dichotomy between childhood and adulthood. Lester D. Friedman suggests that Spielberg’s fantastical elements allow “viewers to contemplate disruptive communal questions made less volatile” by their transportation to other spaces, and yet it seems that Hook’s efforts actually disrupt the process of conflict resolution. 43 Although the film both visually and conceptually floods each scene with light, in his attempt to reclaim childhood Spielberg inadvertently exposes a darkness that arises from the realization that how childhood is conceived has very little to do with real children; rather, childhood is a liminal space created by adults in order that they may relive childhood, or regain access to its joys.


Jen Baker

If the story is seen simply as a didactic tale in which a grown-up Peter Pan rescues his children in order to learn how to be a good father, Hook has cross-generational appeal. Yet, a large part of the story envisions Peter Pan as a grown man who has forgotten his childhood and who must find his memories, and thus resonates with the adult viewer or, in terms of the child viewer, the adult-to-be, in a manner incomprehensible to its child audience. The film uses the landscapes, memories, and historical intertextualities of Peter Pan to solicit appreciation from the adult viewer for its role in the retrieval of a very particular, constructed form of childhood, while still catering for the wider “family audience.” Yet, as suggested throughout this chapter, in its attempts to occupy an intermediate space which both children and adults can enjoy, the film consistently betrays an unease caused by its indeterminable identity. What can be gauged from the outcome of Hook is the struggle for the grown-up Peter to reconcile being a betwixt-and-between, and to find his “happy medium” between the light and the dark side of childhood past and present, in which a man can be a functioning member of society, a hero to his children, and rediscover his ability to play. Peter cannot have his children and be a child. He cannot love Moira but live in Neverland with Tinker Bell. He cannot have both the money and the time to spend on his family while attempting to conform to social infrastructure. Despite its many appealing qualities, the film cannot, ultimately, resolve the tension between childhood and adulthood, the past and the present. Hook offers an excess of visual adventures appealing to the child viewer, but is itself a signifier of a childhood soon to be lost, or one since past. It cannot contain childhood within a moment—whether that moment is the length of the film, the early 1990s, or the viewer’s childhood. In trying to recapture it, in attempting to sustain the period of carefree innocence, Hook exposes childhood as a conceptual space that is not really for children at all. This is a liminal place created by adults so that they might indulge in nostalgic reminisces, reshape mistakes, and temporarily avoid the difficulties of a “grown-up” life. NOTES 1. Peter’s first textual appearance was in a chapter in Barrie’s novel for adults The Little White Bird (1902). Barrie then produced the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904) and subsequently extracted the chapter from the first novel and turned it into the story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906). 2. J. M. Barrie, “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens,” in Peter Pan: Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (New York, Toronto, and London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 171–72. 3. Notes written by J. M. Barrie indicate that the original author had entertained the notion of another play, possibly entitled The Man Who Couldn’t Grow Up or The Old Age of Peter Pan. Nevertheless, despite the production and publication of scenes in which Wendy grew into old age to watch both her daughter and granddaughter enjoy adventures with Peter in both the plays and books, Barrie did not (or perhaps would



not) write of Peter’s aging. Andrew Birkin, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story behind Peter Pan (Hartford, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 1921. 4. Henry Sheehan, “The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 1,” Film Quarterly 28, no. 3 (May-June 1992): 54; and “Spielberg: II,” Film Quarterly 28, no. 4 (July-August 1992): 71. 5. David Rudd, “Never, Never, Never Land: The Dangerous Appeal of the Sublime Object of Ideology,” in Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth, eds. Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), 54–65. 6. Fabio L. Vericat, “Betwixt-and-Between: The Novelization of Peter Pan as Literary Hybrid,” in Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth, eds. Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), 106–22. 7. See Ann Wilson, “Hauntings: Anxiety, Technology, and Gender in Peter Pan,” Modern Drama 43, no. 4 (2000): 595–610. DOI: 10.1353/mdr.2000.0072; and Kimberley Reynolds, “Fatal Fantasies: the Death of Children in Victorian and Edwardian Fantasy Writing” in Representations of Childhood Death, Gillian Avery and Kimberley Reynolds, eds. (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 2000), 169–88. 8. And, like Barrie, Spielberg emulates the Romantic notion of childhood as a period with the strongest connection to an ethereal, sublime state that could be retrieved by the adult through the creative process. For more on childhood and the sublime see Deborah Thacker, introduction to Introducing Children’s Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism, Deborah Thacker and Jean Webb, eds.(London: Routledge, 2002), 18–19. 9. William Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” The Complete Poems (Ware, UK: Wordsworth Editions, 1995), 241–44; 242. 10. Paul Taylor, “J. M. Barrie, The Man Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” Independent (2 April 2012). arrie-the-man-who-wouldnt-grow-up-7606561.html. 11. See, for instance, Isaac Gilman, “Shutting the Window: The Loss of Innocence in Twentieth-Century Children’s Literature,” The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature 9, no. 3 (2005). 12. See for instance Slavoj Žižek, “Spielberg’s Reluctant Fathers,” in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Transcribed at gfathers.html, accessed 15 Sep 2015. 13. Patricia Pace, “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook,” The Lion and the Unicorn 20, no. 1 (1996): 113. 14. Jerry Buck, “Spielberg Returns to TV with ‘Amazing Stories,’” The Despatch (19 June 1985). 15. See Andrew Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 183–202; Francis Shor, “Contrasting Images of Reconstructing Manhood: Bly’s Wild Man Versus Spielberg’s Inner Child,” Journal of Men’s Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 109–28. 16. Gordon, Empire of Dreams, 183. 17. Gordon, Empire of Dreams, 184. 18. According to Griffin and Masters, Jon Peters—a movie producer and for a time head of Sony Entertainment—wanted to retain parts of Spielberg’s set (the pirate ship in particular) to feature in a mini-theme park. Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters, Hit and Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 280. 19. All dialogue is taken from Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg (Hollywood, CA: Amblin Pictures and TriStar Entertainment, 1991). 20. The biographical associations made between the shy, child-like author J. M. Barrie and his eternal child see, for instance, Andrew Birkin and Sharon Goode, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story behind Peter Pan (Hartford, CT: Yale University Press, 1979).


Jen Baker

21. Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan; or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1984), xii. 22. Rose, The Case of Peter Pan, 5. According to Jack Zipes, Peter and Wendy (which he identifies as the “definitive novel”) “is the most complicated and sophisticated of all the versions of Peter Pan,” and insists that “It is not fiction for children.” Jack Zipes, Introduction, in Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004), xxii. 23. Reproduced in Anne Hiebert Alton, ed., Introduction to Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (New York: Broadview Press, 2011). In a 1905 review, critic Max Beerbohm suggested that while “there are in ‘Peter Pan’ things which, I imagine, no child could fail to enjoy,” it is not really a play for children so much as about children, because real children are not “sensitive to the finer shades of pathos and humour” which Barrie attempts to evoke from his portrayals of children. Beerbohm’s analysis recognized that the desire to preserve or portray childhood in a form for both children and adults is futile because the concept of childhood itself is fluid and changeable. Max Beerbohm, “Pantomime for Children,” (14 Jan. 1905) in The Saturday Review, of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. XCIX (London, 1905), 44. 24. Vincent Canby, “Hook (1991) Review/Film: Peter as a Middle-Aged Master of the Universe,” New York Times (11 Dec. 1991). 25. In Barrie’s versions Peter only states the directions as “second to the right, and straight on till morning” and according to the narrator were not necessarily right, as “Peter, you see, just said anything that came into his head,” but the Walt Disney production added “star” to afford the route greater clarity. J. M. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy,” 37. 26. J. M. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy,” in Peter Pan (New York, Toronto, and London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 9. 27. Robert Hemmings, “A Taste of Nostalgia: Children’s Books from the Golden Age—Carroll, Grahame, and Milne,” Children’s Literature 35 (2007): 55. 28. Klaus P. Mortensen, The Time of Unrememberable Being: Wordsworth and the Sublime, 1787–1805 (Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1998), 36. 29. Jerry Griswold in Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story, identifies a recurring trope in adult and children’s literature of America as the rebellious oedipal child to England’s reign of civility and maturity, with England representing the past and America progression and the future (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992, 2014), 116–17. 30. J. M. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy,” in Peter Pan: Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (New York, Toronto, and London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 247. 31. L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (New York: New York Review Books, 2002), 17. 32. For a discussion of the use of light in Spielberg’s films see Nigel Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 180–81. 33. Analysis of Peter’s shadow generally tends toward a Jungian reading of the shadow as Archetype. See Ralph J. Hallman, “The Archetypes in Peter Pan.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 14 (1969): 65–73. DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-5922.1969.00065.x. 34. J. M. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy,” in Peter Pan (New York, Toronto, and London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 66. 35. For discussion on the related themes see Anne Hiebert Alton, ed. “Appendix D,” Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (New York: Broadview Press, 2011), 380. 36. According to Wendy R. Katz “the evocation of food and food-related images in children’s literature is the most comprehensive way [. . .] of objectifying abstractions necessary for vigorously imaginative work.” Wendy R. Katz, “Some Uses of Food in Children’s Literature,” Children’s Literature in Education 11, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 197–98. 37. “bangarang, n.” (2) OED Online. Oxford University Press, Web. August 26, 2015. 38. William Blackburn, “Peter Pan and the Contemporary Adolescent Novel,” The Child and the Story: An Exploration of Narrative Forms. Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of the Children’s Literature Association, March 1982. Boston: Children’s Literature Association, 1983, 47. Web. DOI: 10.1353/chq.1982.0002.



39. Deborah Cartmell, and Imelda Whelehan, ‘“To Die Would Be an Awfully Big Adventure’: The Enigmatic Timelessness of Peter Pan’s Adaptations,” Cadernos de Tradução 1, no. 7 (2001): 97. Linda Robertson, “‘To Die Will Be an Awfully Big Adventure’: Peter Pan in World War I” in Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination, eds. Allison B. Kavey and Lester D. Friedman (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009) 71. 40. Irene Lacher, “The Robin Williams Syndrome: Comic Harnesses His Inner Child,” LA Times, Dec. 8, 1991. ms-story.html, accessed 13 Sep 2015. 41. Robertson, 71. 42. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy,” 153. 43. Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 11.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Avery, Gillian and Kimberley Reynolds, eds. Representations of Childhood Death. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 2000. Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan: Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. New York, Toronto, and London: Penguin Classics, 2004. ———. Peter Pan, ed. Anne Hiebert Alton. New York: Broadview Press, 2011. Beerbohm, Max. “The Child Barrie,” (7 Jan. 1905) in The Saturday Review, of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. vol. XCIX. London, 1905, 13–14. ———. “Pantomime for Children” (14 Jan. 1905) in The Saturday Review, of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. XCIX. London, 1905, 44–45. Birkin, Andrew and Sharon Goode. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story behind Peter Pan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003. Blackburn, William. “Peter Pan and the Contemporary Adolescent Novel.” The Child and the Story: An Exploration of Narrative Forms. Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of the Children’s Literature Association, March 1982. Boston: Children’s Literature Association, 1983, 47–53. Web. DOI: 10.1353/chq.1982.0002. Buck, Jerry. “Spielberg Returns to TV with ‘Amazing Stories,’” The Despatch (19 June 1985). Canby, Vincent. “Hook (1991) Review/Film: Peter as a Middle-Aged Master of the Universe” New York Times (11 Dec 1991). Cartmell, Deborah and Imelda Whelehan, “‘To Die Would Be an Awfully Big Adventure’: The Enigmatic Timelessness of Peter Pan’s Adaptations,” Cadernos de Tradução 1, no.7 (2001): 93–108. DOI: ew/5748/5382. Corcuera, Alfonso Muñoz, and Elisa T. DiBiase, eds. Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Gilman, Isaac. “Shutting the Window: The Loss of Innocence in Twentieth-Century Children’s Literature.” The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature 9, no. 3 (2005). Gordon, Andrew M. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Griffin, Nancy and Kim Masters. Hit and Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Griswold, Jerry. Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992, 2014. Hallman, Ralph J. “The Archetypes in Peter Pan.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 14 (1969): 65–73. DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-5922.1969.00065.x. Hartley, L. P. The Go-Between. New York: New York Review Books, 2002.


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Hemmings, Robert. “A Taste of Nostalgia: Children’s Books from the Golden Age— Carroll, Grahame, and Milne.” Children’s Literature 35 (2007): 54–79. Katz, Wendy R. “Some Uses of Food in Children’s Literature.” Children’s Literature in Education 11, no. 4 (Winter 1980): 192–99. Lacher, Irene. “The Robin Williams Syndrome: Comic Harnesses His Inner Child,” LA Times, Dec. 8, 1991. html. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 3rd ed. New York City: Faber & Faber, 1997. Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Mortensen, Klaus P. The Time of Unrememberable Being: Wordsworth and the Sublime, 1787–1805. Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1998. Pace, Patricia. “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook,” The Lion and the Unicorn 20, no. 1 (1996): 113–20. Robertson, Linda. “‘To Die Will Be an Awfully Big Adventure’: Peter Pan in World War I” in Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination. Edited by Allison B. Kavey and Lester D. Friedman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009, 50–74. Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan; or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984. Sheehan, Henry. “The PANning of Steven Spielberg: Part 1,” Film Quarterly 28, no. 3 (May-June 1992): 54. ———. “Spielberg: II,” Film Quarterly 28, no. 4 (July-August 1992): 71. Shor, Francis. “Contrasting Images of Reconstructing Manhood: Bly’s Wild Man Versus Spielberg’s Inner Child,” Journal of Men’s Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 109–28. Thacker, Deborah, and Jean Webb, eds. Introducing Children’s Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 2002. Wilson, Ann. “Hauntings: Anxiety, Technology, and Gender in Peter Pan,” Modern Drama 43, no. 4 (2000): 595-610. DOI: 10.1353/mdr.2000.0072. Wordsworth, William. The Complete Poems. Ware, UK: Wordsworth Editions, 1995. Žižek, Slavoj. The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. (2006) Directed by Sophie Fiennes. Transcribed at

EIGHT Hooked on Happy Thoughts New Sincerity and Spielberg’s Troubled Nostalgia for Mythic Childhood Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kristjanson

Steven Spielberg has long been celebrated as a “present-day guru of childhood” 1: his body of work is characterized by the elevation of childhood qualities such as naïveté, innocence, and curiosity to a blissful, sublime state, impelling viewers to assume this state, reduced to awestruck children. For these reasons, Spielberg’s version of the Peter Pan story, Hook (1991), 2 was widely anticipated to be a particularly notable and distinctive expression of childhood and of the Peter Pan myth. This intersection of Spielberg and the two other twentieth-century gurus of childhood—J. M. Barrie, who wrote the original Peter Pan (1904), and Walt Disney, who produced the influential 1953 animated film version—was tipped to become an authoritative filmic crystallization of the “boy who never grows up.” Instead, Hook became one of Spielberg’s biggest disappointments, famed for being an overindulgent critical flop (albeit of modest commercial success). In fact, Hook regularly appears alongside films like Waterworld (Kevin Costner, 1995) and North (Rob Reiner, 1994) in lists of the worst films of the 1990s, 3 having become symbolic of the excesses and manipulative sentimentalism which often plagued 1990s family films. Yet we suggest that Hook should not be dismissed as a work unworthy of consideration, but instead investigated as a film that provides revealing insights into Spielberg’s conflicted preoccupations, in part because the film was so hotly anticipated to be Spielberg’s definitive vision, but instead became emblematic of his most maligned weaknesses. We 183


Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kirstjanson

argue that Hook is one of the most ambivalent and problematic incarnations of what Jim Collins calls the “new sincerity”: a type of film that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s which sought to counteract the irony and cynicism that pervaded this increasingly media-saturated, popculture literate milieu. The new sincerity anxiously attempts to capture a lost purity and authenticity, a time of mythic clarity before culture was overburdened with rampant intertextual interactions and generic hyperawareness—a past which perhaps, in fact, never existed. With Hook, Spielberg attempts to grasp at the authentic “core” of the Peter Pan mythology, a process which reveals a great deal about the insecurities usually veiled beneath the polished gleam of his aesthetic. As will be explored throughout this chapter, Spielberg’s Hook selfconsciously embeds the characteristic new sincerity quest into the film’s very narrative structure. Set in the present, the film tells the story of a grown-up Peter Pan. Peter Banning (Robin Williams), who has forgotten that he ever was Peter Pan, is a mergers and acquisitions lawyer living in America with his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall) and children Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott). Spielberg is at pains to emphasize that Banning is a less-than-ideal father—so preoccupied is this “adult” Peter with work and success that he sends an employee to videotape his son’s all-important baseball game, rather than making time to spectate in person. When his family goes to visit his adoptive grandmother in London, “Granny Wendy” (Maggie Smith)—who is, unbeknownst to Banning, the Wendy of Peter Pan fame—Banning’s children are kidnapped by Peter Pan’s former Neverland adversary, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman). Hook holds the children captive in order to draw Peter back to Neverland, an apparent attempt to restage the duel between Peter Pan and Hook which resulted in the loss of Hook’s hand. Hook’s ploy is ultimately successful: though skeptical that he really is, or ever was, Peter Pan, Banning travels with Tinker Bell back to Neverland, and most of the film is consumed with Banning’s quest to recover his inner “Pan” and rescue his children. As even this brief narrative sketch intimates, the film is weighed down by a tangle of incongruities, many of which are a result of Hook’s equivocal interactions with the original Peter Pan text. In his own uneasy quest to recover the lost purity of the Peter Pan story amongst a web of different versions and retellings of the tale across multiple time periods, cultures, and mediums, Spielberg in fact only gets ever more tangled in the web. As a result, the film has received perhaps more virulent criticism than any other film within Spielberg’s vast body of work. 4

Hooked on Happy Thoughts


PANNING SPIELBERG While he is often exulted as the father of the modern blockbuster and for his profound technical expertise, Spielberg is also a filmmaker approached with much critical ambivalence and often outright derision. This potent anti-Spielberg sentiment has been effectively charted in the work of Lester Friedman, who recounts his experience of colleagues declaring themselves “anti-Spielbergian,” or even going so far as to describe the director as “the antichrist.” 5 As Spielberg’s most critically panned film, Hook is generally considered to be the embodiment of all that is most deplorable about Spielberg’s work. Most critics both popular and academic agree that Hook is Spielberg’s worst film: William Beard describes it as “completely incoherent” with “gigantic clunking sets and cast-ofthousands choreography [that] are hysterically insistent,” 6 while Joseph McBride suggests that Hook became “a prominent symbol of 1990s runaway excess in Hollywood. . . . With a production cost variously estimated at between sixty million dollars and eighty million dollars, far in excess of its original budget of forty-eight million dollars, it is often regarded as one of the most conspicuous money-wasting debacles in Sony’s profligate Hollywood spending spree.” 7 Even Friedman, who is one of the few scholars to appreciate Hook’s complex ambivalence, suggests that “the pervasive sense of strained artificiality that permeates the film engenders feelings of overstuffed claustrophobia rather than liberating freedom. Particularly in the Neverland sequences, the movie feels like a donut stuffed with candied jelly, drenched in maple syrup, and rolled in powdered sugar.” 8 The general critical consensus is that Spielberg’s Neverland is forced, clumsy, and pointlessly cluttered with overwrought extravagance, all of which seems to be symptomatic of what New Yorker reviewer Terrence Rafferty calls “a profound weariness in Steven Spielberg’s attitude toward his art and his audience. In this version of Peter Pan, the imagination seems like a burden—a terrible, crushing obligation.” 9 Hook thus has come to be considered the artistic low-point of Spielberg’s career, while being most representative of all the qualities for which he is decried. These objectionable qualities can be described as a manipulative and cloying sentimentalism which is relentlessly optimistic and intellectually hollow. In particular, while Spielberg is often cast as a childhood “guru,” his exultation of childhood innocence and sickly sweet visions of childhood cuteness are often seen as central to his tendency to mawkishness; for instance, Peter Biskind condemns Spielberg’s infantilization of viewers as a result of his persistent valorization of childhood innocence and naïveté—qualities celebrated over dull, disenchanted adulthood—his punishment of cynicism, and his resistance to irony and critical self-consciousness. 10 Frederick Wasser suggests that while Hook was a commercial success because the audience “knew that the film would deliver the


Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kirstjanson

pleasures of Peter Pan,” ultimately “the film reduced the imaginative phase of childhood to a mere obsession with magic and wish fulfillment.” 11 In this regard, Spielberg’s brand is often seen in parallel with Disney’s, or more precisely, the much-maligned process of “Disneyfication”: a term which has become a shorthand description for the crude commodification of sentimental optimism and confected childish traits such as wonderment and innocence. However, as James Kendrick aptly points out, the now commonplace equation of Spielberg with a “Disneyfied” artistic vision fails to recognize the deep strain of ambivalence, darkness and anxiety that tends to underlie Spielberg’s—and, for that matter, Disney’s—work. As Kendrick puts it, “there is no question that Spielberg, despite being regularly cast as a mainstream audience pleaser and chief representative of sunny, ignorant Reaganite entertainment, has a resolutely dark streak throughout his career that creates a fascinating tension with his more optimistic and humanist tendencies.” 12 While Hook is often considered the epitome of the “mainstream audience pleaser” in which darkness is most relentlessly quashed in favor of the sickly sweet, in fact the film intriguingly lays bare the fluctuations between darkness and light which course through Spielberg’s work. Part of the reason for the acuteness of this vacillation is that Hook condenses in strangely ambivalent ways the major themes that characterize Spielberg’s opus. As Henry Sheehan suggests in his seminal essay— the only work to celebrate Hook without qualification—“here, for the first time, Spielberg pulled together the many different thematic strands, visual motifs, and character types that had been haphazardly scattered through his first fifteen years of work, and patterned them into a rich, coherent whole.” 13 While Friedman aptly counters that the result is a taxed film that “ultimately sinks under its own bloated weight,” 14 it is indeed the case, as Sheehan suggests, that Spielberg self-consciously and explicitly weaves the various threads of his key preoccupations together in Hook. Most centrally, Spielberg self-reflexively attempts to grasp at the core of his characteristic mythologization of childhood. Spielberg’s Hook was much-anticipated because the director had been riffing on some variation of the Peter Pan myth throughout his entire career, as Sheehan reinforces through his detailed charting of Spielberg’s oeuvre up until the release of Hook. Furthermore, in her seminal 1984 monograph on Peter Pan’s key role in the twentieth-century construction of childhood, Jacqueline Rose notes the intimate connection between Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Peter Pan, suggesting that the “extravagantly financed and fully reciprocal love affair between Peter Pan and E.T. (E.T. includes sections from Peter Pan which the mother reads to the child), between the Barbican and Hollywood, reinscribes the eternal myth of childhood—childhood as eternal myth—over and above anything else.” 15 Spielberg’s characteristic celebration of the state of childhood and concomitant “infantilization” of audiences obviously accords with the

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themes of Peter Pan, and in Hook Spielberg suffuses the story of the boy who never grew up with his distinctive philosophy and aesthetic. As Francis Shor suggests, “Spielberg’s involvement with Peter Pan easily spanned a decade, if not a lifetime, of fixation on the tale of the boy who refused to grow up. Spielberg’s fascination with Peter Pan appeared to border on an obsession. As he recalls: ‘I made that movie ten times in my head until I just didn’t want to go to the floor to make it.’” 16 Spielberg even suggested in an interview in 1985 that “I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan. It has been very hard for me to grow up”; 17 as a result, McBride elucidates, it “was no surprise that Hook was widely anticipated as an artistic culmination for Spielberg—his definitive statement on the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome.’” 18 Hook’s critical failure reflects Spielberg’s apparent inability to lucidly express this mytheme 19 of eternal childish wonder and innocence; however, the nature of this failure is revealing in its exposure of the fissures usually concealed beneath Spielberg’s spectacular aesthetics and narrative gratifications. While Sheehan has an “immense aversion” to the term “myth”—stating its deployment and commodification in Hollywood and its glib use in critical discourse to mean “stereotype” 20—we suggest that there is no other term that better captures how Hook attempts to deal with both Spielberg’s fixation with childhood and with the Peter Pan story (a preoccupation which seems to be, for Spielberg, inextricably entwined). “Peter Pan,” after all, represents not a book by J. M. Barrie, nor a 1953 Disney film, nor a ride at the various Disneyland theme parks around the world—the tale has become all these things and more. The story of Peter Pan, in its broadest contours, has become central to twentieth-century mythologies and understandings of childhood, such that imagining a Western concept of childhood without the influence of Peter Pan is almost fruitless. As recent edited collections like Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase’s Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth (2012) indicate, Peter Pan has become “fixed and turned into the image we know now, the one that has transcended and exceeded its author, the one that has disassociated itself from its time and become a modern myth.” 21 In his influential conception of myth in “Myth Today,” Roland Barthes suggests that mythologization represents a process whereby fictional tales—and, more precisely, their associated connotative, symbolic meanings—come to appear given, natural, and denotative: myth “purifies them . . . gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact. . . . In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically, . . . it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves.” 22 The story of Peter Pan has acquired this quality: the rampant circulation of the tale in various formats and mediums has ensured that the boy who never grows up has passed from history into myth, becom-


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ing central to our naturalized understandings of childhood. Peter Pan is a tale that seems to represent—with “blissful clarity”—the core tenets of the late-twentieth-century vision of childhood. The bronze Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens—as well as its six replicas erected in Canada, Belgium, America, and Australia, each accompanied by a plaque that reads “Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up”—has become a tangible monument to the figure’s mythic status. It is telling that in Hook, after returning from Neverland with both his “child” and “adult” sides finally synthesized, Spielberg’s Peter Banning awakes as if from a dream at the foot of the original statue. Notably, Spielberg’s own work has been associated with the kind of “blissful clarity” that Barthes associates with myth: famously, the often acerbic film critic Pauline Kael celebrated E.T. and Spielberg’s work generally as a “bliss-out,” 23 while Andrew Britton appropriated the title for his scathing indictment of the work of Spielberg and other late 1980s directors in “Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment.” In his reappraisal of Spielberg’s work and attempt to cross this stark divide between derision and breathless praise most clearly epitomized by the dichotomous perspectives of Kael and Britton, Kendrick’s own work is titled “Darkness in the Bliss Out.” With Hook, Spielberg, one of the central purveyors of the contemporary mythologization of childhood, denaturalizes the blissful clarity of the Peter Pan myth in his attempt to simultaneously present both the penultimate expression of his own preoccupations and the Peter Pan tale. In so doing, Spielberg problematizes the themes that have pulsed throughout his own oeuvre through his very attempt to distill and clarify them, a conflicted process of demythologization that unsettles the “natural and eternal justification” of eternal childhood. PETER PAN AS MYTH Peter Pan’s transition from writings published within a particular sociohistorical context to become a key mytheme of childhood has been multilayered and polyphonic. While it is well-known that Barrie’s novel was first produced as a play, recent scholarship has unearthed labyrinthine points of origin and inspirations for the tale. Much of the inspiration for Peter Pan and Neverland is indebted to the Llewelyn-Davies boys, a group of five brothers that Barrie crafted his narratives around, often assimilating the boys and their own imaginative stories into his tales. 24 Barrie retold and rewrote Peter Pan from 1902 to 1928; Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up appeared as a stage play in 1904 (yet continued to undergo revisions as late as 1928), while “Peter Pan” first appeared in print as a chapter in Barrie’s The Little White Bird two years earlier, and was later published as a children’s story with the titles Peter Pan in Kens-

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ington Garden (1906) and Peter and Wendy (1911), which included an additional chapter “When Wendy Grew Up: An Afterthought,” until finally being renamed simply as Peter Pan. Furthermore, Jill P. May credits other influences in her book chapter “Peter Pan’s Place in Pirate History and Lore”: Indeed, a large part of Peter Pan’s popularity when it was first produced in London was due to its use of legendary characters from the high seas and the ideals of high adventure that has long been associated with pirates. . . . Barrie’s characters were also undoubtedly influenced by the portrayal of pirates that he saw on the stage as an adult. 25

As May’s study demonstrates, Barrie’s Peter Pan is informed not only by famous boy’s adventure tales like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), but also by adult operettas like Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of New Penzance. These fictional pirate sources combined with a public familiarity with travel narratives and newspaper articles that recounted real pirate encounters to shape Barrie’s representation of Captain Hook and his band of pirates. 26 Additionally, through historical references to Captain James Cook and Christopher Columbus, May argues that Peter Pan’s affinity with pirate lore ensured that the narrative would be easily assimilated into American culture: “Peter Pan was American history just as much as it was British romanticism, and was equally popular when it arrived in America.” 27 As a seafaring cultural phenomenon, Peter Pan is more than a text; it is a force able to propagate across national borders, from Britain to America, and across temporal borders, finding audiences from the early 1900s to the 1990s and beyond. Due to the unlocatable origins of the Peter Pan story—dispersed across the Llewelyn-Davies boys and various textual sources of the time—his story, like the cocky eternal boy, travels. That Peter Pan has become a myth rather than a specific tale ensures that knowledge of his significance extends beyond Barrie’s original writings. As Richard Locke states in the introduction to his book Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels (2011), iconic child figures like Peter Pan are so pervasive in contemporary Western culture that “their names are instantly recognizable even by those who have never read the books in which they appear.” 28 Likewise, May concludes her discussion by reinforcing Peter’s eternal appeal: “Peter Pan, as captain of Neverland, will never need to grow up and marry anyone, not even Wendy. As the archetypal boy, he is a proverbial character who, though he forgets his adventures and conquests, cannot be easily forgotten.” 29 Peter Pan, as icon of eternal boyhood, is instantly recognizable, as are the names of his co-characters Captain Hook and Tinker Bell. It is the widespread recognizability of these figures that Spielberg’s Hook—a narrative that takes as its premise the near-blasphemous idea that Peter does indeed grow up— relies upon. Bruce Hanson confirms this reliance on the familiarity of the


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myth among makers of Peter Pan’s various film adaptations: “everyone is familiar with this remarkable boy. Film makers have banked on this with such motion pictures as Peter Pan [2003], Hook, and even Finding Neverland [2004], each departing greatly from Barrie’s concept and his life.” 30 The most recent filmic incarnation of the Peter Pan tale, Pan (Joe Wright, 2015), follows in this tradition, digressing from its source in highly visible ways that serve to play on audience expectations of and familiarity with the story. Hanson suggests that the adaptability of Peter Pan stems from Peter’s ability to transcend the literary page. “No other piece of literature,” he writes “could be so drastically changed” and yet remain so recognizable; 31 “in Hook, Spielberg, like everyone else, approached Peter Pan as an established myth that could be as relevant in the 1990s as it was in 1904.” 32 Audience members need not have even read Barrie’s novel or seen the Peter Pan stage play in order to be well-versed in Peter mythology. As a childhood icon of mythic proportions, Peter Pan has been securely positioned in the public imagination as universally recognizable. The character has become a key mythemic nucleus around which the concept of childhood revolves: his transmutability between different texts, audiences, cultures and individuals only serves to further highlight his nearuniversal recognizability and mythic significance. CAPTURING NEVERLAND Spielberg’s attempt to capture his parallel visions of childhood and of Peter Pan in their mythic “blissful clarity” involves an attempt to express the pure kernel of what has become a sprawling, multilayered mythology. In tandem, Spielberg seeks to align this crystallization of the Peter Pan story with his own brand. Most clearly, Hook functions as a knowing revision of the Peter Pan mythology by situating Peter as an adult attempting to return to his lost—in fact, forgotten—childhood. In so doing, the film reworks a core tenet of the mythic figure of Peter Pan: that he is the boy who never grew up. The film thus layers Peter’s personal quest to return to Neverland upon the film’s broader cultural quest to recapture the purity of the Peter Pan myth. As a result, Spielberg’s Hook can be seen as perhaps one of the most conflicted and ambivalent incarnations of Jim Collins’s “new sincerity” film. Collins first outlines the term in his influential essay “Genericity in the Nineties” (1992) before developing the theory in a chapter in Architectures of Excess (1995). Even though both of Collins’s pieces center around a discussion of the Western genre, Hook is one of his key examples of the new sincerity film. Collins suggests that in the media-saturated milieu of the early 1990s, as visual media culture started to undergo an accelerated and increasingly convoluted process of intertextuality and self-aware-

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ness, the nature of film genres and popular storytelling started to shift. He argues that: the ubiquity of this hyperconscious quotation and re-articulation suggests a profound change at the most basic level, that of the narrative contract established between text and audience—what films now promise to deliver in terms of “action” and what audiences now conceive of as entertainment has changed so thoroughly that the cultural function of popular storytelling appears to be in the process of profound shift. 33

He suggests that two distinct strands of cinema emerged in response to this new sense of hyperconsciousness and intertextuality: (1) the ironic hybrid, “founded on dissonance, on eclectic juxtapositions of elements that very obviously don’t belong together,” and (2) the new sincerity film, which is “obsessed with recovering some sort of missing harmony, where everything works in unison . . . [to express] a ‘new sincerity’ that rejects any form of irony or eclecticism in its sanctimonious pursuit of lost purity.” 34 As Collins suggests, while cinematic genres were considered to be pure expressions of cultural myth during the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, by the 1970s after one generation had grown up with television, an ever-growing cinematic cultural literacy—a literacy shared by filmmakers and audiences—ensured that the “purity” of such generic myths started to seem obsolete. This hyperawareness of cinematic codes and conventions would only accelerate into the 1980s and 1990s as a result of VHS, videodiscs, and CD video, as cinema increasingly remixed and played with established generic expectations, rather than expressing generic conventions in pure form. Clearly the Peter Pan mythology—which by the time of Hook’s release included seven books, four films, seven stage plays, two once-off television productions, and two television series—has become solidified and naturalized as a cultural myth through this rampant intertextuality, but also, as Hook seems to indicate, has become overburdened by it. Yet Spielberg’s “new sincerity” response to media saturation can be related not only to Hook, but to his entire body of work. Spielberg is often associated with a resurrection of “classic Hollywood” and “pure storytelling”: Warren Buckland, for instance, aligns Spielberg with once-reviled but now-revered classical Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, 35 while Wasser suggests that Spielberg’s ideologies and politics are “informed by old Hollywood and help to separate Spielberg from current filmic nihilism. His touchstone is ‘classic Alisted Hollywood adventure movies.’” 36 The strong influence of classic Disney films also highlights Spielberg’s quest for pure, Golden Age storytelling. As Beard suggests, “movies like Close Encounters, E.T., and Hook occupy a position that is a continuation of a Hollywood phenomenon first seen decades earlier, during the late 1930s and 1940s, most pointedly


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in the films of Frank Capra and in Disney’s animated features. It is a syndrome that features a fervent idealism, a craving for a pure and perfect form of living.” 37 Thus, just as Hook self-consciously attempts to (re)envisage the myth of childhood and Peter Pan for cynical, medialiterate early 1990s audiences, the film also represents the epitome of Spielberg’s classic Hollywood style of “pure,” sincere storytelling. As Collins suggests, this mode of storytelling is directly opposed to the irreverent generic play typical of other early 1990s blockbusters like the Back to the Future series. In fact, Hook was originally conceived as a musical in the style of classics such as The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) and Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly, 1952). The film was even shot on the same sound stages as these earlier classics, and Broadway set designer John Napier worked as a visual consultant on the film. 38 What makes Hook a particularly intriguing instance of Spielberg’s new sincerity tendency is that he fuses his quest for “pure storytelling” with his quest to (re)authenticate the Peter Pan myth, which in turn seeks to present, in its purest form, his characteristic celebration of childhood. As Collins explains, new sincerity entails a rejection of the polyphonic array of media images circulating in the early 1990s: a purposeful evasion of “the media-saturated terrain of the present in pursuit of an almost forgotten authenticity, attainable only through a sincerity that avoids any sort of irony or eclecticism.” 39 This attempt to grasp some kind of pure kernel of mythic clarity is realized through the imbuing of an originary “urtext” with “a quasi-sacred function as [a] guarantee of authenticity.” 40 In Hook the presence of an “urtext” is particularly obvious, as J. M. Barrie’s novel is foregrounded in the narrative: Peter Banning’s adoptive “Granny Wendy” owns the first edition of Peter Pan, because, as she explains to Peter’s daughter Maggie, “we made up stories about Peter, Neverland, and scary old Captain Hook. And do you know Mr. Barrie, well, James, our neighbour, loved our stories so much that he wrote them all down in a book.” Thus, in the diegetic universe of Hook, Peter Pan is an established mythology, with the now-elderly Wendy initially characterized as the “inspiration” for Barrie’s text (much like the Llewelyn-Davies boys). In a particularly tangled instance of new sincerity, the film manufactures within the diegesis the cultural significance of the very text that it is revising, to the extent that it even winks at the conditions of the text’s origins. When Hook takes the children he leaves a scroll behind signed “J. A. S. Hook, Captain” and the police disregard the kidnapping as a prank, due to the family’s “literary history.” It is thus inferred that in the film’s fictional universe, Peter Pan is just as culturally significant and famous as he is in our own reality. Furthermore, the film in fact opens with a performance of Barrie’s play, with little Maggie playing Wendy. Before the children meet Granny Wendy, Maggie asks if she is the “really real Wendy from my play?” Peter curtly replies “no,” to which wife Moira counters, “well, sort of.” The film thus establishes a mise-en-abyme of tex-

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tual frames, gradually moving from a “fictional” representation of Wendy performed in a child’s play, toward the “really real” Wendy who not only was an inspiration for this character, but in fact is gradually revealed to be the character. In an explicit peeling back of textual layers, the elderly Wendy eventually reveals to the adult Peter that “the book”—described in hushed, reverent tones—is a work of fact: Barrie did not make up the story but simply wrote down the adventures of young Wendy, Peter, and his friends. Paralleling the audience’s anticipated cynical reaction to this quasi-sacred elevation of the classic text, Peter—who, like the audience, cannot “remember” this lost realm of authenticity and purity—scoffs at Wendy, and wonders for a moment if she has lost her mind. Yet the film fetishizes the transition from cynical disbelief to awe at the blissful qualities of the myth in its originary state. A close-up of the book is accompanied by the swelling of epiphanic music as a soft halo of light illuminates the pages, imbuing the text with an almost supernatural charge. Granny Wendy clutches the tome and gently caresses the pages as she shows the treasured text to Peter. The sequence culminates with a close-up of an illustration of Peter Pan looking directly at the camera—an image which

Figure 8.1. Peter Banning (Robin Williams) regards the “urtext,” a fictionalized incarnation of Barrie’s first edition of Peter Pan.


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is a close approximation of Michael Hague’s vibrant watercolors, featured in one of the most famous illustrated versions of Barrie’s text. The illustration of Peter Pan staring defiantly at both the audience, and at Peter Banning in the diegesis, heralds the impending collapse of both the two separate identities—forgotten child Peter Pan and adult Peter Banning—and of the purity of the myth into the cynical, mediasaturated present. Indeed, in the very next scene, we journey “beyond” the pages of the book, as Banning meets Tinker Bell before she flies him out of the window back to Neverland. This sequence crystallizes what Collins describes as the “fetishizing of ‘belief’ rather than irony,” 41 a process at the core of Spielberg’s work, which also parallels his elevation of childhood over cynical, skeptical adulthood. This key sequence in which Banning is confronted with the factuality of “Pan” enunciates the mythic significance of the Peter Pan urtext, while also illustrating the extent to which the new sincerity film recognizes that well-established mythic conventions cannot simply be repeated to media-literate audiences already familiar with the classic form. Instead, the new sincerity contains a “metamythological dimension,” 42 self-consciously renovating the myth while simultaneously celebrating it in a hyperconscious quest to restore belief. In Hook, this quest to restore belief permeates the entire film. Banning’s quest to “return” to his lost childhood subjectivity—that is, to reclaim his “inner Peter Pan”—also represents an extradiegetic quest to reclaim a “pure” Peter Pan who existed before the character became disenchanted by numerous divergent versions, pop-cultural references and parodies. The film is thus structured by a dual quest to restore belief, both diegetic and extradiegetic. Banning’s need to restore the belief that he once was—and could once again be—Peter Pan, is paralleled by the audience’s need to restore belief in the originary purity of the Peter Pan myth. This restoration of belief is crucial to the climactic battle between Peter and Hook, after Banning has finally become “Pan,” during which Hook snidely remarks: “you know you’re not really Peter Pan. This is only a dream. You’ll wake up; you’ll be Peter Banning, a cold, selfish man who drinks too much, who’s obsessed with success and who runs and hides from his wife and children.” Peter is unsettled by Hook’s unwelcome attempt to resurrect his cynical, disillusioned adult self, but his confidence is restored when Tinker Bell, his children, and many of the Lost Boys watching the battle start intoning: “I believe in you. I believe in you Peter Pan.” At this moment, it is not just the Banning/Peter Pan character who is restored by belief—Spielberg wills his audience to join in the mantra. 43 In this sequence, we, like Banning/Pan, are impelled to restore our faith in the blissful clarity of the Peter Pan myth, a tale strained by the weight of numerous different versions and intertextual citations, and the irony and cynicism of 1990s media culture. Yet the anxiety lurks beneath this overwrought sequence—and the film as a whole—that Spielberg’s

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text is merely another addition to the tangled intertextual web of Peter Pan stories, and that in his very attempt to reclaim mythic purity, Spielberg is merely furthering the myth’s contamination. Clearly, Hook is pervaded by a troubled, anxiously charged nostalgia, underscored by the “complicated, conflicted agenda” 44 that Collins associates with new sincerity. As Collins suggests, new sincerity films such as Hook express the impulse to reclaim a forgotten authenticity via a fixation with “recoverable purity in an impossible past—impossible because it exists not just before the advent of media corruption, but because, this past is, by definition, a never-never land of pure wish fulfillment, in which the problems of the present are resolved in a past that not only did not, but could not, exist.” 45 While elevating cultural myths and attempting to recapture their lost purity and authenticity, new sincerity films are also paradoxically ingrained with a process of demythologization, which makes the nonexistence of the originary mytheme upon which the film is apparently based uncomfortably apparent. In the case of Spielberg’s Hook, this process is particularly fraught. As earlier suggested, Spielberg’s “myth” is simultaneously that of childhood and that of Peter Pan—myths that are entangled in contemporary culture, but particularly so in Spielberg’s work. In attempting to reclaim both childhood, that lost originary core of adulthood, and the originary purity of the Peter Pan story in parallel, Spielberg anxiously starts to consider that perhaps the pristine vision he has been working so hard to reclaim and authenticate is, and always has been, a mirage. This anxiety is present in ways perhaps more visible in Hook than in much of Spielberg’s oeuvre, as the new sincerity quest for purity constantly faces its hollow futility. While Beard suggests that Spielberg shares with Disney a “craving for a pure and perfect form of living,” he continues, apropos Hook, that “it is accompanied by a corresponding anxiety, rising at times to hysteria, at the fear that the vision of a perfect world is not realizable, or is not strong enough to overcome the forces of darkness which range from laziness and cynicism to predatory greed and violence.” 46 DARK NOSTALGIA FOR THE BOY WHO NEVER GROWS UP In his quest to recapture his lost inner “Peter Pan,” Spielberg’s Banning is in effect playing out a quest to recapture adulthood’s universal “inner child,” that component of adult subjectivity that “never grows up.” However, as the process of new sincerity makes uncomfortably clear, Spielberg grapples with a barely suppressed awareness that from the beginning, this now mythical figure was not a pure, unadulterated vision of eternal childhood, but a character shaped entirely by adult ideologies and desires. As Jaqueline Rose has influentially suggested, the children that Barrie’s text purports to speak for, of and to are a shallow construction of


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adult fantasy: Peter Pan “is the text for children which has made the claim most boldly, . . . [addressing] them as a group which is knowable and exists for the book, just as the book (so the claim runs), exists for them” yet in fact Peter Pan “is that text which most clearly reveals [this claim] as a fraud.” 47 Not only was Peter Pan borne out of Barrie’s impulse to know and capture a childhood state that never really existed, Rose suggests that in fact the early published versions of Barrie’s tale were directed primarily at adult, rather than child, audiences. Thus, on a cultural level, the more one peels back the layers of the Peter Pan myth, the further one gets from a pure and authentic vision of childhood which embodies with “blissful clarity” childhood’s natural state. In Hook, this problematic cultural nostalgia is explicitly entwined with the personal nostalgia for adulthood’s lost—and perhaps never recapturable—childhood. The entire film is built around this dual quest. Paradoxically, however, Banning is only able to reclaim his childhood state by finding his Happy Thought—the memory of his son’s birth—a memory from adulthood. Furthermore this memory represents Banning’s definitive transition out of childhood frivolity and into responsible fatherhood. This strange contradiction is marked by not only a conflicted nostalgia for childhood, but also for the original text. The concept of capturing one’s “happy thought” in order to fly is nothing but a flippant joke in the Barrie text which Spielberg’s film exults as a quasi-Biblical urtext. In Barrie’s novel, Peter tells Wendy, John, and Michael to “think lovely wonderful thoughts . . . and they’ll lift you up in the air” and then watches as the children jump from their beds and crash to the floor: “Not one of them could fly an inch. . . . Of course Peter had been trifling with them, for no one can fly unless the fairy dust has been blown on him.” 48 In Barrie’s version, the “lovely wonderful thoughts” are one of Peter’s ironic pranks, and the true source of flying is fairy dust. The Happy Thought takes on its mythic quality in the Disney version of the tale, in which it is made central to the Darling children’s ability to fly to Neverland, and is featured in the song that accompanies their journey (which also accompanies the Disneyland ride). That the Happy Thought carries even more sincere and symbolic weight in Hook than in the Disney version crystallizes new sincerity’s paradoxical double movement: in his attempt to restore authenticity and the purity of the “original,” Spielberg in fact only moves further from it. Instead, he further elevates a key set-piece from the Disney version, one of the iconic post-Barrie constructions of Peter Pan that Spielberg most seeks to sidestep in order to counteract the media-saturated circuits of the Peter Pan myth. Furthermore, the paradoxically adult nature of Banning’s Happy Thought—a feature of the film that has been much criticized as “completely incoherent” 49—highlights Spielberg’s anxious, but suppressed, realization that an adult can never actually relive or reclaim his or her lost childhood. Thus while Hook seeks to construct an authentic

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vision of childhood and is ostensibly aimed at children, like Barrie’s text, it reveals itself instead to be preoccupied with distinctively adult desires and concerns: fatherhood, responsibility, and work-life balance. As a result, underlying Hook is the unsettling realization that an adult’s quest to return to childhood inevitably functions to return to a land that never was. As Kathryn Bond Stockton suggests of the relationship between childhood and adulthood, “the child is precisely who we are not and, in fact, never were. It is the act of adults looking back.” 50 The realization that one’s past childhood is in fact a mere construction of adult nostalgia—the “act of adults looking back”—troubles not only the narrative quest set up in Hook, but the ideological framework that buttresses Spielberg’s agenda wholesale. The “ghostly, unreachable fancy” 51 represented by this nonexistent child is realized in the film in a scene in which Banning sees a reflection of the “child” Pan in the water: despite having regained his Happy Thought, this child remains merely a quickly dissipated mirage in the water, as Banning remains stuck in his adult body. Furthermore, while his apparent reclaiming of his forgotten childhood state empowers Banning to do battle with Hook, the result of winning the battle is that Banning reclaims his children—and fatherhood— and ventures away from Neverland for the last time, in order to live out the rest of his days in the banality of everyday, adult life. As Beard rightly suggests, “these events reduce to the formula ‘Peter must revert to childhood in order to be a more responsible adult.’” 52 Thus, by recapturing the memory of the “boy who never grows up,” Banning in fact comes to terms with the fact that he must grow up. After recovering his mythical inner child, Banning paradoxically embraces adult responsibility and mortality, leaving Neverland for the final time to return to his quotidian domestic existence, in fulfillment of Hook’s threat: “death is the only adventure you have left.” The contradictory and incongruous vectors the film establishes between childhood and adulthood highlight the disquiet involved in the film’s new sincerity quest for authentic purity, revealing all too clearly that the romanticized pasts the film works to recapture were never really there. The film continually seeks to repress the realization that the innocent Peter Pan and the wondrous realm of childhood are fictions of adulthood, not real pasts that exist to be reclaimed. The wildly oversaturated color palette of the film and overtly artificial, constructed sets—aesthetics that even Spielberg concedes look to him now like “children’s theater” 53 —attempt to conceal the hollow constructedness of this past, yet in fact merely serve to emphasize its artifice. Beard parallels this suffocating aesthetic weight with Peter Banning’s own painfully drawn-out quest to regain his Happy Thought and finally fly once again, suggesting that the film insists that “by getting heavier and heavier it will finally be able to lift off the ground.” 54 Beard summarizes:


Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kirstjanson Peter Pan will never exist until he believes in himself, until Spielberg believes in him; but Spielberg protests too stridently that he does have faith. The opposite perspective—that we are trapped in adulthood and that our lives are necessarily as pointless as Peter Banning’s—is all too clear. And the power of that devastating grownup vision is evident in the absurdity of the story and the lengths the movie must go to get where it wants to be. . . . [W]e see the blissfully happy ending haunted by an intimation of its own falseness, a climactic vision of perfect accord and redemptive transformation whose underlying doubts are expressed in its own histrionic insistence. The magic doesn’t appear, it can’t be conjured—only doggedly, unconvincingly manufactured through the very means it is trying to break free of. 55

The paradoxical processes of adult nostalgia in Hook threaten to unravel the threads that hold together the blissful elevation of childhood at the heart of the Spielbergian philosophy and aesthetic. PETER BANNING VS. PETER PAN Hook’s conflicted nostalgia is further problematized by the fact that while Peter Pan has become deeply engrained in the twentieth-century romanticization of childhood innocence and purity, the “original” character far from embodies such qualities. As Rose suggests, “Peter Pan was a children’s classic before it was a children’s book” (66)—the “myth” of Peter Pan exceeds, and due to the character’s popularity prior to the publication of Barrie’s first Peter Pan text, perhaps even precedes, Barrie’s novel. Rose continues: J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was retold before he had written it, and then rewritten after he told it. By 1911, Peter Pan had already become such a universally acclaimed cultural phenomenon that Barrie himself could only intervene back into its history from outside. . . . Peter Pan went on without him. I would go further to suggest that Peter Pan could only go on without him, because it had come to signify an innocence, or simplicity, which every line of Barrie’s 1911 text belies. 56

Rose thus suggests that Peter Pan’s rapid transition into a mytheme of childhood innocence and simplicity in fact imbues the figure with characteristics at odds with Barrie’s character. Thus, in his new sincerity effort to recover Peter Pan’s lost purity, Spielberg further mires Hook in a muddle of incongruities by reclaiming not the “lost” qualities of the original character, but by further enhancing those that have emerged as a result of the rampant processes of textual exchange that “went on without” Barrie. Again, in attempting to capture the blissful clarity of the myth, Spielberg engages with the very media-saturation he seeks to transcend. When Spielberg’s Banning recovers his inner Pan, he transitions from a “cold selfish” adult, into a sweet, playful, joyous character, constantly

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bathed in soft lighting and speaking in gentle, placid tones: this universal inner child is the embodiment of sweetness and light. Yet, this characterization is in stark contrast to the Peter Pan of Barrie’s text, who is “tragic,” “conceited,” and “solemn.” 57 Monique Chassagnol suggests Barrie’s Peter as “impertinent, violent, self-centered, yet on occasions daring and chivalrous, [Barrie’s] Peter Pan intends to be respected and to have his absolute power unchallenged. Yet, throughout the text, his image constantly changes: a god and a baby, a son, a father, a tyrant, a warrior, a little bird.” 58 Locke characterizes him in similar terms: “Peter is youth and joy, but he is also forgetful, cruel, heartless.” 59 The cruel and tyrannical Peter Pan of Barrie’s novel is exchanged for an innocent and sincere version in Spielberg’s film as part of his new sincerity imperative to reclaim an originary mythic purity which never really existed. Such sweetness in Peter Pan is an affront to Barrie’s characterization, likely to provoke the same response from Barrie as the sculpture in Kensington Gardens: he “doesn’t show the Devil in Peter.” 60 That Spielberg depicts Peter Banning waking next to this very statue on his return from Neverland suggests a conflicted acknowledgment that Hook simultaneously exults and deviates extensively from Barrie’s text. Similarly, the depiction of the Peter Pan play that opens the film frames the film’s interactions with Barrie’s work, while making clear its dramatic revisions. By opening with this performance Spielberg forges a self-conscious link to his film’s “real” origins before his own narrative even commences, “setting the stage” for his own version of Peter Pan, so to speak. Yet, he also highlights the extent to which he is rewriting Peter Pan’s origins to better fit his own preoccupations—the play is a significantly abridged version of Barrie’s own. In this play, Spielberg presents a softer, sweeter Peter Pan which better aligns with his own vision, a version that is self-consciously sanitized. For instance, in Barrie’s play Peter is shaken by Wendy’s sympathetic response to his “shortish name” and “funny address,” an expression of pity that provokes Peter’s indignation. 61 This exchange is absent from Spielberg’s restaging of the scene. In addition, Spielberg edits out Peter’s confession that he does not have a mother, which consequently removes Peter’s affinity with “tragedy.” 62 Instead, Spielberg’s version of the scene plays up the cuteness of the child performers and innocent sweetness of the characters, focusing on the moment Wendy “kisses” Peter (actually giving him a thimble), before presenting a charming song performed by Peter and his Lost Boys about never wanting to grow up. Yet, interestingly, Spielberg does imbue the adult Peter Banning with the devilish qualities that he strips from the play and later from Banning’s inner “Peter Pan.” Banning, the tragic workaholic and failed father, is characterized by self-interest, sardonicism, and narcissism, not unlike Barrie’s Peter. Banning puts work before all else, just as Barrie’s Peter puts play above all else, “dreadfully ignorant” of the hurt feelings


Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kirstjanson

he would leave in his wake. 63 Yet, Banning is more than just “a representation of the by now familiar absent father” 64 as Shor suggests; he is a father who wishes to be free from his children. As Sheehan describes, Banning’s poor parenting escalates to what he calls “acts of commission: Peter pulls, pushes, yells at, and actively rejects his children. . . . Jack and Maggie are gone because Peter has wished them gone. Hook is merely the agent of Peter’s most secret, repressed desires, and as such is his mirror image.” 65 Just as Peter Pan would rule over the Lost Boys in Neverland, where “Instant obedience was the only safe thing,” 66 Banning demands obedience from his family in his pursuit of his own self-interests. In this way, Spielberg’s Banning is exactly the sort of selfish adult that Barrie’s Peter would grow into. Of course, the parallels between Banning and Barrie’s Peter further unsettle Spielberg’s quest for mythic purity, making visible the nonexistence of the mythic past he so desperately seeks to reclaim through the resurrection of the narcissistic Banning’s sweet inner “Peter Pan.” The play that opens the film, which introduces the Peter Pan figure as an emblem of childish purity and light, thus serves not only to emphasize Spielberg’s reverence to the myth’s foundations, but to his own drastic rebuilding of them. In short, Spielberg must open with the scene from Barrie’s play in order to (falsely) establish Peter Pan as the iconic crystallization of childish purity: this edited scene from Barrie’s play manufactures the pure originary state that Banning (and Spielberg) seek to recapture, but which never actually existed in Barrie’s conception. Spielberg attempts to suppress the affinity between adult Peter Banning and Barrie’s Peter Pan by instead forging a link, as Sheehan does in the quoted passage above, between Banning and Captain Hook. Just as Granny Wendy confirms the validity of the urtext and, subsequently, Banning’s true identity as Peter Pan, she similarly affirms Banning’s link to Hook with the line “So, Peter, you’ve become a pirate,” a response to Banning’s admission that he is now a cutthroat mergers and acquisitions lawyer. Banning’s pirate fate is clearly meant to be both comic and tragic, with Wendy’s statement a wink to a media-literate audience familiar with Peter Pan’s battles with Captain Hook. The suggestion that Banning has become a pirate thus indicates to the audience that this Peter Pan has become the very kind of adult he once most despised. This heavy-handed linkage between Banning and the villain of the film’s title indicates the lengths to which Spielberg must go to fabricate an oppositional dichotomy between the cynical adult Banning and the pure child Peter Pan, a fabrication that underpins the alignment of the Peter Pan myth with Spielbergian philosophy.

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SURROGATE FATHERS AND THE METANARRATIVE OF TEXTUAL OWNERSHIP Ultimately, all of the ambivalences and contradictions inherent in Spielberg’s simultaneous reverence for and denial of Barrie’s text steep Hook in anxieties about authorship and textual ownership. Due to his new sincerity fixation with “recovering” pure origins, Spielberg is forced to continually authenticate his version of the Peter Pan myth via references to the urtext. Yet these ostensibly pure origins are only conjured through the backward glancing of nostalgia. As is illustrated by Spielberg’s distortions to the “original” Peter Pan character, the director in fact continually shifts the implications of Barrie’s text to fit his own ends; Barrie’s text is thus used to buttress a Spielbergian vision of Peter Pan which in fact differs drastically from Barrie’s own work. In essence, Spielberg desperately attempts to authenticate a myth that never was. The anxieties associated with this contradictory tug-of-war over textual ownership are expressed via the film’s obsession with fatherhood, which comes to function as a metanarrative for authorship. As Shor asserts, “The question of surrogate fatherhood . . . is decidedly of central importance to the premise and development of Spielberg’s version of Peter Pan.” 67 Unlike Barrie’s text and the Disney version, which are preoccupied with the importance of mothers, Hook is consumed with questions about what makes a good father, and what gives one the right to claim ownership over children. After kidnapping Peter’s children, Hook decides to become a surrogate father to them, as “ultimate revenge” against Peter for cutting off his hand. Banning’s son Jack quickly succumbs to Hook’s questionable charms, wholeheartedly accepting this surrogate father— even adorning a wig and pirate attire—after Hook stages a baseball game for Jack and spectates enthusiastically, being the active father that his own never was. Meanwhile, Banning’s own quest to become a better father, and, paradoxically, to simultaneously reclaim his inner “Peter Pan,” occurs not with his own children, but with the Lost Boys: Banning spends most of the film’s running time with these Lost Boys, rather than his own children. At the end of the film, Rufio—who was the leader of the Lost Boys prior to Banning’s arrival—is killed by Hook, and his dying words, spoken to Banning, are: “I wish I had a father like you.” This moment serves to indicate that Banning has fulfilled his quest to become an adequate father—after witnessing this exchange, Jack, Banning’s real son, atones, “Oh Dad, I’m sorry.” But Peter has no time for his son Jack at this triumphant moment, who he does not even acknowledge in this scene: instead, with eyes focused on Hook, he proceeds to seek vengeance for the loss of his surrogate son, Rufio. Thus, Peter learns to be a warm and loving father not by figuring out how to relate to his own children, but by forging a deep connection with the Lost Boys—another aspect for which the film has been heavily criticized. In attempting to


Jessica Balanzategui and Gabrielle Kirstjanson

emphasize the importance of fatherhood, the film in fact reveals the ease with which fatherhood may shift from one child to another (and the converse ease with which children may shift from one father to another). The redemption of Banning in this climactic scene represents both a strident affirmation of parental bonds, while simultaneously highlighting their fragility. In a similar vein, Spielberg’s Hook continually reinforces the quasisacred significance of Barrie’s text, while at the same time distorting Barrie’s vision to reflect his own preoccupations. In his self-reflexive attempt to take the Peter Pan story “back” to its origins, Spielberg emphasizes the importance of its source author, while at the same time claiming ownership over the text by shifting the nature of the very origins he seeks to (re)authenticate. The tensions that seethe throughout Hook concerning surrogate fathers—of a “fake” father stealing children to mold them in his own image, and of an inadequate father learning to parent by escaping his own children and looking after others—seem to metaphorize Spielberg’s own anxieties about staking a claim in another man’s text and molding it to fit his own vision, while continuing to sacralize the work of the original author. Perhaps the anxieties related to this tension are so great in Hook due to Spielberg’s self-diagnosed “Peter Pan syndrome,” as identified by McBride, 68 an affliction by which his body of work as a whole has been shaped. As Spielberg stated in an interview, having Peter Pan read to him as a child remains “one of the happiest memories I have from my childhood. When I was eleven years old I actually directed the story during a school production.” 69 It seems Spielberg’s own Happy Thought may indeed be Peter Pan, which results in a new sincerity film that is particularly conflicted. CONCLUSION Ultimately, Hook is a thoroughly intriguing and important film for those interested in Spielberg’s work, not so much for where it succeeds, but for where it fails: as Friedman suggests, it is “more fun to talk about . . . than to watch.” 70 In its new sincerity attempt to reclaim a lost purity that never was, Hook provides telling insight into the conflicted preoccupations usually submerged beneath the characteristic Spielbergian shimmer and gloss, while also expressing in particularly tortured form anxieties associated with the ever-accelerating media saturation and generic hyperconsciousness of the early 1990s. Hook demonstrates Spielberg’s fervent attempt to stop the clock: not unlike the eponymous villain of his overwrought Peter Pan revision, who is obsessed with stopping time, to the point that he has a “clock museum”—a room full of smashed clocks, no longer ticking. Perhaps Hook represents Spielberg’s own attempt to grapple with the fact that he, like Peter Banning, must grow up, and

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accept the irony, cynicism, and self-reflexivity that pervaded visual media culture in the early 1990s. It is interesting to note that his next film Jurassic Park (1993)—while arguably also a new sincerity film in many respects—is pervaded with an ironic and cynical sensibility, as embodied by the now iconic character Ian Malcolm, and submits not to an ideal of narrative purity, but to chaos theory. As for Hook, this conflicted attempt to present a pure, sincere vision of childhood innocence and vitality may yet become the touching vehicle for cultural nostalgia that Spielberg originally intended. Since the tragic and untimely suicide of Hook’s Peter, Robin Williams, the film has attracted renewed interest in the form of Internet memes and gifs. A diverse bricolage of digital tributes were uploaded and shared across various social media following the actor’s death, and images from Hook featured particularly heavily among this collectively collated online memorial for Williams—a figure revered for his lightness and comic grace. For instance, an image of Williams’s Peter smiling luminously while looking to the sky has been widely circulated since Williams’s death, accompanied by a caption taken from the film: “to live . . . to live would be an awfully big adventure.” Perhaps Hook may yet become a treasured, bitter-sweet celebration of youth, luminescence, and sincere optimism, via the mediated channels of exchange and re-appropriation that Spielberg once sought so strongly to deny. NOTES 1. Patricia Pace, “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook,” The Lion and the Unicorn 20.1 (1996): 118. 2. Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Sydney, 2000) DVD. 3. For instance, see “The Worst of the 1990s,”, features/1990s/worstof1990s.htm. 4. For instance, on the review aggregate website, Hook receives the worst percentage out of 100 (30) out of all of Spielberg’s films. The only other film to come close to Hook’s low rating is 1941 (1979), which received 32 percent. 5. Lester Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 3. 6. William Beard, “A.I., or, the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” Cineaction 66 (2015): 5. 7. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010), 411. 8. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg, 23–24. 9. Terrence Rafferty, “Fear of Flying,” The New Yorker (December 31, 1991): 80. 10. Peter Biskind, “Blockbuster: The Last Crusade,” Seeing through Movies, edited by Mark Crispin Miller (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990), 124–25. 11. Frederick Wasser, Steven Spielberg’s America (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010), 146. 12. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 5. 13. Henry Sheehan, “The PANning of Steven Spielberg,” Film Comment 28.3 (MayJune 1992): 54. 14. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg, 25.


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15. Jacqueline Rose. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1984), 114. 16. Francis Shor, “Contrasting Images of Reconstructing Manhood: Bly’s Wild Man Versus Spielberg’s Inner Child,” Journal of Men’s Studies 2.2 (November 1993): 109. 17. Steven Spielberg, “The Autobiography of Peter Pan,” Time Magazine 126.2 (June 15, 1985), 67. 18. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 409. 19. A mytheme is the essential kernel of myth, what Claude Levi-Strauss calls a “gross constituent unit” (211); he continues that “it is only as bundles of relations” that these mythemes can be “put to use and combined so as to produce a meaning” (211). Levi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth,” in Structural Anthropology, translated by Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 206–31. 20. Sheehan, “Spielberg 2,” Film Comment 28.4 (July 1992), 69. 21. Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase, “Over the Moon for Peter,” in Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth, edited by Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), vii. 22. Roland Barthes, “Myth Today,” Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed. John Storey, ed. (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2006), 301. 23. Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema: The Pure and the Impure,” The New Yorker, June 14, 1983, 119. 24. See Andrew Birkin’s J. M. Barrie and The Lost Boys (Constable, 1979). 25. Jill P. May, “James Barrie’s Pirates: Peter Pan’s Place in Pirate History and Lore,” in Peter Pan In and Out of Time: A Children’s Classic at 100, edited by Donna R. White and C. Anita Tarr (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006), 70. 26. Ibid., 72–74. 27. Ibid., 75–77. 28. Richard Locke, Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 4. 29. May, “James Barrie’s Pirates,” 77. 30. Bruce K. Hanson, Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904–2010. 2nd ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011), 5. 31. Ibid., 5–6. 32. Ibid., 6. 33. Jim Collins, “When the Legend Becomes Hyperconscious, Print the . . .” Architectures of Excess: Cultural Life in the Information Age (New York: Routledge, 1995), 126–27. 34. Ibid., 127–28. 35. Warren Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg: The Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster (New York: Continuum International, 2006), 2. 36. Wasser, Spielberg’s America, 14. 37. Beard, “A.I. or the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” 2. 38. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg, 25. 39. Collins,“When the Legend,” 149. 40. Ibid., 152. 41. Ibid., 152. 42. Ibid., 155. 43. Spielberg’s insistence that the audience restore faith in Peter Pan through the children’s voiced expression of their belief in him is reminiscent of Barrie’s appeal for his stage play audience to clap in order to save the dying Tinker Bell—a physical expression of the audience’s belief in fairies that is jokingly referenced in Hook when Banning first meets Tinker Bell. In an effective reversal of Barrie’s audience participation ploy, the final voice in Spielberg’s appeal is Tinker Bell’s. 44. Ibid., 150. 45. Ibid., 149. 46. Beard, “A.I. or the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” 2. 47. Rose, The Case of Peter Pan, 1.

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48. J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1911) (London: Vintage Books, 2012), 46. 49. Beard, “A.I. or the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” 5. 50. Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 5 51. Ibid., 5. 52. Beard, “A.I. or the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” 5. 53. Cited in Friedman, Citizen Spielberg, 24. 54. Beard, “A.I. or the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” 5. 55. Ibid., 5. 56. Rose, The Case of Peter Pan, 66–67. 57. Barrie, Peter Pan, 32, 33, 218. 58. Monique Chassagnol, “Masks and Masculinity in James Barrie’s Peter Pan,” in Ways of Being Male: Representing Masculinities in Children’s Literature and Film, John Stephens, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002), 202. 59. Locke, Critical Children, 106. 60. David P. D. Munns, “‘Gay, Innocent, and Heartless’: Peter Pan and the Queering of Popular Culture,” in Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination, edited by Allison B. Kavey and Lester D. Friedman (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), 229. 61. Barrie, Peter Pan, 31–32. 62. Ibid., 32. 63. Ibid., 33. 64. Shor, “Contrasting Images,” 7. 65. Sheehan, “Spielberg 2,” 70. 66. Barrie, Peter Pan, 202. 67. Shor, “Contrasting Images,” 7. 68. McrBride, Steven Spielberg, 42. 69. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 42. 70. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg, 25.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan (1911). London: Vintage Books, 2012. Barthes, Roland. “Myth Today,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., edited by John Storey, 298–301. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2006. Beard, William. “A.I., or, the Agony of Steven Spielberg,” Cineaction 66 (2015): 5. Biskind, Peter. “Blockbuster: The Last Crusade,” in Seeing through Movies, edited by Mark Crispin Miller, 124–25. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990. Bond Stockton, Kathryn. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009. Britton, Andrew. “Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment,” in Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton, edited by Barry Keith Grant, 97–154. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009. Buckland, Warren. Directed by Steven Spielberg: The Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum International, 2006. Chassagnol, Monique. “Masks and Masculinity in James Barrie’s Peter Pan,” in Ways of Being Male: Representing Masculinities in Children’s Literature and Film, edited by John Stephens, 200–25. New York: Routledge, 2002. Collins, Jim. Architectures of Excess: Cultural Life in the Information Age. New York: Routledge, 1995. Friedman, Lester. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Gray, Paige. “Finding Our Timeless Neverland: Reconstructing Age Identity through Imagination,” in Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth, edited by Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase, 175–85. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012


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Hanson, Bruce K. Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904–2010. 2nd ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011. Hook. DVD. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Sydney: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment: 2000. Kael, Pauline.”The Current Cinema: The Pure and the Impure,” The New Yorker, June 14, 1983, 119. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Levi-Strauss, Claude. “The Structural Study of Myth,” in Structural Anthropology, translated by Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, 206–31. New York: Basic Books, 1963. Locke, Richard. Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. May, Jill P. “James Barrie’s Pirates: Peter Pan’s Place in Pirate History and Lore,” in Peter Pan In and Out of Time: A Children’s Classic at 100, edited by Donna R. White and C. Anita Tarr, 69–78. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 2nd ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. Munns, David, P. D. “‘Gay, Innocent, and Heartless’: Peter Pan and the Queering of Popular Culture,” in Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination, edited by Allison B. Kavey and Lester D. Friedman, 219–42. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Muñoz Corcuera, Alfonso, and Elisa T. DiBiase. “Over the Moon for Peter,” in Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth, edited by Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera and Elisa T. DiBiase, vii–xxi. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. Pace, Patricia. “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook,” The Lion and the Unicorn 20.1 (1996). Rafferty, Terrence. “Fear of Flying,” The New Yorker (December 31, 1991). Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984. Sheehan, Harry. “The PANning of Steven Spielberg,” Film Comment 28.3 (May-June 1992). ———. “Spielberg 2,” Film Comment 28.4 (July 1992). Shor, Francis. “Contrasting Images of Reconstructing Manhood: Bly’s Wild Man Versus Spielberg’s Inner Child,” Journal of Men’s Studies 2 (November 1993): 109–28. Spielberg, Steven. “The Autobiography of Peter Pan,” Time Magazine 126.2 (15 June 1985): 62–67. Wasser, Frederick. Steven Spielberg’s America. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010.

NINE Bipolar Boys Spielberg’s Manic-Depressive Children Andrew M. Gordon

Mania and depression seem to be Spielberg’s characteristic cinematic emotional territory: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) alternate between the two moods, ending on the side of pure euphoria (or, if you like, UFOria); the farce 1941 (1979) is almost unmitigated mania. Spielberg heroes sometimes undergo mood swings, vacillating between elation and depression, from glee to nearsuicidal despair and back again; UFO-obsessed Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) in Close Encounters or Type A workaholic Peter Banning (Robin Williams) in Hook (1991) are good examples of this pattern. Spielberg typically works not in comedy or tragedy but in the intermediate realm, that of melodrama. Comedy tries to stay light and tragedy goes into profound darkness and can stay there. But melodrama has a distinct emotional temperature range and can alternate moods, from the manic to the depressive. What is surprising is how often the child heroes of his films also show behavior that might be termed “manic depressive.” I want to compare three such children, all of them lost boys: Jim (Christian Bale) in Empire of the Sun (1987), David (Haley Joel Osment) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), and the high school student Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Catch Me If You Can (2002). Jim, traumatized by being separated from his parents and subjected to the violence of WWII on the streets of Shanghai and in a Japanese internment camp, swings between emotional extremes, from manic glee to deep depression—sometimes even within the same 207


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scene, such as during the Allied bombing of the camp. David, a robot boy adopted by a human family, is left in the woods by his mother and struggles to survive against human cruelty. Like Jim, he is abandoned and witnesses extreme violence, and he too vacillates between manic rage and suicidal despair—sometimes even within the same scene, such as during his visit to the laboratory of his creator, Dr. Hobby (William Hurt). Finally, Frank, another abandoned child, is sixteen when he flees his family once it is broken by divorce. Alone in the big city, he struggles to survive by using the only talent he has: conning people. Frank experiences manic elation from his criminal spree, indulging in increasingly elaborate schemes of fraud and imposture. And Frank too suffers moments of clinical despair, as when he escapes from the FBI and runs to his mother’s home, only to find no shelter there on Christmas. Thus the pattern is much the same across the three films: the child hero, abandoned by or separated from the parents, traumatized, forced to survive in hostile or violent circumstances, not surprisingly shows emotional instability and vacillates between extremes of manic elation and suicidal depression. I believe that Spielberg is repeatedly attracted to such child heroes because they act out the emotional disruption he experienced when he was an adolescent during the breakup of his family’s home due to his parents’ divorce. In an interview about Empire of the Sun, he said, “My parents got a divorce when I was fourteen, fifteen.” 1 Actually, although Arnold and Leah Spielberg had quarreled for years, his mother filed for divorce in April 1966, when Spielberg was nineteen. 2 “The whole thing about separation is something that runs very deep in anyone exposed to divorce, especially when you’re cognizant of what it means to not have a routine—no matter how stressful or antagonistic that routine may have been. The breaking up of the mother and father is extremely traumatic from four up. All of us are still suffering the repercussions of a divorce that had to happen. But the whole idea of being taken away from your parents and forced to adapt to a new routine—I’m not good with change, personally speaking.” 3 Spielberg is no “manic-depressive,” but he understands and convincingly portrays the sometimes extreme mood swings of traumatized children. MANIC DEPRESSION DEFINED Mania has always been measured against its opposite, depression, beginning with the ancient Greeks, but the term “manic-depressive insanity” was coined only in the mid-nineteenth century by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin. In the early twentieth century, Freud saw mania as the ego’s defense against the destructive impulses of the superego. Today manic depression is classified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manu-

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al of Mental Disorders) as a mood disorder and more commonly called bipolar disorder. More recently, bipolar disorder has been seen as possibly hereditary and as a problem of brain chemistry, to be treated with a variety of pharmaceuticals. 4 According to the anthropologist Emily Martin, “The category bipolar is also being increasingly extended to young people . . . the age of onset of bipolar disorder is sliding downward . . . part of the increasing salience of bipolar disorder in the self-understanding and perhaps even self-fashioning of young people.” 5 Martin emphasizes that bipolar disorder is real, but our understanding of it, like our understanding of emotions, is always inflected by our culture and our era. Today, bipolar disorder is better understood, more easily treatable, and not as stigmatized as it once was. EMPIRE OF THE SUN: A BOY’S DREAM OF WAR 6 Empire of the Sun is based on British author J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same title about his experiences as a child during WWII. In the film, Jim, an imaginative and impressionable boy, lives through the war in China, from December 1941 until August 1945, from about age nine to thirteen, first in a luxurious home in the British section of the Shanghai International Settlement, and then in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Part 1 ends with Jim’s internment in the camp; part 2 covers events in 1945 in the camp and the end of the war. In the process, Jim does not so much grow up as grow prematurely old. He loses his illusions, his heroes, and his ideals. He also loses his parents, and, although he is reunited with them in the end, it does not erase the horrors he has undergone or witnessed. It is, as Spielberg claims, a film about the death of childhood. He says, “I wanted to draw a parallel story between the death of this boy’s innocence and the death of innocence of the entire world. When that white light goes off in Nagasaki and the boy witnesses that light—whether he really sees it or his mind sees it doesn’t matter. Two innocents have come to an end and a saddened world has begun.” 7 The movie opens with an image of coffins floating on the tide and ends with Jim’s little wooden suitcase bobbing on those same waters, like the coffin of a child. At various points in the film, Jim demonstrates, singly or in combination, all the characteristic features of mania: (1) hyperactivity (“the manic moves a great deal, romps, plays”); (2) flight of ideas (“the variety of content and the apparent speed of thought”); (3) unwarranted, dangerous, and excessive cheerfulness (“the dream life of the narcissistic pleasure ego . . . free from anxiety and any affect other than good spirits”); (4) mystic language and religious transports (the language of mania is like “that used by mystics in describing their transports and sense of fusion with God”); (5) talking jags; and (6) appearing to be wide awake or exces-


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sively awake but acting like a sleepwalker or someone lost in a blissful dream (“Elation repeats . . . the wish-fulfilling dreaming sleep of a somewhat older child; it is a substitute sleep, or a sleep equivalent, guarded by denial”). 8 A manic might be said to be dreaming while awake. In a passage in the novel, “Jim knew that he was awake and asleep at the same time, dreaming of war and yet dreamed of by the war.” 9 None of the characteristics of mania are necessarily dangerous—they are often normal attributes of childhood, and almost everyone, child or adult, exhibits some of them from time to time—but one must judge by their patterned recurrence, their severity, and their context whether they might be symptoms of classical, full-blown mania. Jim’s behavior at points in the film might strike many viewers as more than youthful high spirits, as evidence of mental disturbance. I do not mean to reduce Jim to a diagnosis: he is a complex fictional creation with a unique combination of character traits, and he functions under terrible circumstances and abnormal stresses. But understanding the characteristics of this psychological disorder may help us to interpret some of his behavior and to interpret the style and imagery of the film. His mania, for example, enables me to understand the stylistic appropriateness of the dreamlike quality of the film and of the frequent use of moving camera and soaring music. I believe that the achievement of the film lies in its use of elements of the fantastic and the oneiric to suggest Jim’s psychological states. Ballard, the author of apocalyptic and entropic science-fiction novels and stories, did not write a standard realistic war novel, for all its basis in autobiography. And Spielberg, a frequent director of science fiction and horror, brought to his first serious war movie some of the qualities of fantasy film. The imagery and sound are so stylized that it becomes as difficult for the viewer as for Jim to distinguish the “real” from the fantastic, for the filmic reality of Empire constantly approaches the texture of a dream. Thus I consider Empire as a fantasy, a child’s dream of war. Psychologically, it seems to me that Jim introjects the war, so that the film resembles his waking dream. Jim is a disturbed youngster who defends against his mourning and depression over his lost parents by manic behavior; a manic behaves like someone lost in a dream of bliss while still awake, as evidenced in some dreamlike and hallucinatory scenes in the film. There is a dual impulse at work in the film. On the one hand, Spielberg seems to want his audience to be able to participate in Jim’s dreams, to experience Jim’s rapturous infatuation with airplanes and pilots through surreal, dreamlike imagery and soaring music. On the other hand, he wants us to be aware of the reality of the death and destruction the airplanes bring and to recognize that Jim is an imaginative, confused, and troubled boy who worships airplanes and cannot distinguish between his dreams and reality. The attack of the P-51s on the camp (to be discussed later) made me realize that Jim’s boyish fascination with flying

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had grown into a dangerous obsession that detached him from reality and was symptomatic of his mental disturbance. Whereas the characters in Close Encounters who believe in UFOs and experience alien visions are treated as crazy by the “normal” characters, the evidence in the film of the existence of UFOs ensures the audience that the true believers are in fact sane. But in Empire we are not supposed to consider Jim sane at all times. Part 1 of the film ends with the surreal image of the manic Jim touching a Zero and then saluting three Japanese pilots as the choral music soars and the sparks fly upward. This scene seals his defensive maneuver of identification with the aggressor, with airplanes and brave pilots, whether Japanese or American, as long as they are on the winning side. An earlier scene in which he told his mother that he dreamed about God establishes a connection between airplanes, aviators, and his father. That is, airplanes are his substitute or idealized parents. More than that, they are meat and drink to him. As he exclaims in a later scene about the American bombers, “P-51! You’re beautiful! I touched them! I touched them! I felt their heat! I could taste them in my mouth! Oil and cordite!” This is his most purely manic statement in the movie. The climactic scene where Jim touches the airplane is the first time in the film he has been near a working fighter plane (in an earlier scene he sat in the cockpit of a crashed Japanese fighter and pretended it could fly). It is the fulfillment of a dream, so he moves like someone possessed or sleepwalking, that is, like a person undergoing a manic episode. And he caresses the airplane as if he has found his long-lost parents. In the novel, the scene is described this way: “Jim hoped that his parents were safe and dead. [Death now appears to him as the only safe escape from the war.] Brushing the dust from his blazer, he ran toward the shelter of the aircraft, eager to enfold himself in their wings.” 10 “Their” is deliberately ambiguous: parents or airplanes? In the absence of his family, Jim has turned to his fantasies of war to defend and nourish him. These fantasies lead him into manic behavior. Pauline Kael claims that in this scene Spielberg has taken leave of his senses: “This is more than a breach of taste: it’s a breach of sanity, and it rattles your confidence in the movie.” 11 But the scene is faithful to the novel: it ends part 1 of both novel and film. And it is clear from the scene that it is Jim who has lost it, not the director. This is a carefully structured film, for the ending of part 1, in which Jim caresses a plane, is echoed in the ending of part 2 (and of the film), in which Jim caresses his mother. One could explain his caressing the Japanese airplane by the notion that Jim is suppressing his mourning for his parents by becoming manic. According to Freud, “in cases of mania the ego and the ego ideal have fused together, so that the person, in a mood of triumph and self-satisfaction, disturbed by no self-criticism, can enjoy the abolition of his inhibitions, his feelings of consideration for others, and his self-reproaches.” 12


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Mania can be a defense against the depression and severe self-reproaches typical of mourning. One critic calls Jim a “chirpy hysteric,” 13 and Spielberg says, “He [Jim] aspires to be in control in such a maniacal way.” 14 There are signs of Jim’s incipient mania in part 1: his restlessness, his mysticism about airplanes, his talking jag when he meets Frank, and his excessive cheerfulness on the truck to the camp; he yells excitedly despite the blood pouring down his face. But Jim is at his most manic in the camp. Once he loses his parents, his defenses harden. In the opening scene of part 2 (the liveliest, sunniest, ostensibly most cheerful one in the movie), Jim races through the camp, rapidly picking up and trading goods, never pausing. Then he becomes excited at the hospital when he thinks he has revived a dead woman by pumping her chest. Jim is so elated by his apparently godlike power that Dr. Rawlins (Nigel Havers) must calm him down from his dangerously overexcited state. (Rawlins later brings Jim down to earth from a manic high in the P-51 scene). At the end of the hospital scene, as Jim rushes away on another of his endless errands, Dr. Rawlins calls after him, “Rest, Jim. You’ll wear yourself out taking care of everyone.” And Rawlins’s nurse adds, “Keeps himself busy, doesn’t he?” Their comments suggest that Jim’s activity is something more than normal boyish enthusiasm: it may be a compulsive restlessness and a defensive maneuver. Jim’s most “manic” behavior occurs during the attack of the P-51s on the airfield next to the camp. It takes place at a low point in part 2, when Jim is feeling most acutely orphaned and depressed: rejected by his Fagin-like mentor Basie (John Malkovich), he has left the American barracks, but also rejected by the Victors, the married couple whose quarters he shares, he sleeps outdoors like a homeless person. Jim’s great fear is that nobody wants him: in part 1, he lost his parents, could find no place he belonged, and couldn’t even surrender successfully to the Japanese or be sold to the Chinese. As Basie’s friend Frank told him, “Nobody wants you. You’re worth nothing.” Now the outcast Jim wakes at dawn and sees the kamikaze pilots’ preflight ceremony. Out of a desperate desire to belong to their gallant (if homicidal and suicidal) fraternity, he salutes them by singing the Welsh hymn “Suo Gan,” which he sang in the church choir before the war. But his worship of suicide pilots seems to express a love of death or a death wish. And death comes sooner than he expected; as his song ends, an Allied air raid on the camp commences. During the P-51 attack, Jim exhibits all the characteristics of mania: hyperactivity; flight of ideas; unwarranted, dangerous, and excessive cheerfulness; mystic language and religious transport; a talking jag; and acting like a sleepwalker or someone lost in a blissful dream. And his breakdown at the end of the scene reveals the underlying mourning and depression his mania has been masking. Excited by the power of the American planes and the massive destruction and eruption of flames from the bombardment, Jim rushes to the

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roof of an abandoned building to get a better view. During an air raid, you should take shelter, if possible underground. But Jim, completely ignoring the danger of his exposed position, moves restlessly back and forth on the roof, trying to absorb it all, thrilled and overcome by what he is witnessing. Then he seems to launch completely into a dream. All diegetic, “real” sound (such as the airplane engines and the noise of explosions) ceases and the music soars like a choir of angels as a P-51 flies near him in slow motion. The pilot grins and waves at the boy from his open cockpit, an impossible, hallucinatory image. As he passes, the camera swoops in for a reaction shot of Jim, in a movement similar to one in the wrecked fighter plane scene in part 1. Jim shrieks in ecstasy: “P-51! Cadillac of the sky!” and “Horsepower!” He becomes a crazed one-boy cheering squad for this awesome display of death and destruction. The bombing seems to provide the violent release of feeling Jim craved, the answer to his dreams. Even more, it is presented in such a stylized manner that the attack seems in part to be his dream.

Figure 9.1. Jim (Christian Bale) at the height of his mania, during the Allied bombing of the Japanese internment camp in Empire of the Sun.

Once again, it takes Dr. Rawlins to bring Jim back to earth from his dangerous manic height. Overexcited, Jim is blabbering: “P-51! You’re beautiful! I touched them! I touched them! I felt their heat! I could taste them in my mouth! Oil and cordite!” The rest of the dialogue in the scene is equally revealing, demonstrating the crux of Jim’s problem, the mourning, depression, and deep anxiety about death Jim is defending against through mania: JIM: Dr. Rawlins, Do you remember how we helped to build the runway? If we’d died like the others, our bones would be in the runway. In a way, it’s our runway.


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DR: No, it’s their runway, Jim. Try not to think so much. (Grabs him) Try not to think so much! JIM: (breaks down) I can’t remember what my parents look like. I used to play bridge with my mother in her bedroom. She used to comb her hair. She had dark hair. The boy sobs as Dr. Rawlins embraces him and carries him downstairs like a little child. As he is cradled by Rawlins, Jim repeats to himself the conjugation of a Latin verb (Rawlins is also his Latin tutor): “Amatus sum. Amatus es. Amatus est.” This hypnotic spell or mantra, intended to comfort him, refers, of course, to what Jim is missing because of his absent parents: love. Jim grows confused as he loses the internal images of the parents to guide him. In this epic of loss, Jim loses not only their image but also his image of himself—his identity. Shortly after the atomic bomb explodes in Nagasaki (Jim sees a white light in the sky), the death of Jim’s childhood and of his innocence is sealed by the shooting of his Japanese friend by one of Basie’s gang. This teenage, would-be kamikaze pilot is Jim’s symbolic double. They grow up on opposite sides of the barbed wire but share a love of toy gliders; both want to fly but never get to; both seem in love with the false glory of death. As Jim desperately tries to revive his dead friend (another manic scene), he attempts to deny all his destructive wishes. Now he will transform himself from a worshipper of the destructive war god into God the healer. In Dr. Rawlins’s hospital, Jim believed he could raise the dead. Now he tries to undo his entire wartime experience. “I can bring everyone back. Everyone,” he chants over and over, expressing a magical belief in the omnipotence of wishes. Each time, as he bends to pump the boy’s chest, a lens flare crosses the image, caused by the light of the sun, which is associated in the film with mystic, divine power (the empire of the sun). Abruptly and startlingly, the Japanese boy he is trying to revive changes in Jim’s imagination into Jim’s innocent, schoolboy self. But both the Japanese boy and little “Jamie” are hopelessly dead. Having lost his youthful innocence and ideals, he has nothing with which to replace them. According to the psychiatrist Bertram D. Lewin, the elated mood is a “screen affect” which hides real affect. Elation is a defense against anxiety and “a defense against reality and against the effective admission of known dangers, losses, rejections, and defeats.” 15 Jim cannot complete his mourning because he does not know if his parents are dead, and, if they are alive, whether he will survive to see them again. The airplanes are therefore a symbol for Jim, a substitute gratification: both a representation of Jim’s parents and an expression of his desire for power and his wish to overcome anxiety. They give him substitute nourishment (“I could taste them in my mouth!”), sadomasochistic gratifica-

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tion, participation in the potency of the war god (“Horsepower!”), and liberation from fear through his identification with them and the manic flight they permit him. But what Jim really craves, beyond these neurotic fetishes, is represented by the reproduction of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Fear” (1943) he pins over his bed in the camp, a magazine illustration of a sleeping child watched over by two loving parents, echoing the scene in his bedroom in part 1. According to the critic James Kendrick, “the painting, quite contrary to Rockwell’s intentions, embodies one of Empire of the Sun’s fundamental themes: the illusory nature of safety.” 16 And what he wants, it seems to me, is also represented by the Welsh lullaby “Suo Gan,” sung at three key points in the film. The words translate: Sleep, child, on my breast, Warm and secure it is here. Your mother’s arms are round about you, A mother’s love is in my breast. No fear can ever come around you, Nor anything wake you from your rest. Sleep quietly, dear child, Sleep sweetly upon your mother’s breast. 17

According to one theory, the ecstasy of mania duplicates the union of the infant with the breast. Bertram D. Lewin claims that “the manic employs all means to attain a close relationship to a symbolic breast.” 18 For me, this helps to explain a repeated motif in the film: Jim steals milk from the refrigerator at home, and milk is the first item he opens when the American supplies are dropped by parachute after the war; Jim eyes Mrs. Victor’s breast as her husband touches it; he finds it important to touch the planes and talks of tasting them in his mouth; and he sings about mother’s breast in the lullaby. He also offers a can of milk to the American officer who rescues him from the camp. Lewin refers to mania as an expression of what he terms “the oral triad” of closely related unconscious wishes: the wish to devour, to be devoured, and to fall asleep. These wishes, he claims, are connected because they originate in the situation of the infant at the breast: first feeding, then relaxing, and finally falling asleep. Lewin states: The manic state proper, with its overactivity and denials, is an attempted compromise between the wish to sleep and the wish to stay awake, i.e., to die and to live . . . the overactive manic state salvages one component of the oral triad, the pleasure of active cannibal orality . . . and the active pleasure screens and denies the desire for the other components of the oral erotic triad. . . . 19

Lewin’s theory is one way of understanding the closing scene: the war over, Jim’s manic defenses have finally broken down, and his hyperactivity has ceased. In its place is the underlying depression against which he


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was defending, a depression and numbness now so severe that it resembles catatonia. When he is finally reunited with his parents and held close by his mother, he is able to yield to the wish he had attempted to deny through mania, the wish to be reunited with the mother and to fall asleep at her breast. In the last image of Jim in the film, in extreme close-up, he closes his eyes. It is a compelling and psychologically apt conclusion to his journey; in the end, Jim finds not the peace of death that he feared but the peace of sleep at the mother’s breast. Ideally, the film should put us through a psychological journey similar to the boy’s, a manic-depressive experience, being alternately exhilarated and enraptured or depressed. Rather than simply validating his hero’s neurosis, as Spielberg seems to do in Close Encounters, he both sympathizes with and critiques Jim. Whereas Close Encounters ends with Roy Neary ascending into the heavens in a chariot of the gods, Jim only flies in his imagination. I take the warfare in the film, then, as being as much psychological as real, a projection outward of the boy’s internal struggles. That is the reason for the fantastic, dreamlike quality of the film: we are meant to view Empire not so much as a realistic war movie but instead as a boy’s dream of war. For most of the film, Jim is at war, seeking but at the same time afraid of the bliss of the maternal breast, which he associates with death. In defense, he indulges in manic denial and celebrates the devouring of others in death by the cruel war god, which could be considered both a projection of his own apocalyptic fantasies and a version of the father. A.I.: A BIPOLAR ROBOT BOY A.I. resembles Empire in both storyline and dark tone; in fact, many critics have compared the two films. 20 Both are tales of abandonment, harrowing odysseys of loss in which boy heroes lose a privileged home and the love and protection of the parents. Forced into homelessness, they witness great brutality and are in peril of death or destruction. Both boys try to survive by clinging to a substitute father figure, an unscrupulous drifter (Basie in Empire, Gigolo Joe, as played by Jude Law, in A.I.). Both alternate between states of terror, manic elation, and deep depression. And both end reunited with the mother, finally able to close their eyes. But David in A.I. is even more unstable than Jim, cycling between homicidal rage and suicidal depression. In fact, David is the most extreme bipolar boy in any Spielberg film—even if he is not, strictly speaking, human. David is the only child in any Spielberg film who is capable of both murder and suicide, if those terms can be applied to the destruction of a robot.

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In A.I., David, who remains perpetually a ten-year-old boy in appearance and mentality, is the first “mecha” or robot who can simulate human emotions, programmed to love and even potentially to dream, a prototype of a series of robots designed to fill a gap for childless couples in a depopulated future. David is adopted by Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O’Conner and Sam Robards), whose only child Martin (Jake Thomas) has been in cryogenic suspension for years with an apparently incurable disease. After initial doubts, Monica imprints David to love her forever as his mother. But Martin soon recovers and rejoins the family. Martin’s duplicity, combined with David’s child-like naïveté and lack of knowledge of human society and relationships, cause the family to believe David is too dangerous to remain in their home. Because the “love” imprinting of a robot child is irreversible, David can never be resold, so Monica decides that, rather than return him to the factory to be dismantled, it would be kinder to abandon him in the woods. During his exile, David alternates between terror, manic rage, and suicidal depression. Rejected, homeless, his sole purpose in existence to love and be loved by his human mother, David wanders, accompanied by his supertoy, a robot teddy bear. David searches with Teddy for the Blue Fairy he heard about from the fairy tale Pinocchio. Mistaking fantasy for reality, he believes that when the Blue Fairy makes him into a real boy then Monica will love him. David tries to survive by clinging to Gigolo Joe, an amoral male prostitute robot on the lam from the law. In the end, in the far future, in an ice age when humans have been extinct for centuries and only superrobots remain, David’s wish comes true, in a way. The robots conjure up a Blue Fairy and reunite him with his mother for a day, or at least with her clone, and he finally closes his eyes. If Empire is a boy’s dream of war, then critics have called A.I. “a child’s dreams” 21 and “a troubling dream.” 22 Stanley Kubrick, who worked on the project for many years before he died, gave Spielberg a chance to revisit familiar material through a science fictional lens. I consider both films—Empire and A.I—to be thoughtful, carefully crafted, visually lavish, and psychologically profound. Both deal with the journey and harsh initiation of lost boys in search of their identity. The two movies are also linked by the theme of mourning. Both boy heroes are depressed by separation from the parents—particularly by the loss of the mother. Since Jim is separated from his parents for the four years of the war and does not know if they are alive or dead, he wants to mourn them but never knows if his mourning is warranted. Jim weeps, saying he can’t remember what his parents look like, but he vividly recalls his mother combing her dark hair. And David mourns intensely for Monica. After she abandons him, his only goal is to get back to her and make her love him again—even after she is long dead. Both films feature a lullaby. In Empire, it is the Welsh lullaby “Suo Gan,” which, as mentioned, translates as “Sleep, child, on my breast.” In A.I., a robot nanny


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tries to comfort David when they are captured and being brought to the Flesh Fair for destruction. She holds him and says, “Don’t be afraid, David,” and sings a French lullaby which translates as “Sleep, sleep, the baby will go to sleep right away.” In both films, separation from the mother induces in the boy a state of unresolved mourning and a wish to return to infancy and to sleep in the mother’s arms, which is how both heroes end. Throughout the movie, David becomes more human, in terms of having a full range of emotions, but as he does so he also becomes more emotionally disturbed. At first, he exists in the “uncanny valley,” not quite robot but not quite human either. In his first appearance, he seems autistic, showing minimal emotion, merely a faint, constant smile. His first line in the movie, “I like your floor,” suggests that, like an autistic child, he prefers things to people. In his initial scenes, he is preternaturally calm. Fixated on Monica, his adoptive mother, he startles her with his wordless staring and stalking until she becomes unnerved and shuts him in a closet. Henry says, “He’s creepy. You can never hear him coming. He’s just always there.” His quiet and his sudden appearances are uncanny. Things begin to change when David suddenly bursts into laughter at dinner when he spies a long strand of spaghetti dangling from Monica’s mouth. The laughter makes him seem more human. For the first time, the Swintons smile. Having gotten the response he wanted, David laughs again, but now it sounds forced and manic. One wonders if the boy has a sense of humor or if it’s just part of his programming. The transformative moment comes when Monica reads David the program that will make him love her forever. His face softens, and he calls her “Mommy” and leans forward to hug her. After this, he shows a much wider range of emotion. But David never much cares for Mr. Swinton, whom he calls “Henry,” not “Daddy.” Although Henry chose David to help Monica, he soon regards him as a creepy toy who intrudes between him and Monica, and he regrets having brought him home. This precipitates an oedipal crisis in which the father wants to cast out or destroy the adoptive son. Nor does David much care for Martin. When the boy is revived from cold sleep, Monica is ecstatic but David’s face shows dismay. The presence of Martin brings the crisis in the household to a head, for now two Swinton males see David as a rival for Monica’s love and want him gone. The robot boy was a surrogate, a temporary replacement child, but Martin’s presence renders David superfluous. David is exiled from his place in Martin’s bed and Martin schemes to expel his rival entirely from the household. The scene in which Monica abandons David in the woods is one of the most emotionally painful in all of Spielberg’s films. David is absolutely panicked. Earlier, he had said that his worst fear was of being left alone,

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and now he pleads hysterically and clings to Monica until she pushes him away. It is similar to Jim’s panic when he is separated from his mother in the crush of the crowd in wartime Shanghai, but this separation is far crueler, deliberate abandonment rather than accidental separation. We feel for David because he has not only the appearance, limited knowledge, powerlessness, and emotional vulnerability of a child but also the unbreakable programming of a robot whose sole purpose in existence is to love Monica forever.

Figure 9.2. A.I.’s David (Haley Joel Osment) in distress, his image reflected in the side view mirror as his mother, Monica (Frances O’Conner), drives off and abandons him.

Like Jim, once David is separated from home and mother, his defenses harden and he manifests the talking jag and run-on intensity of mania. When Gigolo Joe tells him, “They hate us, you know, the humans. They’ll stop at nothing,” David gets angry for the first time and replies with his longest speech in the movie: “My mommy doesn’t hate me. Because I’m special and unique. Because there’s never been anyone like me before, ever. Mommy loves Martin because he’s real, and when I’m real Mommy’s going to read to me and tuck me in my bed, and sing to me, and listen to what I say, and she will cuddle me and tell me a hundred times a day that she loves me.” To this, Joe, who has become a father figure to the stray robot boy, wisely replies, “She loves what you do for her, as my customers love what I do for them. But she does not love you, David. She cannot love you.” David can never accept this because it would deny the entire basis of his existence. When he reaches Dr. Hobby’s laboratory, where he was created, David quickly cycles from homicidal anger to suicidal depression. His manic rage seems a defense against his underlying deep depression. David


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prizes his uniqueness because he believes it makes him worthy of Monica’s love. But when he meets his double in the laboratory, he savagely decapitates the other David with a table lamp because it threatens his identity by taking away his uniqueness. Here he proves what Henry had suggested earlier: because he is capable of love, David is also capable of hate. We might even call this sudden and shocking violence “murder,” except that it is destruction of a fellow robot, which can be repaired. As he destroys the double, he screams, “I’m David, I’m special, I’m unique! I’m David, you can’t have her!” At that point, in an overhead shot, David seems trapped in the ellipse of the ceiling light, as he was isolated earlier in a similar shot at the Swintons’s dining table. After David’s violent outburst, Dr. Hobby attempts to comfort the boy, but only makes things worse. He focuses on David’s success—really, on the success of Dr. Hobby and his team. He says, “You are a real boy, at least as real as I’ve ever made one. . . . Until you were born, robots didn’t dream, robots didn’t desire unless we told them what to want. David, do you have any idea what a success story you’ve become? You found a fairy tale, and inspired by love, fueled by desire, you set out on a journey to make her real. And most remarkable of all, no one taught you how. . . . That is something no machine has ever done, till you.” What Hobby ignores is that being capable of emotion, of feeling real love and desire, has meant for David mostly intense pain and suffering, because David lives in a world of flawed humans who cannot love him back—the exact moral dilemma that a woman raised to Hobby in the early expository scene after the opening narration. Hobby says nothing about the total disaster of David’s adoption by the Swintons or about David’s psychotic breakdown, which he has just witnessed. Yes, David has gone on a remarkable journey, but he has also become seriously emotionally disturbed because of all the human cruelty he has witnessed and experienced. He has also experienced an assault on his identity. David says, “I thought I was one of a kind,” and Hobby offers the corrective: “My son was one of a kind. You are the first of a kind.” (The Doctor modeled David on his deceased son.) To this, David responds, “My brain is falling out.” Hobby claims that now that David has returned to the laboratory where he was created, he has come “home.” But as in the Swinton home, where he was simply a replacement for their real son, Martin, in the Doctor’s lab he is simply a replacement for the Doctor’s real son, the original David. David quickly cycles from homicidal mania to suicidal depression. In the lab, he confronts a roomful of mass-produced, boxed Davids, endless copies of himself which further rob him of his sense of unique identity. Faced with this devastating realization, he falls into despair and plunges off the edge of the skyscraper into the sea, crying “Mommy,” as if the oceanic fusion will reunite him with the lost mother. And in a sense it

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does: undersea he finds a statue of the Blue Fairy, which by now has become identified with the mother. If David’s pain and suffering were caused by human beings, then it is only in the final sequence of the movie, set two thousand years later, when human beings are extinct, and a benevolent race of superrobots have replaced them, that David finds some comfort and healing from the long anguish of his mania and depression. The ambiguous and fraught psychological mixture of both Empire and A.I., these two dreamy, death-laden films about loss and the yearning for an absent mother, seems to me approximated by some lines from Wallace Stevens’s poem “Sunday Morning”: Death is the mother of beauty, mystical Within whose burning bosom we devise Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. 23

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: THE FLIGHT FROM REALITY Catch Me If You Can is about yet another bipolar boy, another Spielberg lost boy who loses both home and family, in this case through divorce. Completed the year after A.I., it is another story about a sad, outcast boy whose goal is to restore his happy home: David wants his mother to love him again, and Frank wants his mother and father to reunite. Both are monomaniacal and will stop at nothing to get back to mommy. And both films deal with the real versus the simulated: human versus machine in A.I. and real identity versus counterfeit in Catch Me. And, like Jim in Empire, Frank in Catch Me is fascinated by airplanes and hero-worships pilots: Jim plays at being a fighter pilot and Frank impersonates a commercial airline pilot. Catch Me was inspired by the autobiography of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., celebrated in the movie as “the youngest, most daring con man in U.S. history.” Frank ran away from home after his parents divorced. Between 1964 and 1967, from the ages of sixteen to nineteen, he impersonated a Pan Am pilot in New York, a doctor in Georgia, and a lawyer in Louisiana, meanwhile cashing millions of dollars in counterfeit checks. Wanted by the FBI, he fled abroad, where he continued his crime spree until he was captured by French police in 1969. He served time in solitary confinement in Marseilles, and, after extradition, in a maximum security penitentiary in Atlanta, until he was released on parole in 1974 to work for the FBI as an expert on check fraud. The facts of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.’s life, outlined above, are startling enough. But Abagnale admits that his autobiography (aided by a ghost writer) exaggerates and dramatizes for effect. And the movie deviates even further from the facts. 24 So it is useful to consider Frank in Spielberg’s film as a fictional character, just as Jim in Empire is not really author J. G. Ballard.


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Further, the career of Frank in the movie seems modeled on that of Ferdinand (Fred) Waldo Demara, subject of Robert Crichton’s 1960 book The Great Impostor and the 1961 movie of the same title. Demara’s family lived in an upper-class home until his father lost everything in the Depression and they moved to a poor district. Angry, Fred ran away from home at sixteen and assumed a series of names and identities. Relying on a photographic memory and a high IQ, he successfully impersonated an engineer, a professor of psychology, a lawyer, and a surgeon. 25 Like Fred, Frank is angry at his family’s loss of class status. Both are teenage runaways, fleeing their families and their own identities. Many of the reviewers saw the film as a lighthearted lark, a crime caper, 26 but, as Roger Ebert points out, Frank is “basically a sad and lonely teenager.” 27 As often as we see him exhilarated at pulling off his scams, just as frequently we see him depressed. He is sad when he catches his mother with his father’s friend Jack Barnes in his parents’ bedroom, panicked when he flees his broken home, and panicked again when he flees his fiancée’s home on the evening of his engagement party, depressed when he is living alone in cheap Manhattan hotel rooms, and ragged and ill when he is kept in solitary confinement in a dark, dank French prison cell (one critic compares that scene to Jean Valjean in Les Misérables). 28 That is his depressive side. In his restlessness and impulsiveness, his hyperactivity, his denial, and his grandiose refusal to be bound by one identity, Frank displays manic behavior. The manic, after all, is in flight from reality. One can see why the story appealed to Spielberg: Frank is Spielberg’s contemporary (Frank born 1948; Spielberg, 1946). The film offered the director a nostalgic return to his adolescence in the 1960s, and a chance to highlight the clothes, music, cars, television shows, and movies of that era. It includes a lot of airplanes, which are featured in so many Spielberg films. Moreover, Spielberg’s parents and Frank’s parents divorced when Spielberg and Frank were teenagers. Spielberg says that, after the divorce, “I kind of ran away the way Frank Abagnale ran away.” 29 Finally, like Frank, Spielberg was a boy impersonator, or so he claimed: he often says that while still a teenager, he occupied an empty office at Universal Studios and said he worked there. “Everybody assumed I was related to someone working on the lot, or to an executive, and no one really threw me off the set.” 30 According to Spielberg’s biographer Joseph McBride, the story is apocryphal (Spielberg was an unpaid apprentice for an editor at Universal), but it reveals that Spielberg suffers from the “impostor syndrome,” the fear that one does not deserve one’s successes because they are based on a fraud. “Catch Me If You Can provocatively suggests that Spielberg’s many and deep-seated anxieties, which he has often discussed as the sources for his creativity, may stem in part from his feeling of being an impostor and his still-unresolved feelings about his broken

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family and their social background. . . . Spielberg let us in on some of his secret fears, ones he can only express fully through his art.” 31 The film implies that Frank’s father, Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken), whom he loves and admires, is the source of both his charm and his fraudulence. Early in the film, we see the father school Frank in relying on appearances, using lies and deception to get ahead. The father loses everything when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) pursues him for tax evasion. Once the owner of a prosperous stationery store and honored by the New Rochelle Rotary Club, Frank Sr. loses his business, his lovely house, his Cadillac, and soon after, his beloved wife, who leaves him for his wealthy friend Jack Barnes, president of the Rotary. Frank chooses the streets of New York City because he cannot choose between his father and his mother when faced with their divorce. Instead, he panics and runs away from home. According to Leonardo DiCaprio, who essays Frank in the film, “his only talent, with no money, out on the street, is to con people. And he learned a lot of that from his father.” 32 But conning people also isolates him; he lacks the support of both friends and family. Frank is alienated from his mother, who cheated in the marriage. But he stays in touch with his father while lying to impress him. He so wants his father’s love and approval that he tells him he is working as an airline pilot while he is only pretending to be one. He justifies a life of fraud and deception as a way to make restitution, to bring his father and mother together again and to restore their happy home, and he claims manically that he will win back everything his father has lost. Frank falls for Brenda (Amy Adams), a young nurse. But a love based entirely on lies cannot last. When the FBI crash the engagement party, Frank grabs a suitcase stuffed with cash and flees out the bedroom window. Frank’s panic here resembles his flight from his home when he was asked by the divorce lawyer to choose between his mother and his father. Even as we admire the quick thinking and audacity of Frank’s increasingly elaborate stunts, we remember what Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), the FBI agent charged with pursuing him, told Frank on the phone: “One thing’s for sure. You’re gonna get caught.” Because the story opens with Carl arriving at a Marseilles prison in 1969 to extradite Frank to the United States, we know that all of Frank’s charades will end badly. 33 That is, his story has the air of predestination. As the plot unfolds, the question for the viewer is what clever stratagems Frank will use to evade capture for years. Throughout the movie, Frank plays a cat-and-mouse game with Carl. He delights in taunting and outwitting Carl, yet Carl also becomes his substitute father, superego to Frank’s ego and id, and Frank at times seems to want to be caught. The title of the film is a dare, and Frank keeps calling Carl every Christmas Eve and dropping clues so he can be captured. Carl is divorced and far from his family, alone at the office on Christmas Eve. And Frank is a lonely, depressed boy, the product of


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divorce. He too spends Christmas alone. Carl mocks him: “You have no one else to call.” Frank’s father fails him. Their last meeting is not in a fancy restaurant but in a depressing working-class bar, where his father drinks alone, showing his sad life. His father is now the one in uniform, but it is the uniform of a post office employee (ironically, Frank will later deliver the mail in prison). Frank is embarrassed by his father’s decline: “Has Mom seen you dressed like this? . . . I’m gonna get you a brand new suit.” His father is still being squeezed by the IRS for back taxes. As he tells his son: “You know what? I’ll make them chase me. For the rest of their lives.” Thus, father and son are living similar lives. In his intense emotion in this final scene with his father, Frank is like a criminal on a spree or an out-of-control manic pleading for someone to bring him down. Now that he is getting married, he is desperate to go straight. “Dad, it’s over. I’m gonna stop now.” And he begs his father, “Then ask me to stop! Then ask me to stop!” His father, who had been questioned by Carl and knows his son is wanted by the FBI, tells him, “You got them scared. The United States Government, champ, running for the hills. . . . They’re never gonna catch you, Frank.” They are both being chased by the government, and the father admires his son’s defiance. He tells him, “You can’t stop.” At that moment, Frank realizes that his father, who identifies with him, cannot stop him now. Instead his father is always urging on Frank Jr.’s fantasies and his manic flight from reality. But Frank never seems to realize how enmeshed his life has always been in his father’s fantasies. In an early scene, when he is enlisted as an apprentice in his father’s phony schemes, father and son are positioned like criminals, glimpsed through the bars of a clothing store’s security gate. 34 They have been in this dangerous con together from the beginning, defying the authorities to chase them and “catch me if you can,” and Frank Sr. doesn’t want Frank to stop. Frank has been living out his father’s dreams of glory, using his father’s deceptive methods, and it has rendered him so detached from reality and heedless of the consequences that, like his father, he is being perpetually chased by a powerful government agency. His father does not want him to stop because Frank is the “champ,” his champion, living out his dreams and succeeding where he failed. Frank will redeem him by rising above them all. “Pow! The moon,” he says. When Frank Sr. sees his son in the fancy restaurant, wearing a pilot’s uniform, he asks, “Where you going tonight: someplace exotic?” And Frank replies, “Los Ang—Hollywood,” carefully editing his response to please his father by making the destination seem more exotic. “Hollywood!” his father repeats. When Frank wants to marry Brenda, he is ready to stop his life of crime, or at least wants someone to stop him. Yet at the same time, he tells his father, “Everything they took from us, I’m gonna get it all back.”

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So Frank is in a bind, for how can he accomplish this except through the same fraudulent methods that propelled him this far? And he must accept the bitter truth that they will never get it all back, for his father now tells him his mother has married Jack Barnes (James Brolin). Typical of Frank’s response in the face of emotional discomfort, when his father refuses to stop him, he flees the bar in a panic, his father shouting after him, “Where you going tonight, Frank? Someplace exotic? Tahiti, Hawaii?” Frank is on a manic flight from reality. With his father having failed him and with the loss of his potential father-in-law, Mr. Strong (Martin Sheen), who could have helped stabilize him, Frank becomes totally unhinged and embarks on a worldwide criminal spree. Ironically, he fulfills his father’s fantasies, flying to exotic global destinations. Seven months after Frank escapes the country on a flight from the Miami International Airport, Carl shows the head of the FBI bank fraud division a series of checks cashed in various countries: “South America, Australia, Singapore, Egypt. . . . The kid’s gone completely out of control.” Carl is the father figure Frank needs, the only one left who can stop him by bringing him down from his manic flight from reality. When Carl finally tracks down Frank in Montrichard, France, the climactic confrontation is Frank’s most manic scene. In it, he shows several of the characteristics of mania mentioned earlier: hyperactivity, flight of ideas, and unwarranted, dangerous, and excessive cheerfulness. Throughout the scene, the low-key Carl contrasts with the loud and hyperactive Frank. When Carl halts the giant printing press, a rain of counterfeit checks flutters around Frank like confetti; his criminal compulsions have now reached full-scale, industrial dimensions. Frank is out of control, in the mechanical grip of mania. It may be winter outside, but Frank is doing hot work at the press and is sweating, dressed in a dirty, sleeveless T-shirt. Being manic is ceaseless hard work. Even though he has just been caught in the act by the FBI, Frank is dangerously detached from reality and shows the inappropriate effect of the manic. Surprised and apparently delighted to see him, Frank spreads his arms wide in greeting and yells cheerfully, “Carl! Carl! Merry Christmas!” When Carl informs him that he is under arrest, Frank shouts incongruously, “Are you hungry? You want some beans, Carl? We got the best French beans here,” as if Carl is his guest for Christmas, to whom he must offer hospitality, instead of a FBI agent who has just apprehended him. When Carl tells him that two dozen French police are waiting outside to arrest him, Frank persists in his hyperactivity, yelling over Carl while gobbling beans. Frank, the liar, is sure that Carl is scamming him: “I think you’re full of shit.” Once Carl demonstrates that he is unarmed and asks Frank to put the cuffs on himself, Frank, frolicsome, wants to continue the game. Sweating and panting, he darts behind the machinery, childishly daring Carl to come after him.


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Like a manic, his emotions shuttle rapidly and erratically throughout the scene: when the phone rings and Carl answers, Frank shifts from panic at being trapped to laughter, sure that Carl is still conning him. Again showing labile and inappropriate affect, he screams angrily that Carl is a liar because he once said he wasn’t married although he wore a wedding ring. Carl is understated, insistent, and empathetic, as if dealing with a lunatic or a child. He calmly explains that he wasn’t lying; he is divorced. Determined to escape, the overheated Frank scoops up an armful of checks and heads for the door, stopping only when Carl tells him they’ll kill him if he runs. Still distrustful, he makes Carl swear on his daughter he is telling the truth before he accepts the cuffs. This is Frank at the height of his mania. Soon we see him reach the depressive bottom when Carl tells him on the plane back to New York that his father has died in an accident. Anguished, Frank retreats to the bathroom, only to escape by unscrewing the toilet and jumping from the landing gear when the plane lands. Like Jim in Empire and David in A.I., the lost boy heads for home and mother. But like Jim, what Frank finds there is not what he wanted. Having lost his father, Frank goes to his mother’s home on Long Island. A blanket of snow lies on the ground, and the house and trees glow with Christmas lights. Through the frost on the front window, he glimpses his mother in an armchair in the warm living room, leafing through a magazine. She smiles at Jack, who passes with a drink in hand. Then a little girl comes to the window playing a toy harmonica and Frank taps on the glass. This is the half-sister he never knew about until that moment. In ironic counterpoint, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is playing, a song about a perfect Christmas, when “every mother’s child is gonna smile.” But Frank is shut out in the cold; there is no place for him around the hearth in this ideal American family Christmas. When police cars converge en masse on the lawn, Frank begs, “Carl, get me in the car.” Framed in the rear view mirror, Frank’s face is glum as the squad car reverses; through the windshield we glimpse the ideal family, mother and father and child, together on the front porch, watching the dangerous intruder being taken away. And “The Christmas Song” continues until the scene concludes with the door slamming behind Frank in an isolation cell in a maximum security prison. This is where Frank belongs. This is a quintessential Spielberg scene, juxtaposing the yearning for family closeness with the reality of broken homes and outcast children; it evokes the contrast between the idealized Norman Rockwell illustration Jim carries in Empire and the reality of his bleak, orphan existence in the detention camp. Far from being the lighthearted romp many critics claim, Catch Me is a dark tale about a sad and lonely boy who runs away from home and lacks both parents and friends. For all his pretense of control

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Figure 9.3. Catch Me If You Can’s Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), another bipolar/lost boy whose pain is reflected in the rear view mirror.

by means of lies and extravagant confidence games, Frank is, like Jim and David, an outcast, suffering boy who is not in control of his identity or his emotions and suffers violent swings between mania and depression. CONCLUSION All three films offer hope, albeit a qualified hope, at the end, as if the child heroes had ended their journey of initiation and worked through some of their psychological problems. We assume that Jim, having been restored to his mother’s bosom, will be freed from his cycles of mania and depression, although we cannot know what permanent damage the trauma of war has inflicted on his psyche. 35 And as David falls asleep beside his dead mother, his obsessive quest has ended, but we cannot be certain if he is entering the realm of dream or if his existence is simply over. And Frank finds a substitute father in Carl and a substitute family in the FBI. The text over the final images reassures us that Frank founds a successful security company and is married with children. But Catch Me is not interested in Frank’s mature future, only in his wild adolescence. These three films are about fantasy and the power of illusion: Empire about a boy’s dream of war, A.I. about a robot boy’s faith in a fairy tale, and Catch Me about a boy acting out his fantasies. Spielberg not only creates fantasies but also is centrally interested in the role of fantasy in human lives. He wants to distinguish between those fantasies that inspire and sustain us and those that can damage us or detach us dangerously from reality. All three boys—Jim, David, and Frank—are intelligent, sen-


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sitive, imaginative, and creative; all three are separated from their parents; and all three cling to fantasies to survive. Jim maniacally worships the destructive power of warplanes. David believes that the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio exists and can make him into a real boy and reunite him with his mother. And Frank, like Jim, worships pilots—so much that he impersonates one. All three boys tip close to madness or plunge over the edge in their pursuit of fantasy. Belief in the imaginary can trap us in the compulsions of manic-depression, but it is also the basis of creativity and art. And it makes us human. As Dr. Hobby tells David, “The Blue Fairy is part of the great human flaw: to wish for things that don’t exist. Or to the greatest single human gift: the ability to chase down our dreams.” NOTES 1. Mrya Forsberg, “Spielberg at 40: The Man and the Child,” in Steven Spielberg Interviews, eds. Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 129. 2. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 2nd ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 133. 3. Forsberg, “Spielberg at 40,” 129. 4. Emily Martin, Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 16–28. 5. Ibid., 227. 6. Material on Empire of the Sun has been reworked from my essay, “Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun: A Boy’s Dream of War.” Literature/Film Quarterly 19, no. 4 (1991): 210–21. It is included here with kind permission from Literature/Film Quarterly. 7. Forsberg, “Spielberg at 40,” 129. 8. Bertram D. Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation (London: Hogarth, 1951), 9, 92, 86, 57, and 102. 9. J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 204. 10. Ibid., 123. 11. Pauline Kael’s review of Empire of the Sun, The New Yorker, December 28, 1987, 93. Kael’s response demonstrates how subjective responses are to movies, including questions of “taste” and a viewer’s conviction or belief in the validity or appropriateness of the images in a narrative film. 12. Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, trans. James Strachey (1921; reprint, New York: Bantam, 1960), 82. 13. Hoberman, “Golden Boys,” The Village Voice, December 22, 1987, 102. 14. Steven Spielberg, quoted in “Dialogue on Film: Steven Spielberg,” American Film 13, no. 8 (1988): 14. 15. Lewin, Psychoanalysis of Elation, 74. 16. James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 154. 17. Translation provided by a broadcast on NPR radio in December 1987. 18. Lewin, Psychoanalysis of Elation, 134. 19. Ibid., 142–43. 20. For reviews comparing Empire and A.I., see Andrew Sarris, “A.I. = (2001 + E.T.),” New York Observer, June 25, 2001, accessed June 5, 2015, m01CQ/2001_June_25/81474644/p1/article.jhtml?term+A.I.+%2B=Spielberg=%2B+Kub rick; S. E., “All Grown Up,” Review of A.I., Los Angeles Magazine, September 2001, accessed June 5, 2015,…p1/article.jhtml?term=A.I.+%2B+Spie lberg; Charles Taylor, Review of A.I.,, June 29, 2001, accessed June 5, 2015,

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229…al_intelligence/index.html?CP+IMD&DN=110; Peter Travers, Review of A.I., Rolling Stone 873, July 19, 2001, accessed June 5, 2015, www. 21. Warren Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster (New York: Continuum, 2006), 228. 22. Tim Apello, “Virtual Pinocchio,” The Nation, July 23/30, 2001, 45. 23. Wallace Stevens, Poems by Wallace Stevens, ed. Samuel French Morse (New York: Vintage, 1950), 9. 24. Comments by Frank W. Abagnale: 25. Bio., Frank Abagnale biography, accessed June 5, 2015, people/ferdinand-demara-2064886. 26. Representative reviews: “The nicest movie you could ask for at the holidays: A gently funny, sweetly adventurous film that makes you feel genuinely good.” Richard Schickel, Time, December 15, 2002, accessed June 5, 2015, magazine/article/0,9171,1101021223-400004-2,00.html; “It’s a jaunty mix of light suspense, romance and comedy in the vein of To Catch a Thief.” Geoff Andrew, Time Out, accessed June 5, 2015,; “As a catand-mouse thriller, this amiably light-footed chase gets the job done.” The Movie Report 354, December 27, 2002, accessed June 5, 2015, ml#catch. 27. Roger Ebert, Review of Empire of the Sun, Chicago-Sun Times, December 11, 1987, accessed June 5, 2015, 28. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 496. 29. Ibid., 498. 30. Biography Channel, Steven Spielberg biography, accessed June 5, 2015, www. 31. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 497. 32. Leonardo DiCaprio, speaking on the video “Catch Me If You Can: Soundbites,” accessed June 5, 2015, 33. “[T]he broad plot is already known. Interest focuses therefore on how events occurred and their meaning.” Nigel Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (London: Wallflower Press, 2007), 338. 34. Ibid. 35. As Kendrick observes, “the trauma Jim has endured and the humanity that has been stripped from him far outweighs any sense of triumph that he has survived.” Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out, 45.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Andrew, Geoff. Review of Catch Me If You Can. Time Out. Accessed June 5, 2015, www. Apello, Tim. “Virtual Pinocchio.” The Nation, July 23/30, 2001. A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Based on a short story by Brian Aldiss and a screen story by Ian Watson. Screenplay Steven Spielberg. Photography Janusz Kaminski. Music John Williams. Prod. Bonnie Curtis, Jan Harlan, Kathleen Kennedy, Walter F. Parkes, and Steven Spielberg. With Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Jude Law, and William Hurt. Warner, 2001. (145 min., DVD). Quotations from A.I. come from this version of the film. Ballard, J. G. Empire of the Sun. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. Buckland, Warren. Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, 2006. Catch Me If You Can. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Based on a book by Frank W. Abagnale and Stan Redding. Screenplay Jeff Nathanson. Photography Janusz Kaminski. Music John Williams. Prod. Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Daniel Lupi, Michael Shane, Tony Romano, and Steven Spielberg. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks,


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Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Natalie Baye. Dreamworks, 2002. (141 min., DVD). Quotations from Catch Me If You Can come from this version of the film. Ebert, Roger. Review of Catch Me If You Can. Chicago-Sun Times, December 25, 2002. Accessed June 5, 2015, Empire of the Sun. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Based on the novel by J. G. Ballard. Screenplay Tom Stoppard. Photography Allen Daviau. Music John Williams. Exec. prod. Robert Shapiro, Prod. Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. With Christian Bale and John Malkovich. Warner, 1987. (154 min., DVD). Quotations from Empire come from this version of the film. Forsberg, Myra. “Spielberg at 40: The Man and the Child.” In Steven Spielberg Interviews, edited by Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm, 126–32. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. Freud, Sigmund. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Translated by James Strachey. 1921. Reprint, New York: Bantam, 1960. Hoberman J. “Golden Boys.” The Village Voice, December 22, 1987, 102. Kael, Pauline. Review of Empire of the Sun. The New Yorker, December 28, 1987. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Lewin, Bertram D. The Psychoanalysis of Elation. London: Hogarth, 1951. Martin, Emily. Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 2nd ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010. Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. London: Wallflower Press, 2007. Movie Report, The. Review of Catch Me If You Can 354, December 27, 2002. Accessed June 5, 2015, Sarris, Andrew. “A.I. = (2001 + E.T.)” New York Observer, June 25, 2001. Accessed June 5, 2015, ?term+A.I.+%2B=Spielberg=%2B+Kubrick. Schickel, Richard. Review of Catch Me If You Can. Time, Dec. 15, 2002. Accessed June 5, 2015,,9171,1101021223-400004-2,00.html. S. E. “All Grown Up.” Review of A.I., Los Angeles Magazine, September 2001. Accessed June 5, 2015,…p1/article.jhtml?term=A.I.+%2B+Spielberg. Spielberg, Steven. “Dialogue on Film: Steven Spielberg.” American Film 13, no. 8 (1988): 12–16. Stevens, Wallace. Poems by Wallace Stevens, edited by Samuel French Morse. New York: Vintage, 1950. Taylor, Charles. Review of A.I., June 29, 2001. Accessed June 5, 2015, www.…al_intelligence/index.html?CP+IMD&DN=110. Travers, Peter. Review of A.I., Rolling Stone 873, July 19, 2001. Accessed June 5, 2015,

TEN Trauma, Loss, Anxiety Spielberg’s Missing Children in Minority Report, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds Fran Pheasant-Kelly

In examining the theme of missing children in art and independent cinema, film scholar, Emma Wilson, notes that the “issue of the missing child enables films to mobilize questions about the protection and innocence of childhood, parenthood and the family, about the past (as childhood is constructed as a nostalgic space of safety), and about the future.” 1 While Wilson acknowledges that the missing child motif is also a common theme of more mainstream film, she argues that it functions differently, by providing a formula for entertainment and being bound up with sentiment. 2 Moreover, she contends that the missing child in mainstream film promotes narrative progression through action, as opposed to the reflection and lack of resolution often encountered in art and independent cinema. 3 The aspects that Wilson ascribes to popular film are relevant to many productions directed by Steven Spielberg in which missing children are a frequent feature. In fact, Spielberg is well known for the inclusion of child characters in his films, with numerous examples in which children are central to the plot. Accordingly, despite a past tradition of children starring in cinema, Spielberg’s filmic preoccupation with them brings his canon under the contemporary Western spotlight. This is because the scholarly study of children in cinema has escalated in recent years, likely prompted by a heightened public consciousness relating to real-world issues of the child as victim (and on occasion, the child as perpetrator). 231


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Presently, such media attention in the UK centers on victims of pedophilia and incest, though a series of earlier high-profile child murders have also contributed to current social consciousness. In turn, as Samantha Lay notes in her study of British social realism, the focus on children has led to an emphasis on their representation in film and television. 4 Lay ascribes this awareness to media initiatives (such as BBC’s Children in Need), and improved campaigning as well as revisions in UK legislation concerning child welfare. 5 She further locates the heightened attention to children within a context of “sporadic moral panics” 6 as well as the well publicized cases concerning systematic abuse at Cleveland and Clwyd. In recent decades, cases of international child abduction and widespread historical abuse have emerged, 7 which, of late, include claims of pedophilia against prominent British figures. The alleged stifling of such reports and the apparent refusal to acknowledge the nature of these acts at the time illustrates how attitudes toward children have changed. Correspondingly, academic literature on the representation of children in cinema has proliferated, with works ranging from general studies of childhood and cinema 8 to more specific aspects, including: censorship, children and cinema; 9 lost and/or othered children; 10 children in the films of specific directors; 11 the child and national cinema; 12 the child and postapocalyptic film; 13 children with communication disorders in film; 14 children and gender in film; 15 and the monstrous/possessed child in film and literature. 16 To date, however, there is limited attention to the missing child in Spielberg’s films: exceptions include Lester Friedman’s reference to the lost child across a range of his productions 17 (although this is not Friedman’s central theme), and cursory mention of Minority Report (2002) by Wilson. 18 Elsewhere in this collection, James Kendrick discusses cases of child abduction in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s and their potential influence on themes of kidnapping in Spielberg’s earlier films. Conversely, this chapter focuses on three of Spielberg’s later productions, including Minority Report, Jurassic Park (1993) and War of the Worlds (2004), in which children are either lost temporarily or are presumed dead, and consequently invoke trauma for parental/father figures. Although children are not the main protagonists here, they nonetheless provide narrative causality and the entirety of each film rests on their presence/absence or their reunification with parental figures. In addition, the anxieties and traumas arising from their disappearance or imperilment, aside from promoting narrative progression or serving as plot devices, also give insight into unresolved parental grief. Because of the intangibility of such feelings of loss, Wilson 19 suggests that the experience of the missing child provides an encounter with Slavoj Žižek’s 20 account of the Real (which he considers through reference to Lacanian psychoanalysis). Following Lacan, Žižek explains that the Real describes that which cannot be known or symbolized because it describes a physical experience rather than a definable object. Žižek places such

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emotions in a category that forms one of Lacan’s triad of orders relating to mental function. Others include the Imaginary, which indicates the period of life before language, and the Symbolic, which encompasses aspects that may be symbolized (either through language, images, or other modes of representation). Even as loss falls into the category of the Real, and is therefore considered unrepresentable, a typical method for signifying its presence commonly resorts to specific visual devices, usually the photograph or flashback. In this respect, Wilson contends that “[t]he missing child topos is, in some senses, always already photographic. News reports and public information invariably figure an image of the missing child, a family snapshot or school photograph.” 21 Such is the case in Minority Report in which the protagonist, John Anderton (Tom Cruise), repeatedly returns to photographic and holographic images of his missing son in moments of grief, while his experience of traumatic loss resurfaces throughout the film. Even though Wilson notes of Minority Report that “[i]n the sentimentality of the ending the lost child seems economically replaced where we see John Anderton back together with his now pregnant wife,” 22 the rest of the film is weighted to the lack of resolution and constant uncertainties surrounding his missing son. Moreover, the issue of what might happen to the missing child is addressed, albeit less obviously, through the abuse endured by the “precogs.” In brief, although the lost child is vital to Minority Report’s narrative twist, the role of the missing child arguably extends beyond causality and plot device, typically exemplified by Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Poltergeist (1982), to illuminate a parent’s enduring sense of loss. Conversely, the child characters of Jurassic Park, Timmy (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) become merely temporarily lost in a dinosaur compound, with both children consistently situated in scenarios of extreme danger. Attempts to rescue them trigger a chain of events and provide the film’s pivotal scenes of action and tension, and the children, in this case, are eventually returned to safety. The protagonist of War of the Worlds, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), likewise anxiously attempts to protect his children from invading aliens, and reunite them with their mother. The latter two films are therefore concerned more with the transient disappearance of child characters and resultant parental/guardian anxiety whereas Minority Report involves a permanently unresolved loss. Even so, all three explore the value placed on family unity, and also consider how children are affected by trauma and disaster. Engaging critically with the work of Wilson and theoretically with trauma scholarship, this chapter not only examines Spielberg’s films concerning the missing/endangered child in respect of their narrative trajectories, but also reflects on the signification of the child as both traumatized and as a source of ambiguous loss, trauma, and anxiety for parental figures.


Fran Pheasant-Kelly

JURASSIC PARK Related to its overarching theme of parenthood and reproduction, Jurassic Park focuses on the cloning of dinosaur DNA to re-create an extinct species for commercial exploitation in a dinosaur theme park located on Isla Nublar. Theme park developer, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) wants Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), two acclaimed paleo-scientists, to endorse Jurassic Park for the financial backers of the project. As the team of scientists, accompanied by lawyer, Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) and chaotician, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), visit the island to validate its safety measures, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), one of the park’s computer technicians, sabotages the power supply with the intention of stealing dinosaur embryos. He thus temporarily immobilizes the locking mechanisms and electrified perimeter fencing of the dinosaurs’ enclosures. At the same time, a tropical storm sweeps across the island, these combined events culminating in chaos as the dinosaurs escape and attack the visiting scientists. Centrally implicated in the resultant disruption are Hammond’s two grandchildren, Lex and Tim, who are vital to how the narrative unfolds, and are involved in key traumatic imagery (the tyrannosaur attack, the electrified fence scene, and the kitchen sequence) while the two scientists, Sattler and Grant, serve as substitute parental figures. Overall, parenthood is a dominant trope, and, as Andrew Gordon remarks, “Crichton’s theme becomes lost as the film turns yet again into yet another Spielbergian endorsement of fatherhood and the nuclear family.” 23 Even though other children are first presented as abhorrent—for example, a slightly overweight child rudely challenges Dr. Grant on the characteristics of dinosaurs 24—and Grant comments that they are “noisy, messy and expensive,” children repeatedly form topics of conversation between him and Sattler. Warren Buckland notes that “[t]his seemingly idle talk reveals the tension between these two characters, and becomes the film’s primary theme when the characters visit Isla Nublar.” 25 Indeed, once on the island, the two are joined by Hammond’s grandchildren. As Buckland further explains “the introduction of the children into the narrative is a defining moment in the film, for several reasons. Most importantly, the conflict between Grant and Sattler over children is re-introduced and developed: the boy in scene 3 ‘remerges’ as the two children. . . . As soon as Tim and Lex run into Hammond’s arms, the camera tilts upward to reframe on Sattler and Grant . . . to register their reaction.” 26 This reaction entails Sattler smiling warmly at Grant at the sight of the children, and Grant grimacing in return. Sattler’s desire for family unity is promoted by the fact that both Lex and Tim are enthusiastic about sharing a parktour vehicle with Grant—although he goes out of his way to avoid them—and Tim physically pursues Grant into each car, showing avid interest in his work. When Lex tells Grant that, “she [Sattler] said that I

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should ride with you. It’d be good for you,” he nods grimly, and a camera close-up (with a soft focus effect created by the car window) of Sattler, reveals her again smiling and watching him intently. The film therefore makes clear its family-orientated agenda and, as Nigel Morris remarks, “[t]his family formation begins when Grant rescues the children from the tyrannosaur, and continues during their trek back to the Centre.” 27 The tyrannosaur attack occurs following Nedry’s program disablement of the security systems which halts the cars at the tyrannosaurus enclosure with Tim, Lex, and Gennaro in one car and Grant and Malcolm in the other. A thud alerts the children, and a close-up focuses on Tim’s anxious face as he asks “did you hear that?” As the storm worsens, Tim’s night vision goggles first reveal a goat (provided earlier to entice the dinosaur) still tethered within the tyrannosaur compound, before he notices ripples in a glass of water, the tremor indicating a dinosaur’s approach. Still viewed from Tim’s perspective, a close-up of the glass progressively zooms in to extreme close-up, each zoom synchronized with the more frequent and increasingly amplified thudding sounds. As well as indicating the dinosaur’s advance, the sounds simulate a quickening heart rate and encourage a sense of Tim’s growing apprehension. When Tim again looks through his goggles he notices that the goat has disappeared, its empty chain left swinging. “Where’s the goat?” screams Lex, when another loud thud causes the children to look upward, their point of view observing an animal’s dismembered leg on the roof of their jeep. Further low-angle shots disclose first, a clawed foot retreating over an un-electrified fence, and then a tyrannosaur tipping back its head to devour the goat completely. Gennaro flees from the car, and the dinosaur then attacks the children in the jeep, the camera cutting between lowangle shots of the dinosaur, and high-angle shots from the dinosaur’s point of view, both perspectives augmenting its enormous size. The children’s viewpoint now discloses extreme close-ups of its teeth and snapping jaws that completely fill the frame, accentuating its menace. The spectator also often assumes the tyrannosaur’s perspective, an extreme overhead shot rapidly zooming down toward the two children being deployed to both imply its attack and witness their terrified reactions. Extreme close-ups and rapid edits throughout the sequence heighten their sense of imperilment with frequent close-ups of their facial expressions in particular. The danger is then compounded by the fact that the dinosaur upturns the car and treads on it, gradually crushing the children who become immersed in mud as the car sinks down and then topples over the edge of an embankment. In sum, the cross-cutting between close-ups of the children’s faces, and the dinosaur’s teeth and long shots of the entire scenario facilitates the spectator experience of the children’s trauma firsthand as well as their terrified reactions. Afterward, Grant and the two children climb into a tree for safety and huddle together so enabling the family unit to be visually initiated—as


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Buckland contends, the fact that the children go missing with Grant “acts as a testing ground to allow this conflict [between Sattler and Grant] to be resolved. This is achieved by placing Grant and the children alone in the park, in a potentially life-threatening situation.” 28 “What are you and Ellie going to do now you don’t have to dig up dinosaur bones?” asks Lex. “I guess we’ll just have to evolve, too,” responds Grant, thereby tying dialogue to the family imagery suggested. At the control center, Sattler implicitly reiterates the family motif when she exclaims “The only thing that matters now are the people we love. Alan, Lex and Tim.” The search for the children triggers a specific chain of events (thereby illustrating one of Wilson’s claims concerning mainstream film), and leads Buckland to argue that, “these set pieces are not autonomous action sequences (spectacles) but are narratologically motivated, serving to transform the main protagonist, enabling him to overcome his dislike of children.” 29 The main consequence is that Hammond reboots the computer system, an action which trips the park’s electrical circuit breakers. In turn, this leads engineer, Ray Arnold (Samuel Jackson) to seek out the circuit breakers and then, on his failure to return, Sattler and game warden, Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), to go in search of him. At the same time, the children flee the attacking dinosaurs by climbing over the transiently unelectrified fences. These scenes, which intercut with those of Sattler (who is about to restore the voltage to the perimeter fence), are highlighted by Buckland for their meaningfulness concerning causal-logic and the child-parental figure relationship. A low-angle shot discloses Sattler switch on the circuit breakers one by one before the camera pans rapidly down the list to focus on the “perimeter fence” over which Tim is just about to climb. This scene, where Tim is electrocuted, is an important narrative juncture and Buckland comments on its significance, observing it as a highly suspenseful episode that depends on a “discrepancy in knowledge . . . between Sattler and the spectator. . . . Suspense is heightened because timing becomes a dominant factor. Tim’s inability to move is sharply contrasted with Sattler’s delight in being able to turn the electricity back on.” 30 The beeping sound of the alert light emphasizes this tension which is enhanced by crosscutting and, as Sattler restores the power supply, Tim is thrown clear of the fence, narratively indicating that she has succeeded and providing an opportunity for the family motif to develop further: Tim has stopped breathing and Grant resuscitates him. As Buckland comments “[t]he determinate narrative effect of this scene is to bring Grant closer to the children, while the narration has strongly involved the spectator in the film. When Grant and the children finally reunite with the rest of the group, the aim is to save this new family unit—with Grant as the surrogate father and Sattler the surrogate mother—from the creatures created by the grandfather through non-natural means of procreation.” 31

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A final scene involving trauma for the children which creates tension and motivates the closing stages of the narrative occurs when they return to the compound and again come under attack. Extreme close-ups of Tim’s profile reveals the outline of a velociraptor visible in the background, leading Lex and Tim to flee into the kitchens. A close-up of the porthole window into the kitchen witnesses the dinosaur’s eye looking in. We already know from Muldoon’s earlier remarks that the velociraptor is highly dangerous and that it “shows extreme intelligence, even problem-solving intelligence.” Just as Sattler comments that the children are safe, “unless [the raptors] figure out how to open doors,” the dinosaur opens the door to the kitchens where Lex and Tim are hiding. The creatures are also anthropomorphized in the way that they peer around corners. Moreover, while low-angle shots repeatedly heighten their monstrous qualities (their teeth), extreme low-level shots that focus on their feet create further anxiety. These not only highlight their huge claws, which are viewed from a child’s perspective, but also reveal them tapping their claws, as if they are impatiently engaged in a decision-making process about their best mode of attack. While Buckland 32 claims that this detracts from the film’s credibility and arguably, humanizes them, its suggestion that the dinosaurs make considered decisions before assault amplifies their menace. Their peering qualities come to the fore when Tim inadvertently knocks a metal utensil to the floor. An edit to the dinosaurs sees them look sharply toward the noise and a low-angle shot directed down one of the aisles sees Tim on the one side and the dinosaurs on the other. The camera swings around to frame Tim centrally, the dinosaur looking searchingly around the end of the aisle but with Tim just out of its eye-line. The camera then inclines further upward as the dinosaur now moves over the counter, within very close proximity to Tim, and the camera positioned adjacent to him, thereby intimately conveying the experience of his anxiety. Thereafter, Tim limps toward the exit because of an injury sustained earlier. An extreme low-level rear view shot observes him hopping awkwardly toward the door, framed between the clawed feet of the pursuing dinosaur, the distance between them closing rapidly. The overall effect of positioning the spectator in this way is not only to accentuate Tim’s small size and hence vulnerability, but also to magnify the fact that despite his injuries, he is desperate to escape. As the children flee and find Sattler and Grant, they return to the compound to find that they are now unable to lock the doors because the computer system needs rebooting. While Grant and Sattler hold the door to prevent the dinosaur from entering, Lex manages to reboot the security system. A sequence that intercuts between the adults trying to keep the door closed, low-angle shots of claws intermittently probing any gaps in the opened door, and close-ups of the computer screen which Lex is navigating, provide the final scenes of tension. Escape through the roof space of the center proves equally treacherous when a dinosaur lifts a


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ceiling tile causing Lex to fall through. A high-angle shot looks down on her as she is suspended directly above the dinosaur, but she is again rescued by Grant. Therefore, even though missing children are integral to the unfolding narrative, the value advocated by the family unit is made apparent, especially in the closing scenes when they work together to resolve a dangerous situation. Indeed, on the flight from the island, Grant is once more pictured holding the sleeping children, watched by a beatific Sattler as if she is acknowledging and endorsing his paternal feelings and their potential as a family unit. MINORITY REPORT Likewise reflecting on paternal roles, Minority Report’s trajectory revolves round the disappearance of John Anderton’s son, Sean (Dominic Scott Kay) who goes missing while the two are at a public swimming pool. However, in this case, child loss remains unresolved and is presented as having more profound and long-term effects on parental figures. The film is a futuristic science fiction that centers on a theme of surveillance, specifically the psychic technology developed by a police department known as “PreCrime,” which aims to predict and thereby thwart imminent crime. This psychic technology involves capturing the visions of three “precognitives” (known as “precogs”)—twin brothers and a sister—who possess the power to see into the future and are able to predict impending homicide. 33 Yet, the prevision of the precogs proves to be flawed, or, at least, inconsistent. Anderton accidentally discovers information about the inconsistencies and believes these to explain why the precogs foresee him as the killer of an individual, Leo Crow (Mike Binder), whom he has never met, although it transpires that the predicted murder rests on the fact that Crow claims he has abducted Anderton’s son. 34 Although he is missing, Anderton’s son is therefore pivotal to the plot, and is rendered visible through his father’s intermittent nightmares and memories or through photographs and holographic depictions; these four modes of representation not only evidence the role of the child in the causal-logic of the film but also frame Anderton’s experience of trauma through signification of the Real. Typically, trauma victims undergo a range of symptoms including emotional numbing, dissociation, recurring nightmares, intrusive flashbacks, hyperarousal, depression, and anxiety, with such signs existing for more than one month. 35 While Anderton does not obviously suffer all symptoms, the film frequently draws attention to the long-standing nature of his grief (six years) as well as his substance abuse. Hunt and McHale suggest that substance abuse is usually used as a mode of avoidance or emotional numbing. 36 In this case, Anderton’s drug abuse helps him transiently sustain the illusion that

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Sean is still alive when viewing holographic images of him, the latter’s equivocal status constituting a form of “ambiguous loss.” Pauline Boss explains that this occurs when “the loved persons are physically missing but cannot be mourned. . . . It is experienced by parents of missing children.” 37 Boss adds that this absence “may result in unresolved grief as well as uncertainty about who is in the family and a resulting ambivalence about roles and identity.” 38 She further notes that such ambivalence may end in, among other things, divorce, addictions, and a preoccupation with work and “involves a range of emotions, but in general it results from a refusal to relinquish the loved object.” 39 This is clearly the case here since Anderton also separates from his wife, Lara (Kathryn Morris), thereby compounding his trauma and reinforcing ambiguous loss. As Boss also explains, “[marriage] is forever a part of the fabric of one’s life. As with a death certificate, a divorce decree cannot erase the experience.” 40 Anderton is effectively both father and husband, but is presented as lonely and isolated in his grief. In normal grieving, the process is meant to end, but in ambiguous loss, “melancholia or complicated grieving [in which a person remains preoccupied with the lost object] can be a normal reaction to a complicated situation.” 41 Aside from the obvious case of Anderton’s lost son, one might also class the precogs as missing children, but rather than their parents being traumatized, it is the precogs themselves who display trauma. The film exposes the exploitation that they undergo and, perhaps more than the presence/absence of Anderton’s son, their previsions are integral to the narrative trajectory. The film’s opening sequence conveys its psychic associations in a “stream of consciousness” style of imagery which is disjointed, grainy, surreal, and blurred at the periphery of the frame. An edit follows from what one assumes to be a close-up of the still, open eye of the predicted murder victim to the eye of one of the three precogs, Agatha (Samantha Morton), who is floating in a pool of “photon milk.” “Murder” she murmurs, as she foretells the names of the imminent victims and perpetrator. The PreCrime Department has limited time in which to respond to this previsualization in order to actually prevent the murder happening and hurriedly scour the disjointed images downloaded from the precog for visual clues to the location of the impending crime. These images are also intercut with the unfolding real-time scenario that leads up to the murder. The first indication of the suffering endured by the precogs occurs as Agatha senses the distress of the “killer,” Howard Marks (Arye Gross), who has, in the prevision, discovered his wife’s infidelity. “Oh God, Howard, no. Howard don’t cry!” Agatha screams at which point all three precogs become highly animated, and twitch involuntarily as they lie in their fluid-filled incubator (known as the temple). Department of Justice agent, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) queries their reactions to which another detective responds “that’s just an echo. The really bad ones the


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precogs see over and over again.” In other words, the flash-forward experienced by the precogs is akin to the traumatic flashback. Despite his decisive and efficient-looking demeanor at work (coded by his purposeful figure behavior), it becomes clear from Anderton’s private life that he also suffers trauma, and has been dependent on drugs since the disappearance of his son. During one such episode of Anderton’s drug taking, a slow pan across a line of family photographs signals their importance to him. Otherwise, amidst a futuristic mise-en-scène, scenes of clutter and chaos abound, conveying Anderton’s lived sense of loss. Viewed in close-up, piles of unwashed crockery litter his desk as well as empty wine bottles and various tablets and used inhalers, further suggesting his unstable state. When he places his gun beneath his pillow (an action implying a hypervigilant state), the camera again pans around to view an adjacent table upon which is placed a photograph of a woman and child (whom we presume to be his son and wife). An array of newspaper cuttings with the words “Missing Child” discernible in their headlines indicates the preoccupation with the loss of his son. As Morris notes “[c]lippings by Anderton’s bedside of reports of returned missing children register deep personal trauma, affirmed by his apartment’s untidiness, ‘neuroin’ inhalers scattered everywhere.” 42 In close-up, we see his hand reach across the cuttings, clasping an inhaler, denoting the link between his drug habit and Sean’s disappearance. Indeed, as he gathers up the spent inhalers, the camera circles around the cuttings and zooms in closer, enabling the headlines to be more clearly visible and revealing that they are related to cases other than that of his son that have been resolved—for instance, we can now see the full headline of “Missing Child Found Unharmed”—perhaps implying Anderton’s belief that his son too will be found. The presence of the cuttings evidences the sense of irresolution and uncertainty surrounding Sean’s disappearance and illustrates ambiguous loss as an example of the Real. Thereafter, Anderton plays a hologram of his son and at the same time, picks up a cereal box and tips its contents into his mouth, further suggesting his self-neglect. The hologram itself manifests as a blurred, fractured presence, although its shadow is dense and distinct (Figure 10.1), as if his son’s presence is stronger to Anderton than the spectator perceives. One might view this signification in terms of the way in which Wilson suggests that (in the context of the postmortem retention of child body organs in the UK), “[t]he fantasy of the intact body of the child seems to stand as some small defense against the knowledge of the child’s loss.” 43 Certainly, Anderton talks to, and emotionally responds to the hologram of Sean as if it/he is real, preempting the dialogue from the recording, which therefore becomes an echo in the background. Their “interaction” is articulated through a series of shot-reverse shots, so furthering the implication that Anderton believes the imaginary relationship is real. It is

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Figure 10.1. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) talks to a holographic image of his missing/lost son in Minority Report.

enhanced by voice synchronization, which gives the impression of a three-dimensional speaking subject, despite the fact that the viewer’s attention has earlier been directed, by close-ups, to the projection equipment when it first flickered into operation. He similarly observes a hologram of his ex-wife, Lara, though in this case the artifice of the image is made more obvious when the camera maneuvers to adopt a side-on view that reduces her to two dimensions. Even so, Anderton smiles at her, and again responds positively as if she is actually there. These representations thereby reconstitute the family through the nostalgic safety of the past. As Boss suggests, “[i]n the absence of clarity, people understandably cling to the status quo, because at some level they hope that the person who is missing will someday return.” 44 When the hologram recording ends abruptly, Anderton’s melancholic disposition returns and his sense of grief is now designated by a camera shot through the windows to reveal a dark, rain-soaked cityscape. Subsequent interrogations of Lara by Witwer reveal that Anderton started taking drugs after losing their son. Additional details of his trauma emerge, including the fact that he fired his gun at the ceiling in grief when an item of clothing belonging to his son was found. As well as holographic imagery, Sean is visualized in Anderton’s nightmares. The first of these occurs when Anderton undergoes surgery to have his eyes replaced (narratively to avoid retinal identification) by a back street surgeon. Unable to open his eyes after the surgery, Anderton once more inhales a drug and, in a traumatic hallucination, recalls the disappearance of his son from the public swimming pool. The nightmare entails a detailed account of events rather than the fragmented or dissociated memories normally associated with traumatic intrusions, 45 although Richard McNally reports that “prospective studies indicate that a minority of survivors do, indeed, experience some nightmares as if they were replays of


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actual traumatic events.” 46 The bright blues and reds of the nightmare differ markedly to the subdued tones of the rest of the film, and replicate those colors seen earlier in the holographic imagery of his son. Sunlight illuminates the scene (whereas the rest of the film unfolds in darkness or artificial illumination), both the colors and light suggesting the emotional warmth attached to the memory. Close-ups that cut between Sean and a smiling Anderton point to their closeness, and, as the nightmare unfolds, we learn how Sean disappeared. An underwater close-up camera shot witnesses Anderton momentarily turn away from his son but when he surfaces, he finds that Sean has disappeared. Close-ups of Anderton’s anxious face cut to long shot to show his desperate search for his lost son, and thereafter, fast-motion editing, echoing sound effects, unfocused, rapid pans and generally unsteady camerawork combine to express the experience of his mounting sense of panic at that time. Just as he screams for his son, he wakes up. 47 This nightmare sequence is not crucial to narrative progression nor is it overly sentimental or action based and so differs from Wilson’s description of mainstream film. Rather, it illustrates both Sean’s importance to Anderton and how the latter is emotionally distraught by his disappearance. The scene in which it becomes most evident that Anderton’s missing child is motivating his trauma, and, concurrently, the film’s narrative trajectory, occurs toward the end of the film. The conspiracy involves Anderton locating Crow, the man whom he is predicted to kill. Entering the scene of the imminent crime, Anderton finds an unmade bed strewn with hundreds of images of children, one of which is of Sean, his son. Anderton studies the photograph and tells Agatha “Every day for the last six years I’ve thought about only two things: The first is what my son would look like if he were alive today and . . . the second is what I would do to the man who took him.” Anderton, however, opts not to shoot Crow who then confesses that the plan was a set-up to ensure that his family would receive a pay off. In the struggle that follows (because Crow wants Anderton to kill him in order for his family to receive the pay-out), Crow presses the gun against himself and triggers a shot, making it appear that Anderton is the murderer. The final scene in which Anderton’s loss is made explicit, and which again involves reflection rather than action, occurs when he and Agatha visit Lara—Agatha wanders upstairs and opens a cupboard and closeups frame Sean’s toys. At the same time, Anderton informs Lara that “they used Sean”—acknowledging that his loss was exploited as a ploy in the scheme (and the narrative). Returning to the house, they find Agatha in Sean’s room, where soft, high-key illumination, and curtains blowing in the breeze imbue the space with a lyrical quality. A close-up of Agatha, also illuminated by high-key lighting to the extent that the background is bleached out, endows her with luminosity as if to suggest otherworldliness. Closing her eyes, she recounts a vision of Sean’s life

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had he still been alive. As Wilson suggests of the missing child in mainstream film, the purposeful insertion of this sentimental revelation seems designed to elicit maximum emotion in both the characters and the spectator. However, the scene also offers reflection on the trauma caused by the missing child, imparted by close-ups of Anderton and Lara’s distressed faces. Anderton, his face now in partial darkness (denoting his grief) breaks down in tears and cries “I want him back so bad.” Concurrently, we learn of Agatha’s own troubled history when she responds “So did she. She just wanted her little girl back . . . she didn’t die but she’s not alive.” Aside from Sean’s narrative importance, the precogs are therefore also significant since they too are “missing children.” Their ability to foresee the future arises because of their mother’s drug addiction and consequently, they were taken from their mother, Anne Lively, for use in the Precrime department. The precogs as missing children are thus equally vital to the narrative, but their representation tells less about the trauma caused by the missing child and more about the dangers of what might happen when children are abducted from their parents. In this case, they are stripped of their identity (since agency, speech, mobility, and clothing are denied) and, through controlling drugs, are maintained solely for their usefulness to Precrime. This priority is made clear when Anderton tells Witwer that “it’s best not to think of them as human.” Furthermore, the trauma of the child whose parent is murdered is made apparent in Agatha’s agitated reaction to the prevision of Lively’s death. As Buckland notes “[i]t was traumatic for her because she was witnessing her mother’s death. One function of the film is to work through Agatha’s trauma of seeing her mother murdered.” 48 The narrative connections between Agatha and Anderton are further identified by Buckland, who suggests that the various forms of fluidic submersion endured by Sean, Anderton, Agatha, and Anne reflects similarities in their traumatic pasts, and these are visually strengthened in the graphic match between the recline of Anderton at the moment he is haloed, and the similar motion of Agatha, when she is forcibly returned to the temple, both essentially prisoners. 49 Despite their lack of bodily agency, the precogs anchor the entire story, and, when Agatha is enabled mobility (Anderton helps her to walk), then she is able to orchestrate events in order for Anderton to avoid arrest. For example, as Anderton and Agatha evade police surveillance in a shopping mall, Agatha foresees possibilities for capture and opportunities to avoid these. Accordingly, she instructs Anderton to take an umbrella from a shop stand, and then tells him to “wait!,” just as a man holding balloons stops in front of the two, thereby concealing them from the police who are surveying the mall from its upper gallery. As the two exit the mall, they open the stolen umbrella because of the pouring rain, and once more, as the police look down from above, a high-angle camera shot reveals dozens of umbrellas enabling them to evade capture. Over-


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all, Agatha’s visions are therefore integral to narrative progression. She also reveals the underlying truth concerning Burgess’s (Max von Sydow) murder of Lively and the fact that he killed her in order to keep Agatha in Precrime. The extent to which the missing child is tied to the film’s narrative trajectory is illustrated by its end when Lara and Anderton are reunited. The sequence features a pregnant Lara and the couple are framed in a two-shot that zooms in as they embrace, implying that some resolution is achieved by the unborn child. WAR OF THE WORLDS War of the Worlds too features children in danger and, like Jurassic Park and Minority Report, the trauma of the missing child, as well as the parent, is explored. The overall plot involves alien invasion of Earth, and the efforts of divorced dock worker, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), to ensure that his children evade invading aliens (tripods). Ferrier is estranged from his wife, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), who drops off their two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) for Ferrier to look after during the weekend. Initially, the children are distant toward Ferrier and there is also tension with his ex-wife who, pausing to stare at a car engine in the living room (emphasized through close-up), disapprovingly surveys the interior of his modest home and criticizes the contents of his refrigerator. A medium close-up of Rachel hugging Tim, Mary Ann’s new partner, observed from Ferrier’s perspective, further signals the friction in the latter’s relationships with his family. However, as Mary Ann is about to leave the house, Ferrier tells her that “it’s a good look for you” (she is pregnant) to which she responds warmly, “Take care of our kids,” indicating that their children still sustain a bond between them. Nonetheless, Robbie clearly despises Ferrier, and tells him that he “hates coming here.” As they argue while playing baseball, Ferrier throws an especially hard ball that Robbie lets past, and which shatters a window. A long shot of Ferrier framed by the hole in the shattered glass and enclosed by a backdrop of mesh fencing suggests his feelings of entrapment and frustration. Indeed, as Morris contends, “[t]he central family . . . is not merely a point for focalization but appears to originate the cataclysmic events. These, in a personal mise-en-abyme of the wide-scale socio-political allegory [of 9/11], represent the protagonist’s relationships and inner turmoil in an unusually literal realization of projection metaphors and doubling.” 50 The invasion by the tripods is first signaled narratively by news bulletins concerning unusual electromagnetic storms, extreme lightning strikes, and seismic activity. Low-angle shots of massing dark storm clouds then visually hint at the impending danger before an extreme lowangle shot of Ferrier, looking upward at the sky, and framed by the overhead carriageway, again implies his entrapment. The source of the

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threat is, like Jurassic Park, related to monsters, in this case, alien entities rather than cloned extinct animals. Following scenes of extreme destruction by the tripods, a traumatized Ferrier races home to his children. This sequence confers sublime properties on the aliens, both through the havoc that they wreak, and their enormous size, aspects exploited by lowlevel rapid tracking shots of the ground fracturing as they emerge from beneath it, and subsequent extreme low-angle and overhead shots of them. Ferrier is framed centrally as he flees, so that his terrified face is visible to the spectator, and the scenes of disaster continue to unfold behind him. When he returns home, covered in dust, he slumps to the floor, obviously in a state of shock, and informs the children that “we’re leaving this house in sixty seconds.” Holding hands, the three are tightly framed as if to signal their increasing closeness as they leave the house. Close-ups of a distraught Rachel inside the car are framed by electrical disturbances and blinding flashes of light visible through the rear window. In fact, as well as the helplessness experienced by Ferrier, the film consistently focuses on Rachel’s traumatized state. Just as she looks back through the rear window, the camera zooms in to an extreme close-up of her distressed face. “Is that the terrorists?” she screams (thereby highlighting the post-9/11 contexts of the film). Concurrently, Spielberg’s propensity for side view mirror reflections observes a trail of chaos behind them, before a long shot witnesses the adjacent overhead carriageway exploding, buckling, and finally collapsing, causing vehicles to fall down onto the houses below. The car continues to approach the camera, framed by this backdrop of devastation, and with Rachel screaming continuously in terror. Even though the relationship between Ferrier and his children is initially tenuous, their closeness develops, especially with Rachel, and is mostly exemplified by the fact that Ferrier carries her for much of the time and is fiercely protective toward her. For instance, having sheltered at their mother’s home, the three settle down for the night in the basement when the house comes under attack. During the onslaught, shaky vérité-style camerawork, canted angles, flashes of lightning, grainy imagery and strident, thunderous sounds combine to create the effect that a catastrophic event has occurred. When Ferrier explores the ground-floor storey next morning, he finds that an aircraft has crashed into their home. Carrying Rachel to their car, he instructs her to keep her eyes on him, because he wants to shield her from the scenes of destruction. At one point, however, she leaves the car and wanders out of sight into a copse of trees and then down to the riverbank, her venture accompanied by the sound of tinkling extradiegetic music and diegetic rustling branches. The overall impression is one of threat and, as she approaches the water’s edge, a body floats into view, the camera cutting back to a close-up of her to show her alarm. Subsequently, the camera pans around to frame Rachel centrally and in close-up as she turns her head slowly to watch the moving body, before an edit accommodates her perspective to


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seamlessly continue the pan as the body floats downstream. Following an edit to long shot, which shows several more corpses floating past, a rear view of Rachel zooms in toward her as even more bodies come into sight. The anxiety inherent in the sequence is heightened by a series of shots that cut increasingly rapidly between close-ups of Rachel, who is now hyperventilating, and the ever faster-moving and more numerous bodies, as well as the added urgency of the extradiegetic soundtrack. This combination of cinematography, editing, figure behavior, and sound effects therefore signifies her trauma and exemplifies a scene that centers on a transiently missing child but which does not promote action or even sentiment. Rather, film form serves to evoke reflection on the horror experienced by the young protagonist. Ferrier’s motivation is to keep his children safe but their journey to find the children’s mother is continually thwarted by attacks on their car and the children intermittently come under threat, or are transiently lost. For example, as they near the Hudson ferry, their vehicle is attacked and Rachel begins hyperventilating again. Robbie temporarily disappears and another man threatens to steal their car with Rachel inside. “Take the car, I just want my daughter!” shouts Ferrier, his protection of the fragile family unit articulated as his overarching goal. Thereafter, they initially shelter in a diner and a close-up witnesses Ferrier begin to cry. The family again becomes visually reunited and the film focuses on their attempts to stay together, with close-up emphasis of their clasped hands while long shots still disclose Ferrier carrying his daughter for much of the time. As well as these visual significations, Ferrier pleads with his son to stay together. Subsequently, Ferrier and Rachel take refuge in a basement to evade the attacking tripods, and an extreme low-angle close-up of Ferrier’s face now reveals him weeping again, presumably for his lost son who has joined the army in their fight against the tripods. After this, he reassures Rachel in a more caring way to earlier in the film when he had been incapable of offering any solace (Figure 10.2). A series of two-shots and shot-reverse-shots suggest the ever-deepening bond between them as Ferrier sings to her to console her. Indeed, her protection is his primary concern and he is eventually compelled to kill the man, Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), who had beckoned them into his basement because he is concerned that the latter will betray their location. When Ferrier realizes that Ogilvy is not completely sane, the camera closes in to an ultra-close-up of Ferrier’s sad, tear-filled eyes and the diegetic sound of the tripods elevates to a thunderous beat, once more cinematography and sound effectively signifying his terror and fear. Before he kills Ogilvy, Ferrier instructs Rachel to cover her ears and the camera zooms in to her as she sings “Hushabye Mountain” in an effort to drown out the sounds of the horrific circumstances. 51

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Figure 10.2. Worlds.


Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) reassures his daughter in War of the

Both physical proximity and the deployment of tight framing continue to express the strengthening attachment between Rachel and Ferrier, especially as she becomes ever more traumatized. Certainly, her suffering becomes progressively more evident—in a scene of the two lying on a sofa, apparently asleep, a close-up of Rachel observes that she is wide awake and hypervigilant. She frequently displays symptoms of first, terror, and then trauma, ranging from hyperventilation through to disassociation. According to Kirmayer, Lemelson, and Barad, “[i]n addition to symptoms related to fear and anxiety, the psychological consequences of trauma may include disturbances of memory, identity, and perception termed dissociation [original italics].” 52 McNally explains that dissociative symptoms include, “derealization, a strange, dreamlike sense that one’s surroundings are unreal; depersonalization, a sense of being disconnected from one’s own body; a sense that time is either slowing down or speeding up; and amnesia, an inability to recall important aspects of what happened [original italics].” 53 Throughout the film, close-ups have continually revealed her terrified face, but, once separated from Ferrier and captured by the tripods, she assumes a dazed expression and is unresponsive toward her father when they reunite. Her lack of awareness of her surroundings is an effect identified as part of acute stress disorder by Joseph Hagan. 54 Other times, she is seen trying to control her breathing. The alien attacks are obviously the cause of these symptoms but Kirmayer et al. explain that, “the child may be rendered more anxious and vulnerable to trauma as a result of parental anxiety.” 55 In the same vein, Hagan notes that “[a]ny effect of trauma on key or trusted adults can result in magnified psychological effect on the children they care for. An adult’s disordered mood or behavior can add to a child’s fears.” 56 This is precisely the case in that Ferrier breaks down in tears several times, and in the early part of the film, there is visual and narrative emphasis on his


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inability to cope with either his own fears or those of his children. Nonetheless, having rescued Rachel from the tripods, they journey on to Boston, where Ferrier, framed centrally from a low-angle, carries his daughter down the street. Whereas a similar composition had earlier in the film signified his entrapment and oppressed life, it now communicates his newfound stature as a father figure. As Terence McSweeney observes “Ray is transmogrified from an ineffectual father who had lost the respect of his children, to their almost superhuman heroic savior and protector” 57 and when reunited with Robbie, they hug each other, the two tightly framed in a medium close-up. The entire narrative is therefore driven by the desire for reunification of the family and by Ferrier’s priority to protect his children. CONCLUSION As demonstrated by these three films, children not only serve as a means to broach questions about the innocence of childhood, parenthood, and the family, and about the past and the future, but are also able to address other issues. Specifically, apart from the fact that their presence/absence here is crucial to narrative causality, their disappearance is also utilized to demonstrate traumatic effects on parental figures, either in relation to transient moments of anxiety or to more long-term experiences of ambiguous loss and grief. The loss of the child, and trauma arising from external threats, are both examples of Žižek’s interpretation of the Real, experiences which cannot be portrayed on screen. Instead, Spielberg deploys a range of signifying conventions, signaling ambiguous loss in Minority Report by the photograph, the hologram, the traumatic nightmare, and figure behavior that conveys extreme anxiety or self-neglect. Minority Report also comments on the exploitation of abducted children while Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds illustrate traumatic experience in the child, the latter in a more serious way and relevant in relation to its allegory of 9/11. Both examples deploy numerous close-ups of the face of the anxious child and a particular filming strategy in respect of the source of the horror, expressly, extreme low-angle and high-angle camera shots and ultra-close-ups. Trauma in the child also manifests as a physical inability to move because of fear (as in the case of Tim in Jurassic Park), or hypervigilance and dissociation (as evidenced in Rachel in War of the Worlds). The close-up and ultra-close-up are key devices for exposing parental trauma too. In sum, missing children in Spielberg’s films not only operate as important narrative and visual causes of parental grief and anxiety but also themselves experience trauma. Gordon offers an explanation for the way that Spielberg portrays missing children, noting that “rather than concentrate on male-female relationships, Spielberg prefers to focus on mother-child or father-child situations. However, in the

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films after 1987, after Spielberg married and became a father, the story of the lost child changes into the story of a man who must learn how to become a father.” 58 Gordon’s premise, however, does not fully account for the motif of missing children in these post-1987 films. While Spielberg’s personal experiences may provide insight, his repeated reference to missing children may also be related to his involvement in the Shoah Foundation, for which he recorded and cataloged testimony from survivors of the Holocaust for a film The Lost Children of Berlin (McIntyre, 1997). The documentary chronicles the lives of the surviving children of the city’s last Jewish school to be closed down by the Gestapo and is a film for which Spielberg is not generally recognized. Regardless of the motivation for Spielberg’s lost child motif, the missing child in both film and the real-world has become increasingly resonant with contemporary audiences, scholars, and the public more generally, in line with changed attitudes and revised legislation concerning children. As I have shown, missing children in Spielberg’s films do correspond with Wilson’s claims regarding narrative causality and the construction of entertaining and sentimental scenes in mainstream cinema. However, his films also move beyond these aspects to reflect on the destructive facets of trauma and ambiguous loss triggered by the lost child, as well as the value of family unity, important issues for spectators in a climate regularly witnessing child murder, incest, and pedophilia through their prominent media exposure. NOTES 1. Emma Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2003), 2. 2. Ibid., 3. 3. Ibid., 4. 4. Samantha Lay, British Social Realism: From Documentary to True Grit (London and New York: Wallflower, 2002), 108. 5. Ibid., 109. 6. Ibid., 109. 7. These include Josef Fritzl in 2008 (who imprisoned and abused his daughter for twenty-four years), allegations concerning systematic abuse at child care homes in Jersey and revelations concerning child abuse by the Catholic Church. 8. Cf: Alexander Howe and Wynn Yarborough, eds. Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic USA, 2015); Vicky Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema (London: Reaktion, 2008); Karen Lury, Tears, Fears and Fairytales: The Child in Film (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010). 9. Cf: Sarah Smith, Children, Cinema and Censorship: From Dracula to the Dead End Kids (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005). 10. Cf: Debbie Olson and Andrew Scahill, eds. Lost and Othered Children in Contemporary Cinema (New York and Plymouth: Lexington Press, 2012); Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children. 11. Debbie Olson, ed. Children in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock (London and New York: Palgrave, 2014).


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12. Cf: Danielle Hipkins and Roger Pitt, New Visions of the Child in Italian Cinema (Oxford and New York: Peter Lang, 2014); Sarah Wright, The Child in Spanish Cinema (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013). 13. Debbie Olson, The Child in Post-Apocalyptic Cinema (New York and Plymouth: Lexington Press, 2015). 14. Lisa Cartwright, Moral Spectatorship: Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). 15. Cf: Frances Gateward and Murray Pomerance, eds. Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2002). 16. Cf: Marks Bohlmann and Sean Moreland, eds. Tiny Terrors: Essays on Monstrous Children in the Movies (Jefferson: McFarland, 2015); Dominic Lennard, Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film (New York: State University of New York Press, 2015); Adrian Schober, Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (New York: Palgrave, 2004). 17. Lester Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006). 18. Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children, 3–4. 19. Ibid., 9. 20. Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London and New York: Verso, 2002). 21. Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children, 12. 22. Ibid., 4. 23. Andrew Gordon, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (New York and Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 208. 24. According to critic Henry Sheehan, Grant in this scene is indulging in a childmurder fantasy. ”The Fears of Children.” Sight and Sound 3, no. 7 (July 1993): 10. 25. Warren Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster (London and New York: Continuum, 2006), 179. 26. Ibid., 184. 27. Nigel Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light (New York and Chichester: Wallflower Press, 2007), 205. 28. Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg, 185. 29. Ibid., 185. 30. Ibid., 186. 31. Ibid., 188. 32. Ibid., 191. 33. The pre-emptive action taken to prevent the predicted crime, given that the film was released in 2002 (following the 9/11 attacks and ensuing pre-emptive strikes in Iraq), has often been interpreted as an allegory for the Bush doctrine of pre-emption, despite its production occurring before the strikes (Cynthia Weber, “Securitizing the Unconscious: The Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emption and Minority Report,” in The Logics of Biopower and the War on Terror: Living, Dying, Surviving, eds. Elizabeth Dauphinee and Cristina Masters [London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007], 109). 34. Anderton chooses not to kill Crow and then discovers that Sean has been used as part of the complex conspiracy to frame him because of his discovery of Precrime’s inconsistencies. 35. Nigel Hunt and Sue McHale, Understanding Traumatic Stress (London: Sheldon Press, 2010), 18–28. 36. Ibid., 22. 37. Pauline Boss, “Ambiguous Loss: Living with Frozen Grief,” Harvard Mental Health Letter (November 1999): 4. 38. Ibid., 4. 39. Ibid., 5. 40. Pauline Boss, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press), 33. 41. Ibid., 10.

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42. Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg, 320. 43. Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children, 8. 44. Boss, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, 30. 45. Hunt and McHale, Understanding Traumatic Stress, 53. 46. Richard McNally, Remembering Trauma (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2003), 110. 47. The focus is therefore on the father-son relationship since at no point do we observe imagery of Lara and Sean together. 48. Buckland, Directed by Steven Spielberg, 196. 49. Ibid., 207–8. 50. Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg, 353. 51. This is perhaps meaningful in relation to the 1968 film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, when inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) and Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) sing this lullaby to the lost/missing children of Vulgaria, who are hidden underneath the castle of the evil Baron (Gert Fröbe) and Baroness Bomburst (Anna Quayle) in a similar seemingly hopeless situation. 52. Laurence Kirmayer, Robert Lemelson, and Mark Barad, eds., “Introduction: Inscribing Trauma in Culture, Brain, and Body,” in Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press), 7. 53. McNally, Remembering Trauma, 172. 54. Joseph Hagan, “Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for Pediatricians,” Pediatrics 116, 3 (2005): 789. 55. Kirmayer et al., “Introduction: Inscribing Trauma in Culture, Brain, and Body,” 10. 56. Hagan, “Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for Pediatricians,” 789. 57. Terence McSweeney, The ‘War on Terror’ and American Film: 9/11 Frames Per Second (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 147. 58. Gordon, Empire of Dreams, 271.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bohlmann, Markus and Sean Moreland, eds. Tiny Terrors: Essays on Monstrous Children in the Movies. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015. Boss, Pauline. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2000. ———. “Ambiguous Loss: Living with Frozen Grief.” Harvard Mental Health Letter (November 1999): 4–6. Buckland, Warren. Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. London and New York: Continuum, 2006. Cartwright, Lisa. Moral Spectatorship: Technologies of Voice and Affect in Postwar Representations of the Child. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Gateward, Frances, and Murray Pomerance, eds. Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002. Gordon, Andrew. Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. New York and Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Green, Bonnie, Mindy Korol, Mary Grace, Marshall Vary, Anthony Leonard, Goldine Gleser, and Sheila Smith-Cohen. “Children and Disaster: Age, Gender and Parental Effects on PTSD Symptoms.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Child Psychiatry 30, no. 6 (1991): 945–51. Hagan, Joseph. “Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for the Pediatrician.” Pediatrics 116, no. 3 (2005): 787–95.


Fran Pheasant-Kelly

Hipkins, Danielle, and Roger Pitt. New Visions of the Child in Italian Cinema. Oxford and New York: Peter Lang, 2014. Howe, Alexander, and Wynn Yarbrough, eds. Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic USA, 2015. Hunt, Nigel and Sue McHale. Understanding Traumatic Stress. London: Sheldon Press, 2010. Kirmayer, Laurence, Robert Lemelson, and Mark Barad, eds. “Introduction: Inscribing Trauma in Culture, Brain, and Body.” In Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives, 1–20. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Lay, Samantha. British Social Realism: From Documentary to Brit Grit. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2002. Lebeau, Vicky. Childhood and Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2008. Lennard, Dominic. Bad Seeds and Holy Terrors: The Child Villains of Horror Film. New York: State University of New York Press. 2015. Luckhurst, Roger. The Trauma Question. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. Lury, Karen. Tears, Fears and Fairytales: The Child in Film. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010. McNally, Richard. Remembering Trauma. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2003. McSweeney, Terence. The “War on Terror” and American Film: 9/11 Frames Per Second. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. Morris, Nigel. The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light. New York and Chichester: Wallflower Press, 2007. Olson, Debbie, ed. The Child in Post-Apocalyptic Cinema. New York and Plymouth: Lexington Press, 2015. ———. Children in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock. London and New York: Palgrave, 2014. ———, and Andrew Scahill, eds. Lost and Othered Children in Contemporary Cinema. New York and Plymouth: Lexington Press, 2012. Schober, Adrian. Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Sheehan, Henry. “The Fears of Children.” Sight and Sound 3, no. 7 (July 1993): 10. Smith, Sarah. Children, Cinema and Censorship: From Dracula to the Dead End Kids. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005. Weber, Cynthia. “Securitizing the Unconscious: The Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emption and Minority Report.” In The Logics of Biopower and the War on Terror: Living, Dying, Surviving, edited by Elizabeth Dauphinee and Cristina Masters, 109–28. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Wilson, Emma. Cinema’s Missing Children. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2003. Wright, Sarah. The Child in Spanish Cinema. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013. Žižek, Slavoj. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. London and New York: Verso, 2002.

ELEVEN Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Leonie Rutherford

Close examination of bodily codes and the representation of adolescent affect and development in Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn reveals the importance of narrative and industry structures for both the translation of an iconic brand, and in privileging particular constructions of adolescent masculinity and childhood agency. A first glance at the three-dimensional, embodied adaptation of the eponymous hero—Tintin—seems quite obviously to present the character as adolescent. This characterization conforms to the age range occupied by Tintin in Hergé’s bande dessinée (comic) hypotexts— between fourteen and eighteen. 1 However, in Spielberg’s adaptation of Hergé’s brand, his narrative does not uniformly support Tintin’s role as adolescent, particularly not the kind of intensive focus on adolescent affect and development that is common in many popular film and fictional genres featuring young protagonists. My research finds that Spielberg’s Tintin also functions as an unchanging child who nonetheless bears the responsibility for adult social maturation. This social agency is performed without the usual support of peers and communities associated with adolescent psychosocial development in traditional psychological accounts of identity formation during this life stage. In fact, elements of Spielberg’s construction of the “child” in The Adventures of Tintin are similar to theoretical characteristics of the child advanced by the “new” sociology of childhood, which emphasizes the child’s social agency and its ability to effect change in adults and communities. 253


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This is in no way to suggest that Spielberg either alludes to or is cognizant of either theories of developmental psychology or the sociology of childhood, although childhood has been documented as a prominent theme in the director’s oeuvre by a number of scholars. 2 Most studies of film representation scrutinize encoding of ideologies through a predominantly thematic analysis. This chapter departs from purely thematic interpretations in its argument that industry and narrative conventions, including aesthetic registers implicit in conventional technologies, powerfully affect representation. As Paul Wells has written of genre as a structural principle in animation, conventional film forms have deep structures that are value laden: individual genres may exhibit controlling ideas that are ideologically charged. 3 Spielberg’s representation of adolescent identity development and the affective states associated with it relies on the updating and augmenting of Hergé’s narratives, revisioning his design to mobilize contemporary commercial film conventions. Alongside the dialogic traces of the Hergé brand, Hollywood norms for the commercial feature impose a deep plot structure in which the controlling idea is the maturation of a central protagonist. This deep structure readily offers support to a focus on adolescent development, to story arcs about a crisis and/or protagonists’ alienation, leading to a closure involving integration into social hierarchies. Counter-intuitively, however, in The Adventures of Tintin (2011), Spielberg’s overlaying of this conventional form does not invest the eponymous hero with the role of protagonist and maturing character. Rather, Tintin himself functions as the catalyst and enabler for adult social development; that is, as a catalyst for Captain Haddock’s inner crisis and maturation journey. Haddock, an adult character, best functions narratively and in terms of psychological realism, in the role of adolescent. Before turning to a closer examination of theories of adolescent identity and Spielberg’s superimposition of contemporary film conventions on the Hergé hypotexts, a brief overview of the film’s major plotlines and the adapted comic hypotexts may help the reader orient themselves in the argument that follows. The major plot or action line of the film centers on Tintin’s search for clues to the secret of The Unicorn, a model ship he buys from a street market in the opening scene. Tintin has no sooner purchased the model than two strangers suspiciously attempt to buy it back. An escalating sequence of events ensues involving ever-increasing jeopardy, from the theft of the model, the murder of an undercover agent, and eventually the kidnap of Tintin by the villain, Sakharine, in order to gain possession of three scrolls hidden in three identical model ships. These scrolls, and the information encoded in them, provide the key to the location of the original Unicorn, and the pirate treasure sunk with her. Later—in fact almost halfway through the film—Tintin inadvertently rescues Captain Haddock from the clutches of Sakharine, who has seized control of Haddock’s ship and its crew, and from then on they attempt to

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solve the mystery together. There is a comic side-plot, involving a pickpocket and the Thompson twins (the two slapstick detectives), though this is only marginally connected with the main action line. Captain Haddock proves to be the solution to the “secret” of The Unicorn, his knowledge required to unlock the cipher contained in the scrolls. As the last remaining descendent of Sir Francis Haddock, his genetic heritage of seamanship and family heritage of historical knowledge are the final key to the location of the treasure. To unlock this knowledge, however, Tintin motivates, manipulates, and bullies the captain into overcoming his alcohol dependence and bringing his buried skills and memories to the fore. This process of affective antagonism constitutes the film’s subplot, or relationship line. The film’s closure brings Haddock and Sakharine together to reenact the seventeenth-century battle between their naval and pirate ancestors, Haddock reclaiming his heroic status, his family seat, and the promise of an even greater adventure. Spielberg’s biographer, Joseph McBride describes the film as a “tongue in cheek, if rather hackneyed, story of pirates and treasure hunting,” contrasting it with the full series “of what would now be categorized as graphic novels.” 4 He stresses the similarities shared between the comic stories and earlier popular culture genres, such as boys’ adventure yarns, and screen genres of the 1930s and 1940s. 5 To frame an understanding of how Spielberg’s representation of childhood and adolescence differs from the kind evidenced in young adult genres such as the coming-of-age or rite of passage film or the young adult “problem novel,” the next section of this chapter discusses the psychological and sociological theories of adolescent identity that commonly underpin interdisciplinary childhood studies. THEORIES OF CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902–1994), is often credited as the first theorist to foreground and systematize the concept of adolescent “identity” and the “work” of adolescence as the establishment of a stable, psychosocial identity. For Erikson, adolescence is seen to be the final stage of childhood and involves a necessary crisis of development. 6 The adolescent process, however, is conclusively complete only when the individual has subordinated his childhood identifications to a new kind of identification, achieved in absorbing sociability and in competitive apprenticeship with and among his age-mates. 7

Analogous to the role of play in early childhood, identity formation is the basic task to be performed in adolescence, through which the individual may indulge in “free role experimentation” to “find a niche in some section of his society.” 8 Successful growth and transformation depends


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on social recognition, on reciprocal acknowledgment of his status from those individuals and communities whose value and position make sense to the adolescent. These validating entities may be members of aspirational/occupational/cultural groups to which he/she aspires, associates of “kindred minds” or even “the mighty dead”—ego ideals or cultural role models from the past. 9 Spielberg’s Tintin, in contradistinction, neither experiences an adolescent crisis in which familiar childhood identifications are disintegrated in favor of the acknowledgment of peers, nor does he depend on ego ideals or communities of interest to validate his emerging identity as an adult in the making. The analysis below shows that the representation of Tintin oscillates between socially independent adulthood, and eternal, omnipotent childhood: a child who experiences physical maturation without concomitant social or sexual development. In a reading of the Hergé comics that positions them in a historical European context, Apostolidès argues that Hergé’s work exploits the “myth of the superchild” which he sees as a key myth of the early twentieth century. 10 Despite having experienced puberty, he argues, Tintin remains “pure,” a term with clear sexual connotations but also suggesting a rejection of adult preoccupations. Hergé’s hero thus repudiates the necessity of transcending adolescence for adult social identity. The cinematic Tintin’s arrested development and lack of social identifiers has been discussed by other commentators. 11 Spielberg’s construction foregrounds Tintin’s role in the film’s action line without dramatizing his acquisition of social identity, or, apparently, any inner life or affect. McBride refers to the film’s “impersonal feeling,” speculating that the director’s “fascination with . . . new cinematic toys” overrode his ability to move audiences. 12 Spielberg’s adaptation thus foregrounds the inherent two-dimensionality of Hergé’s hero, neither man nor boy and lacking the social markers of “either a Christian name or a surname.” 13 As a character who seems to possess significant agency in the lives of others, however, Spielberg’s Tintin shares qualities that resonate with theory generated by the “new” sociology of childhood paradigm. Developed some two decades ago, 14 this body of work emerged as a discourse oppositional to that of developmental psychology, which it viewed as mechanically behaviorist, instead emphasizing the social construction of childhood. Rather than viewing children as works-in-progress toward a fully developed adult state, the social constructivist position stresses the agential participation of children in the here-and-now as “social actors,” valid “structural components” of society, including the workplace and the family. 15 The orthodoxies of the constructivist paradigm have subsequently been subjected to revision and critique. For example, global and minority childhood studies scholars have argued that children’s agency (like that of adults) is always limited by structural constraints, and that the macrofactors affecting children and young people should be given

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sufficient attention. In addition, more nuanced theoretical work in developmental psychology that recognizes childhood as both transitional and culturally constructed is now widely acknowledged. 16 Theories of children as social actors do not necessarily imply agency, however, in the sense that the child’s negotiations and interactions with social others make any kind of difference. 17 As a character, Spielberg’s Tintin appears to be neither culturally constructed nor engaged in adolescent becoming. However, in the film’s relationship line, his interactions, interventions, and manipulation of his friend, Captain Haddock, do effect social change. He can thus be understood as an agent, though one curiously solipsistic with regards to other social structures and contexts. The film’s many comic action scenarios, on the other hand, provide vehicles to showcase fantasies of regressive or infantile omnipotence that do not fit either the paradigm of psychosocial development or social constructivist theories of child agency within defined cultural contexts. NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT AND DIALOGICAL FILM INFLUENCES Erikson’s account of the stages of childhood and the adolescent quest for identity implies a linear narrative of change and progress. However, the theory of psychosocial development contends that this progress is contingent on relationships and new identifications with significant others— those ego-ideals who embody values and represent cultural discourses with which the adolescent identifies or institutions in which the adolescent aspires to have a place. Commercial film genres similarly privilege a narrative of crisis and resolution centered around the development of a single individual. However, industry practice conventionally strips out the cast of characters inhabiting proximal zones. Scriptwriters foreground a number of key characters in the interest of paring down the complexity of the story for viewers, thus eliminating the societal contexts that are the stage and necessary constructs of adolescent maturation. In Spielberg’s adaptation, Captain Haddock emerges as the protagonist whose narrative of change discloses the film’s ideological value. Not only is he the character who performs the task of reconfiguring identifications, his family history, together with his professional aspirations, provide the societal contexts and ego-ideals that support the work of “adolescent” psychosocial development. Nick Nguyen comments that Spielberg interprets Hergé’s hypotexts in a dialogic conversation with the narrative conventions of Hollywood film genres” and the industrial discourses of “modern visual effects.” 18 How film genres have been prioritized changed during the 1980s and 1990s, as Hollywood entered the age of globalization, driven by competition for audience share from other digital screen content, and the rapidly


Leonie Rutherford

changing televisual ecology worldwide. A rapidly expanding television market in Europe and elsewhere was hungry for content. This changed situation directed that the major players in the U.S. industry, “develop long-term strategies to build on a strong base of operations at home while achieving a ‘major presence in all of the world’s important markets.’” 19 Competition for audience share and the economic recession of the late 2000s exacerbated the studios’ focus on popular and risk-averse production choices, such as “tentpole” properties and franchises, that are “instantly recognizable and exploitable across all platforms and all divisions” of the companies. This strategy resulted in a narrowing of genres to fantasy novels and children’s novels, comics, particularly superhero comics, cartoon revivals, and video games. 20 The most profitable audience segments targeted by big budget “tentpole” movies are the “‘Teen and Pre-Teen Bubble,’ consisting of avid filmgoers aged ten to twentyfour; and ‘Boomers with Kids,’ consisting of children, parents and grandparents in the eight-to-eighty demographic.” 21 Tentpole productions are considered risk-averse, since they have the ability to sell well in international markets, facilitate promotional tie-ins, and are sequel-friendly, enabling the creation of a franchise. Spielberg’s choice to adapt a brand little known in the United States, and thus lacking a devoted fan base to which the film could be prepromoted, may have constituted a risk in that market. But it does reflect “changed industry realities” 22 given the increased importance of international markets. One major consequence of the decrease in genre diversity has been a prioritization of clear story concepts and increased action and spectacle. Midlevel and low budget films have been outsourced to producers independent of the Hollywood majors. These Indie films are perceived as “tough sells to an audience” often featuring complex story concepts, or “slice of life, character-driven stories” that lack the pace and focus on a quest, or problem and resolution plotline, that characterize the franchise productions. 23 Scriptwriting theorists writing for industry practitioners of these high-concept films systematize plot concepts, particularly the norm of the “three-act-structure,” discussed in more detail below. The industry convention of the three-act structure partially accounts for the difference between The Adventures of Tintin and the representation of the inner life and crises of adolescent characters found in coming-of-age films or young adult realist fiction—where inner affective crises and the social context in which they occur predominate. Twenty-first-century Hollywood scriptwriting theory, owes its genesis to Norman Friedman—a neo-Aristotelian—who systematized thinking about genres in terms of their structures and, more importantly for studies of representation, their underlying values. Robert McKee’s scriptwriting bible, Story (1999), claims that genre structures such as the “education plot” and the “redemption plot” are “subtle forms in which story arcs at the level of inner conflict [. . .] bring about deep changes within the

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mind or moral nature of the protagonist.” 24 By industry consensus, story arcs in the classic or conventional narrative film “involve a three-act, linear, chronological one-story piece about a single protagonist on a suspenseful journey towards a goal.” 25 Though this structure is not the only one employed in commercial films, it is the most prevalent in a high-cost, risk-averse industry, since it builds in a fast pace and a suspenseful “build to closure.” This deep structure, with in-built identification with a central character, as Linda Aronson notes, is vital to manipulating audience affect and reaction predictably. This practice resonates with charges against Spielberg as a manipulator of audience affect, particularly in his films using child subjects. 26 Classical Hollywood structure with its convention of an active protagonist who “struggles against primarily” though not exclusively “external forces” closely parallels the adolescent trajectory of crisis and inner conflict as catalysts for change and maturation that are modeled in Erikson’s theories of psychosocial development. 27 Both the Hollywood “maturation plot” (coming-of-age) and the “education plot” (deep change in the inner life and worldview) are both associated with narratives of childhood and adolescent growth. 28 A conventional narrative divides its plot points, from an opening hook, followed by dramatic high points at the end of each “act” and the climax, which resolves the central problem of the story. 29 Structurally, these narratives depend on a catalyst that fragments the protagonist’s “normality” and moves him/her in a new direction. A brief comparison of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and The Adventures of Tintin can be used to elucidate the differences in how this classic structure operates in the two films. A troubled young boy Elliott (Henry Thomas) is most clearly the developing character—the protagonist—in E.T. Despite the film’s spectacular opening scene which depicts the alien scientific mission with its suspenseful chase scene involving sinister, unnamed predators that results in the abandonment of one of the ship’s company, the alien is an unchanging character. However, E.T. is one whose challenging presence provides Elliott with a catalyst for his own psychosocial development. Elliott’s normality has actually been disrupted prior to the film’s opening. When the boy’s father abandons his family to go off with a younger woman; Elliott’s life is changed—his identification configurations are fragmented. The film’s second scene takes place in the new family configuration, with the harassed, time-poor mother unable to provide the stability Elliott craves, and the older adolescent sibling and his peer group operating to exclude Elliott. He is thus alienated from his new social world. E.T. mobilizes a maturation plot and relationship modeling associated with the Hollywood “buddy” genre. Linda Aronson argues that buddy movies, like romantic comedies, allow the “partners” to operate “as joint protagonists in the action line (fighting the common foe) but as protagonist and antagonist in the relationship line.” 30 This distinction acknowledges that while commercial narrative films are usually con-


Leonie Rutherford

cerned with the protagonist’s adventure—the main plot, or foreground story—a secondary meaning or value is derived from the protagonist’s relationships. 31 Elliot engages and ultimately leads in a joint adventure with the “buddy” E.T., to save the alien from the scientists and allow him to return home. As emotional antagonist, albeit in a productive sense, E.T. is the enabler of Elliott’s maturation journey. Their developing friendship and its relinquishment signals the child’s growth to maturity. Elliott completes his adolescent crisis by achieving respect and recognition from the adult male scientist, Keys, and the film’s closure foreshadows Keys’s integration into a new patriarchal family through a potential relationship with Elliott’s mother. Unlike Tintin, Elliott is supported in his growth by older siblings and peers, adult characters, and by E.T. himself. His development thus fits Erikson’s model of psychosocial development as well as Hollywood industry norms. However, in The Adventures of Tintin, the driven action does not permit the development a peer or authentically intimate relationship between Tintin and Captain Haddock. There are elements of “buddy salvation” 32 in Tintin’s enabling of Haddock’s education and moral development in the process of completing the adventure mystery. However, there is no true peer intimacy. Rather, Tintin as changeless child or agential adult, is constructed as supporting the maturation of the adult characters. He does this without support from either peers, fellow journalists from his workplace, or adults who might provide him with recognition or validation within the social communities a young adult would normally be part of. Tintin also functions as a “narrative agent making stories happen” rather than a journalist in a work environment whose socially acknowledged role is to “report them.” 33 Spielberg’s adaptation combines story elements from three Hergé comics: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of The Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure (all three originally published between 1940 and 1943 as volumes in Hergé’s series, The Adventures of Tintin, but not translated into English until much later). In his imposition of a three-act structure, Spielberg and his writing team invest Captain Haddock as the central protagonist, in that it is he that undergoes the fundamental change. In undergoing reeducation and rehabilitation from infantile regression into alcoholism, Haddock—though an adult—effectively takes the place of the subject-in-development, the adolescent role. The film’s problem, and thus its ideological work, involves Haddock’s crisis of masculine identity. Tintin as agent enables this rehabilitation and reintegration into the power structures implied by Haddock’s illustrious and noble maritime forebears. Haddock’s alienation from this patrimony—again occurring prior to the film’s beginning—is the fracturing of normality that the narrative must redress. Spielberg makes many excisions to impose this narrative norm, and the consequences of some of these mean that Tintin is further deprived of social support for his identity and his efforts. In Herge’s The

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Secret of the Unicorn, Haddock is a friend of some standing. Tintin has first encountered him in The Crab with the Golden Claws. In fact, Tintin is motivated to purchase the model ship—The Unicorn—as a gift for his friend. Admittedly, Hergé’s Tintin does not engage in peer contexts either—all his friends seem to be adults—however in Spielberg’s adaptation, any suggestion of normal social interaction in Brussels is elided, as is the history of earlier friendship and social intercourse with Haddock. Although “everyone knows Tintin,” in Spielberg’s construction of the putatively adolescent reporter, he is never shown as socially situated as an early career journalist, or a family member. Any exploration of psychosocial development in the film is thus necessarily confined to the inner life and social dilemmas of Haddock. To further reinforce the industry conventions of the protagonist’s inner and external conflicts that effect deep developmental changes in the mind or “moral nature,” 34 Spielberg makes changes to the character of Sakharine that provide an antagonistic parallel to Haddock’s trajectory of development and masculine identity work. Where Haddock is the moral equivalent of his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock, Sakharine is configured as the reincarnation of Red Rackham, his unscrupulous pirate ancestor. Protagonist and antagonist reenact an earlier seagoing battle in the final act climax, a harborside battle with huge cranes that form a symbolic counterpoint to the swordplay of the historical precedent. In making the narrative about Haddock’s adventure, and the gradual revelation of Haddock’s story due to Tintin’s intervention, Spielberg builds a maturation plot that takes Haddock from child-like regression through an adolescent journey, its culmination being reintegration into masculine hierarchies of power symbolized by the “mighty dead.” 35 Haddock’s adolescent egoideals inhere in his lost family heritage, his family’s former seat, and his adult status is reinforced by his worthiness for recognition in this patrilineal heritage of bravery, peerless seamanship, and an indomitable and fearless spirit of adventure. Spielberg’s film also engages in a dialogic relationship with the technological apparatus and conventions of the twenty-first-century industry. The film’s three-dimension aesthetics together with Spielberg’s production partnership with Peter Jackson more firmly situates the narrative within the action genre. Three-dimensional projection was widespread by 2009. Box office hits of that year included Dreamworks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens, and the record-setting Avatar from Fox Studios. Avatar, like Tintin, “combined immersive three-dimensional images and sophisticated performance-capture technology.” 36 Unlike Tintin, Avatar was predominantly a live-action film rather than a fully animated feature. Tintin also uses three-dimension to maximize audience affect through spectacle and a driving narrative pace. Hergé’s comics are, certainly, adventures situated in exotic settings, realistically depicted through comic codes. 37 But Spielberg’s use of three-dimension projection


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technology and the affordances of CGI animation influence the aesthetics of his shot and scene composition. Three-dimension has been used in independent films for poetic effects as well as mapping the body in motion: for example, in Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). In twenty-first-century commercial cinema, however, three-dimension technologies have been used as characteristic stylistics of action genres such as comic book, superhero, and fantasy franchises, and to increase the element of spectacle and audience response. Like L’arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat (1895), the famous black and white film by the Lumière brothers, a cause célèbre of early cinema exhibition history, the aesthetics of three-dimensional design manipulates audience involvement by breaking the fourth wall. Spielberg’s use of three-dimension and other compositional design features to support the build to closure normative in the action genre reduces the potential for representation of an “inner life” through which any developmental struggle might be acted out. McBride describes Tintin as a “relatively impersonal jeu d’esprit and technical exercise.” 38 Hergé’s bandes dessinée included moments of “political satire” and “more becalmed, intuitive moments,” necessarily providing a very different, more “genteel” reading experience, than the “rat-a-tat pace and endless chase sequences” lamented by some reviewers of the film. 39 Spielberg’s direction of his first animated feature takes advantage of the technological and aesthetic properties of the medium to build a narrative structure that is episodic, and that privileges action and the hyperextension of the bounds of physical possibility. Tintin rarely engages in introspection. The film boasts only two relatively calm and contemplative moments. One such scene occurs following the escape of Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy from The Karaboujan, Haddock’s usurped ship. The three are marooned on their broached lifeboat after the captain has set fire to the boat in a fit of drunken delirium. The extended character monologue, Serkis’s gestural exuberance, and the shot design focuses on Haddock’s feelings of failure and general worthlessness. The second interlude in the midst of frantic action occurs after Sakharine and his crew have escaped from Bagghar having successfully commandeered all three clues to the whereabouts of The Unicorn’s lost treasure. This provides a rare moment in which Tintin seems to be experiencing feelings of failure, lack of confidence, and loss of will to selfdirected action. However, this scene also quickly reprojects onto Captain Haddock’s crisis of identity, his adult-like advice to Tintin functioning as a projection of Haddock’s own experience and affect. This is signaled by what is in effect the soliloquy mode as Haddock’s form stretches and erupts into extreme animated “close-up,” almost breaking the fourth wall. However, such moments of interiority are rare. Tintin quickly resumes his own obsessive-compulsive fixation on the next clue and stratagem. Myke Bart-

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin

Figure 11.1.


Haddock and Tintin in two-shot, Haddock counsels Tintin.

lett’s analysis of Spielberg’s characterization stresses both Tintin’s lack of inner affect common to realist representations of adolescent development and his almost exclusive deployment as an agent of narrative. He is a “driven, utterly decent adventurer who rarely utters a word that doesn’t drive the story forward. . . . It is as difficult to imagine Tintin becoming morose as it is to picture him cracking a joke.” 40 This absence of affect is more pronounced in Spielberg’s film than in Hergé. The more gradual narrative exposition of the three bandes dessinée permits frames in which Tintin is given the opportunity to reflect in thought bubbles (or as asides to himself) on the mistakes he has made. This reported interiority registers some self-doubt and wry emotion, action related though it generally is. The body language of Hergé’s characters is used to “communicate emotion, anxiety, tension, [and] anger,” as Spielberg himself recognized, though this element is not emphasized in the film adaptation. 41 Given Spielberg’s choice of motion capture, a technology that makes possible much greater control and consciousness of the body, the possibilities for expressing the body consciousness of adolescence is rarely exploited. Motion capture, is a process that involves attaching movement sensors to an actor during live performance, allowing the movements to be mapped realistically on to an animated avatar. It results in a “brand of animation that appears much more lifelike than conventional animation with the actors given far greater control of how their character behaves on screen.” 42 Spielberg was drawn to this technique, which enabled a handheld feel to the work and allowed the director to improvise camera movements as the action was shot: “[t]he motion capture camera, con-


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taining a six-inch monitor and hand controls . . . enabled Spielberg to put himself literally in the spaces inhabited by the actors wearing motion sensors. He could walk around them (unseen by the digital camera),” 43 capturing three-dimensional embodiment in a fluid and flexible way. Significantly, Spielberg—making references to Peter Jackson’s innovation in this technology as a vehicle for affective characterization—refers to this as performance capture. This indicates both a design and narrative preference not simply for realistic movements but also for close modeling of the CGI avatars on the embodied identity of a particular actor. This design choice resulted in the now-famous partnership with Jackson, whose WETA company pioneered the near-perfect humanity in the idiosyncratic and personalized character, Gollum, in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations. Andy Serkis, who famously brought Gollum to life in the trilogy, plays Captain Aloysius Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin. Both Tintin and Haddock are animated using the captured performance of actors Jamie Bell and Serkis, respectively. While utilizing characteristic gestures from the comics as reference poses, Spielberg and Jackson’s cocreation of the animated bodies translate the affect conveyed by iconographic codes in Hergé into more material incarnations of “emotion, anxiety, tension, and anger.” 44 The depiction of Snowy also relies on motion capture, if not the performance of embodied personality possible with the human actors. Spielberg’s use of the youthful Bell to perform Tintin, therefore, would seem to make it reasonable to assume that Tintin—the character—is to be read as adolescent and his animated avatar to “perform” bodily codes for adolescent masculinity. An analysis of Bell’s performance in its narrative context certainly demonstrates the performance of physical codes for youthful masculinity, but the social and sexual situatedness of adolescent identity and its embodiment is not prioritized. “BODY CONSCIOUSNESS”: TINTIN AND THE PERFORMANCE OF ADOLESCENT MASCULINITY In the next part of this chapter, I analyze the performance of adolescence encoded by Bell and rendered by Jackson and Spielberg. In his discussion of the animated films of Jan Svankmajer, Paul Wells cogently elucidates the animator’s preoccupation with the body in transition, and the relationship of bodily functions to various kinds of identity: political, social, sexual. In his reading of Darkness, Light, Darkness (1990), Wells finds an “emergence of the child’s self-conscious body . . . monitoring its own awkwardness and difficulty.” 45 The theme of the body in transition, which Wells finds in Svankmajer’s work, aligns well with the bodily selfconsciousness typical of adolescence, an abjection commonly dramatized in fictions for young adults yet barely registered in Spielberg’s film. In Bell’s captured performance of the eponymous hero viewers can read a

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin


number of codes by which individuality and personality are incarnated in the animated avatar: for example, movement, muscular codes, gestures, and vocal intonation. How far does this performance and encoding conform to behaviors and social conventions associated with adolescent masculine identity? In a series of works on the social construction of gender, R. W. Connell and colleagues elaborate the ways in which the practices associated with acceptable masculinities relate to the embodied aspects of maleness, extending to “a certain feel to the skin, certain muscular shapes and tensions, certain postures and ways of moving.” 46 Jessica Birthisel, who looks at the way in which celebrity voice-overs, cultural and ethnic “vocal markers,” and physical styling of non-human animals in CGI-animated children’s films establishes characters as male, takes this idea a little further. Deploying Connell’s work, together with Butler’s conceptualization of the “heterosexual matrix,” she identifies three primary codes: bodily masculinity, social masculinity, and sexual masculinity that aid viewers of CGI-animated films to identify anthropomorphized animal characters as male. 47 These analytic categories can be usefully applied to a reading of the encoding of adolescent masculinity in The Adventures of Tintin’s hybrid animation aesthetic. This aesthetic is one that combines a fuller range of embodied performance with conventional CGI character styling. Spielberg’s Tintin suggests codes for bodily adolescence, however, he lacks both the social and sexual markers of adolescent masculinity. Furthermore, the construction of Tintin does not register the inner traumatic affect and “body consciousness” identified by Wells. The analysis below finds that Spielberg’s Tintin fails to represent relationship of bodily functions to various kind of identity: political, social, sexual that would be consistent with an Eriksonian account of psychosocial development. BODILY ADOLESCENT MASCULINITY Spielberg and Jackson, cognizant of the power of the brand with the legion of “Tintinophiles” worldwide, and the commercial implications of this loyal viewership, retain much of Hergé’s iconic character design, particularly in the secondary characters like Haddock and the Thompson twins. Both aimed for the “reality of a live-action film,” yet emphasized that “shooting them in a traditional live-action format would simply not honor the distinctive look of the characters and world that Hergé created.” 48 Nevertheless, the use of motion capture means that the marking of bodily materiality is readily apparent. A comparison of the opening title credits—which use more iconic two-dimensional animation—with the three-dimensional aesthetics of the main film, shows that the construction of the adolescent male body exhibits both the muscular shapes and tensions, postures and movement styles, identified by Connell. 49 The title


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sequence firmly signals the film’s placement within the action adventure genre. Moreover, it suggests the time-honored lineage of the heroic action movie, paying homage both to the opening silhouette sequences of the 1960s thriller in general, and the title animations done by Saul Bass for the films of Alfred Hitchcock in particular. 50 In The Adventures of Tintin, the two-dimensional Tintin races through a kind of dumb show that narratively foreshadows the characters and events that the film proper will flesh out. The body of the eponymous hero is stylized as action hero in perpetual motion, significantly always linked as a dyad with his dog Snowy. The pair hurtle at breakneck speed, always in parallel. Both are illuminated by the animated spotlight that follows them as generic code for the thriller, though possibly also referencing the vaudeville elements of early twentieth-century animation as boy-and-his-dog frequently tumble into the slapstick physical comedy of the Hergé hypotext. The bodily codes for adolescent masculinity portrayed include exuberant, tireless muscularity, and the ability to effect lightning fast changes of posture: from running, changes of direction, leaps, kicks, and split-second drops to protective crouches around Snowy. All these indicate the lissom flexibility of the youthful body.

Figure 11.2.

Tintin: Youthful Action Hero

As the narrative proper begins, the film morphs to the three-dimensional aesthetic, where the rendering of Tintin incorporates Bell’s captured performance, including his voice acting, but departs much more radically from Hergé’s concept designs. A number of reviewers have commented on the opening scene, which is situated in a digitally idealized Brussels street market, and which marks the imprimatur of the Tintin brand. A street artist—recognizably identifiable as Hergé himself—is shown sketching the iconic visage of the comic-book Tintin. The camera then reveals the artist’s subject, Spielberg’s three-dimensional hero, a fully rendered creation in which traces of the original character design can be discerned together melded with Jamie Bell’s own physiognomy and

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin


characteristic gestures. 51 Bell was in his mid-twenties during the production. However, his industry history associates him with child and youth roles. Coming to prominence as a child star in Billy Elliott (2000), he also played the roles of the teenage loner, Hallam Foe in the film of the same name (2007), and the young Briton slave, Esca, in the cinema adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s historical novel for children, The Eagle (2011). Bell’s youthful voice and comparatively short stature have seen him cast in the juvenile sidekick role in the recent sci-fi film, Snowpiercer (2013). The street market scene that opens The Adventures of Tintin exhibits characterization traits that carry forward throughout the film. Tintin’s relative size compared to the adult characters marks him as adolescent. This is disclosed via a series of two-shots, together with digitally animated tracking shots that serve the three-dimensional projection of space as well as strongly rendering the material, three-dimensionality and situated presence of the “actors.” Bell’s vocal performance and his characteristic open, polite visage when meeting adult characters, also suggests a boyish social deference. The physical styling of Spielberg’s Tintin exaggerates elements of youthful physicality while paying homage to Hergé’s concepts. The iconic quiff and the characteristic jutting-forward posture of Tintin’s neck are easily referenced directly from the comic pages. However, along with the svelte outline of the underdeveloped adolescent physique, Spielberg adds disproportionately large hands, feet, and long, muscled forearms. These hyperemphasized features might indicate the potential for adult growth. Yet, foregrounded by the animation design and the three-dimensional cinematography, they also mark a powerful physical masculinity. This action Tintin moves easily into vocal assertiveness, once his polite refusals to Sakharine and the other would-be purchaser of the model ship prove unavailing. Likewise, this pre-adult body more than readily braces itself stealthily to engage in gunplay in the same manner as a Bond hero or the protagonist of a police procedural. SOCIAL AND SEXUAL ADOLESCENT MASCULINITY However, the film’s representation of Tintin’s social and sexual masculinity is more problematic. The opening scene in Brussels situates Tintin in a hyperrealistic setting that imaginatively re-creates a known geographical location, as does the detailed reimagination of his apartment at 26 Labrador Street. 52 Tintin possesses the physical reference points for a social context—a museum of typewriters, framed prints of his most famous scoops as a detective-reporter, and a well-provided home office. Yet the sparsely populated and fast-paced narrative of The Adventures of Tintin presents the teen cub reporter as socially isolated, even more so than the hero from the comic hypotext. Tintin is removed from peer contexts where social codes for adolescent masculinity should be negotiated and


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performed with and for others. According to Connell and Messerschmidt’s account of relational negotiation of gender, characteristic tropes of performed masculinity are “socially defined in contradistinction from some model (whether real or imaginary) of femininity.” 53 In addition, despite ostensibly working as a journalist, Tintin lacks the social support from the newsroom, the commissioning editors or publishers, who might fill the roles of adult ego-ideals in Eriksonian theory. In response to Sakharine’s query—“who is that young man”—articulated after the villain’s abortive attempt to buy the model Unicorn, the bric-a-brac seller responds incredulously, “that’s Tintin. Everyone knows Tintin!” He is a cipher for fame it seems. More importantly, Spielberg’s Tintin lacks the narrative embedding in the patriarchal social contexts and relationships such as father-son or peer conflicts that so often provide the impetus that launch the adolescent’s journey toward an adult social identity in coming-of-age and maturation plot fictions. Where Hergé’s Tintin enjoys long-standing friendships with adults such as Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, 54 as well as his inseparable and talkative canine, Milou, Spielberg’s hero possesses no intimate others, except (and notably) his companion animal, Snowy. Tintin lives chastely in his apartment with his fox terrier, demonstrating loving indulgence and enduring the occasional outbreak of slapstick mayhem. However, where Nick Nguyen discerns a developing friendship with Captain Haddock according to the conventions of the buddy movie, 55 my reading suggests that, once the driving quest commences, the boy and his dog mutually aid, abet, and protect each other in a more perfect performance of the friendship of equals. The most striking absence in any representation of adolescence is that of sexual codes for masculinity. Both Hergé and Spielberg reject sexual development on the part of their hero. In this Spielberg’s Tintin differs in affective structure from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with which The Adventures of Tintin has been variously compared. Spielberg claims to have had no knowledge of the Tintin series until a French reviewer of Raiders alerted him to its existence. 56 Indiana Jones may also be a comic-style, two-dimensional man-boy, inhabiting the exotic demimonde of the boy’s own adventure yarn, but the narrative structure of the earlier film deploys a romantic comedy subplot, thus mobilizing the dramatization of male-female gender negotiations. Jean-Marie Apostolidès contends that the Tintin of the comic hypotext must remain in a pure state of arrested development, since acceptance of sexuality would oblige him to become complicit in a maturation plot, to “to accept childhood, maturity and aging as episodes of life.” 57 Where the “real world reproduces itself via sexuality,” he argues, Tintin’s narrative universe is “based upon the mythical principle of self-reproduction”—that is, a fantasy of infantile self-sufficiency and omnipotence in which the

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin


child can produce adult “fathers” at will without being in any way subject to them or their ability to regulate his place in a social world. 58 In Spielberg’s film only one scene contains the possibility for gender negotiation through interaction with a significant female character: the opera diva, La Castafiore, the “Swedish Nightingale.” Sakharine has engineered the diva’s tour to the Sultanate of Bagghar so that her collatura tour-de-force might shatter the bulletproof case that protects the final model Unicorn from would-be thieves. As the diva makes her entrance, a close framing of Tintin’s face seems to suggest a moment of uncharacteristic rapture, a desiring, adolescent response to her emphasized and abundant feminine charms. But any audience expectation of an erotic event is confounded. Tintin’s rapt attention has in fact been triggered by the inner solution to yet another clue. Captain Haddock’s more normative display of heterosexual response—making ogling, publicly shared sexual references to the singer’s femininity—marks his social performance of a kind of adolescent masculinity that accords with contemporary reproductive norms in boy-girl sexual encounters. CONCLUSION: GENRE, ACTION, AND AGENCY RECONSIDERED Tintin’s abstraction from most social and intimate cues might be read as an artifact of the action-adventure genre. Both Hergé’s comics and Spielberg’s film do not attempt to deviate much from the mode of the boy’s own adventure. In this mode, Tintin’s structural role, therefore, is to provide a catalyst for action rather than to demonstrate the inner life and social anxieties of adolescent psychosocial development. Nevertheless, the imposition of a deep structure of maturation and education, centered on Captain Haddock, provides an intriguing interplay of representations of childhood agency, adolescent angst, and identity dramas and fantasies of infantile omnipotence. Tintin, the character, is represented as vacillating between the enactment of adult-like agency in the film’s relationship line, and fantastic displays of infantile omnipotence in the action line sequences made possible by the endless extensibility of CGI action. As reviewers have noted, Spielberg’s direction uses the technology to facilitate compositional and structural innovations, privileging an episodic structure of “progressively fast-paced action sequences . . . filmed in continuous long takes,” symbolic and often metaphoric scene transitions, along with “movements that would be physically impossible to achieve with a ‘Steadicam’ . . . in live-action production.” 59 These extensible, fantastic sequences, such as the wild chase down the mountainside in Bagghar, in which Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy compete with Sakharine, his bird, and his minions to secure possession of the three scrolls that show the location of Sir Francis Haddock’s treasure,


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move from the realism of live action, from the everyday geography of Brussels, into a superhero mode. Tintin and Haddock transform from embodied, material beings in a discernible geo-historical setting to enact fantasies of infantile omnipotence in which anything is possible. In an earlier sequence, in which the heroes escape by plane from Sakharine’s ship, The Karaboujan, Tintin’s fuel crisis is solved by using the fumes from Haddock’s alcoholic breath. The lower, physical comedy of the unregulated body thus replaces any mature stricture on Haddock’s propensity for substance abuse. These sequences exhibit the tension between an infantile regressive childhood free of adult restraint and the adult-like, mature agency that Tintin demonstrates in his interventions to facilitate Haddock’s quest, and the captain’s maturation and redemptive journey. These fantasies of infantile omnipotence contrast with examples of Tintin’s agency and social responsibility as, for example, when he intervenes to coax Haddock’s buried memories, to manage his alcoholic regression, and to guide him in the role he must take to complete the journey to reclaim his patrimony. However, Tintin must take this responsibility unsupported by the social and community networks through which adolescent development is negotiated in both Eriksonian theories, and in new childhood studies explanations of child agency. To conclude then, though some aspects of the three-dimensional, embodied adaption of Tintin—as performed by Jamie Bell and realized by the animation designers—seems to present the character as adolescent in bodily terms, his primary function is as narrative and social agent, an actor whose ultimately supporting role brings about social and affective development in an adult protagonist. NOTES 1. Jean-Marie Apostolidès, “Hergé and the Myth of the Superchild,” Yale French Studies 111 (2007), 47. 2. See, for example, Dan Callahan, “Arrested Development.” Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema 27 (2003), ts/; Jorge Didaco, “In the Eyes of Children,” Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema 27 (2003), 2003/steven-spielberg/spielberg_symposium_films_and_moments/; Andrew Gordon, “Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun: A Boy’s Dream of War,” Literature Film Quarterly 19, no. 4 (1991); James Kendrick, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014; R. C. Neighbors and Sandy Rankin, eds., The Galaxy Is Rated G: Essays on Children’s Science Fiction Film and Television (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011). 3. Paul Wells, Animation: Genre and Authorship (London: Wallflower, 2002), 42. 4. Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 3rd ed. (London: Faber & Faber, 2012), 530. 5. Ibid., 530–31. 6. Erik Erikson, “The Problem of Ego Identity,” in Adolescent Identities: A Collection of Readings, ed. Deborah Browning (Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013); Identity,

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin


Youth and Crisis (New York: Norton, 1968). As the first to propose the concept of stages of pyschosocial development, Erikson’s work is used as symptomatic of a tradition of developmental psychology that places more emphasis on universal stages or transitions, and less on social construction of identity in particular cultural contexts. 7. “The Problem of Ego Identity,” 224. 8. Ibid., 225. 9. Ibid., 225. 10. Apostolidès, “Hergé and the Myth of the Superchild,” 45–57. Apostolidès explains that this myth, which he compares to the Nietzschean superman, arose out of the traumatic defeat of the French in the Sudan in 1870. Represented in films and novels it refers to the tendency of youth to view their elders with suspicion, and culminates in the open social rebellion of the generation of 1968. 11. See Myke Bartlett, “‘The Adventures of Tintin’: Drawn into Motion,” Screen Education 56 (2012). 12. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 531. 13. Bartlett, “Drawn into Motion,”10. 14. See, for example, Allison James, Chris Jenks, and Alan Prout, Theorizing Childhood (Cambridge, UK: Polity/Blackwell, 1998); Alan Prout and Allison James, eds., Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood (London & New York: Falmer, 1990); Jens Qvortrup et al., eds., Childhood Matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics (Avebury: Aldershot, 1994). 15. E. Kay M. Tisdall and Samantha Punch, “Not So ‘New’? Looking Critically at Childhood Studies,” Children’s Geographies 10, no. 3 (2012), 249–50. 16. See Alan Prout, The Future of Childhood: Towards the Interdisciplinary Study of Childhood (London: Routledge Falmer, 2005); Martin Woodhead, “Child Development and the Development of Childhood,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies, eds. Jens Qvortrup, William A. Corsaro, and Michael-Sebastian Honig (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). 17. Tisdall and Punch, “Looking Critically at Childhood Studies,” 255. 18. Nick Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), Directed by Steven Spielberg, Produced by Peter Jackson, Screenplay by Stephen Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright. Based on Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin,” European Comic Art 5, no. 1 (2011), 109. 19. Tino Balio, Hollywood in the New Millennium (London: Palgrave Macmillan/British Film Institute, 2013), 10. 20. Ibid., 25. 21. Ibid., 26. 22. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 531. 23. Balio, Hollywood in the New Millennium, 26. 24. Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (London: Methuen, 1999), 80. 25. Linda Aronson, The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films (Los Angeles, CA: Silman-James Press, 2010), 45. 26. Joseph Fortunato, “The Gaze and ‘the Spielberg Face’: Steven Spielberg’s Application of Lacan’s Mirror Stage and Audience Response,” Visual Communication Quarterly 21, no. 1 (2014); Gordon, “Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.” 27. McKee, Story, 45. 28. Ibid., 81. 29. Aronson, The 21st Century Screenplay, 51. 30. Ibid., 163. 31. Ibid., 58. 32. McKee, Story, 79. 33. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” 111. 34. McKee, Story, 80. 35. Erikson, “The Problem of Ego Identity,” 225. 36. Balio, Hollywood in the New Millennium, 32.


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37. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper Collins, 1993). 38. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 530. 39. Ian Nathan, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” Empire (2011),; also cited in Bartlett, “Drawn into Motion,” 14. 40. Bartlett, “Drawn into Motion,” 10. 41. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 532. 42. Bartlett, “Drawn into Motion,” 11. 43. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 532. 44. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” 110. 45. Paul Wells, “Body Consciousness in the Films of Jan Svankmajer,” in A Reader in Animation Studies, ed. Jayne Pilling (London: John Libbey, 1997), 182. 46. R. W. Connell, Masculinities. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005; cited in Jessica Birthisel, “How Body, Heterosexuality and Patriarchal Entanglements Mark Non-Human Characters as Male in CGI-Animated Children’s Films,” Journal of Children & Media 8, no. 4 (2014), 342. 47. Birthisel, 340–47. 48. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 531. 49. Connell, Masculinities, 53. 50. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” 112; Bartlett, “Drawn into Motion,” 12. 51. “Drawn into Motion,” 10. 52. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” 53. R. W. Connell and James Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Gender & Society 19, no. 6 (2005); cited in Birthisel, 343 (my italics). 54. Apostolidès, “Hergé and the Myth of the Superchild”; Serge Tisseron and Barbara Harshav, “Family Secrets and Social Memory in ‘Les Aventures De Tintin,’” Yale French Studies 102 (2014). 55. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” 56. McBride, Steven Spielberg, 530. 57. Apostolidès, “Hergé and the Myth of the Superchild,” 51. 58. Ibid., 50. 59. Nguyen, “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” 111.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Apostolidès, Jean-Marie. “Hergé and the Myth of the Superchild.” Yale French Studies 111 (2007): 45–57. Aronson, Linda. The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films. Los Angeles, CA: Silman-James Press, 2010. Balio, Tino. Hollywood in the New Millennium. London: Palgrave Macmillan/British Film Institute, 2013. Bartlett, Myke. “‘The Adventures of Tintin’: Drawn into Motion.” Screen Education 56 (2012): 7–17. Birthisel, Jessica. “How Body, Heterosexuality and Patriarchal Entanglements Mark Non-Human Characters as Male in CGI-Animated Children’s Films.” Journal of Children and Media 8, no. 4 (2014): 336–52. Callahan, Dan. “Arrested Development.” Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema 27 (2003). 2003/steven-spielberg/spielberg_symposium_films_and_moments/. Connell, R. W. Masculinities. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005. ———, and James Messerschmidt. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society 19, no. 6 (2005): 829–59.

Body Consciousness and Adolescence in The Adventures of Tintin


Didaco, Jorge. “In the Eyes of Children.” Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema 27 (2003). sensesofcinema. com/2003/steven-spielberg/spielberg_symposium_films_and_moments/. Erikson, Erik. Identity, Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton, 1968. ———. “The Problem of Ego Identity.” In Adolescent Identities: A Collection of Readings, edited by Deborah Browning, 223–39. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013. Fortunato, Joseph. “The Gaze and ‘the Spielberg Face’: Steven Spielberg’s Application of Lacan’s Mirror Stage and Audience Response.” Visual Communication Quarterly 21, no. 1 (2014): 40–53. Gordon, Andrew. “Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun: A Boy’s Dream of War.” Literature Film Quarterly 19, no. 4 (1991): 210–21. Hergè. Red Rackham’s Treasure. London: Methuen, 1959. ———. The Secret of the Unicorn. London: Methuen, 1959. ———. The Crab with the Golden Claws. London: Methuen, 1971. James, Allison, Chris Jenks, and Alan Prout. Theorizing Childhood. Cambridge, UK: Polity/Blackwell, 1998. Kendrick, James. Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. 3rd ed. London: Faber & Faber, 2012. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. London: Methuen, 1999. Nathan, Ian. “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” Empire (2011). Neighbors, R. C., and Sandy Rankin, eds. The Galaxy Is Rated G: Essays on Children’s Science Fiction Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Nguyen, Nick. “Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), Directed by Steven Spielberg, Produced by Peter Jackson, Screenplay by Stephen Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright. Based on Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin.” European Comic Art 5, no. 1 (2011): 108–17. Prout, Alan. The Future of Childhood: Towards the Interdisciplinary Study of Childhood. London: Routledge Falmer, 2005. Prout, Alan, and Allison James, eds. Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood. London & New York: Falmer, 1990. Qvortrup, Jens, et al., eds. Childhood Matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Avebury: Aldershot, 1994. Spielberg, Steven. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Universal Pictures, 1982. Spielberg, Steven. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Paramount Pictures, 1981. Spielberg, Steven. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn. Paramount/Columbia Pictures, 2011. Tisdall, E. Kay M., and Samantha Punch. “Not So ‘New’? Looking Critically at Childhood Studies.” Children’s Geographies 10, no. 3 (2012): 249–64. Tisseron, Serge, and Barbara Harshav. “Family Secrets and Social Memory in ‘Les Aventures De Tintin.’” Yale French Studies 102 (2014): 145–59. Wells, Paul. Animation: Genre and Authorship. London: Wallflower, 2002. ———. “Body Consciousness in the Films of Jan Svankmajer.” In A Reader in Animation Studies, edited by Jayne Pilling, 177–94. London: John Libbey, 1997. Woodhead, Martin. “Child Development and the Development of Childhood.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies, edited by Jens Qvortrup, William A. Corsaro, and Michael-Sebastian Honig. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.


Abagnale, Frank W., 221, 222, 227 abduction of children: Adam Walsh, 72, 73, 79, 81, 82; anxiety about, 12, 50, 72–73, 74, 75, 231; as a national problem, 73–74; as a theme in Steven Spielberg’s films, 71–72, 75, 232; assumption of parental guilt, 82; Charley Ross, 73; culprits of, 75, 86; Etan Patz, 72, 73, 82; JonBenét Ramsey, 82; in popular culture, 73–74; issue of time in, 87; Kevin Collins, 72, 74; mediation of, 72, 73; “paradox of absence and presence,” 82–83; statistics on, 74; Steven Staynor, 72, 73 Abrams, J. J., 36–37 Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies, 97 action genre, 261–262, 265–266. See also Bond, James adolescent identity development, theories of: social constructivist, 253–254, 256. See also Erikson, Erik adolescent male body, 265–266, 267, 270. See also masculinities Adventures of Tintin, The: The Secret of the Unicorn, 1, 14, 32, 39, 137n37, 141, 253–255, 256–257, 258, 260–270 agency, child, 12, 253, 256, 257, 269, 270; direction of, 123, 125, 129, 130, 131, 133; moral/altruistic, 123, 133; occurrence, 126, 127, 128, 131; properties of, 123, 133; structure of, 122, 133; type of, 125, 128, 129, 133 A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 1, 8, 10, 13, 62, 64, 114, 122, 141, 207, 216–221, 227 Albee, Edward, 54 Alice in Wonderland (Burton), 112 ambiguous loss, 72, 77, 81; definition of, 77 Amblin’, 3, 66n5, 96–97, 98

Amistad, 32 Amityville Horror, The, 52, 64 Arms, Gary, 122, 134 Audrey Rose, 4, 68n47 Back to the Future, 32, 112, 141, 192 Bale, Christian, 8, 207, 213 Ballard, J. G., 8, 209, 210, 221 Bambi, 4 bandes dessinée, 253, 262, 263. See also Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin series Barber, Benjamin, 19, 21, 25, 31, 36, 39 Barrie, J. M., 4, 6, 11, 175, 178n3, 179n20, 183, 187, 188, 189, 192, 193, 196, 198, 199, 200, 201 Barrymore, Drew, 5 Barthes, Roland, 187, 188 Battered Child Syndrome, The, 61 Baxter, John, 46–47 Beard, William, 185, 191–192, 195, 197 Bellamy, Ralph, 53 Benchley, Peter, 63, 97 Benson, Sheila, 108, 109 Bényei, Tamás, 145 Bettelheim, Bruno, 91 BFG, The, 141 bipolar disorder. See manic depression Biskind, Peter, 29, 31, 94 Black Stallion, The, 100 Blair, Linda, 61–62 Blake, William, 4, 8, 11 Blatty, William Peter, 45 Bond, James, 267 Boss, Pauline, 72, 77 boys’ adventure yarns, 255 Bradbury, Ray, 55 Bridge of Spies, 32 Brode, Douglas, 5, 63–64, 134 Brothers Grimm, 91 275



Brown, David, 97 Buckland, Warren, 66n5, 114n17 Burnt Offerings, 59, 65 Butler, Bill, 46, 59 Cameron, Sue, 46 Canby, Vincent, 25, 109 Catch Me If You Can, 13, 35, 124, 128–129, 131, 207, 221–226, 227 CGI technology, 262, 264, 265, 269 Charcot, Jean-Martin, 53 child abuse, 58–61, 231 child abduction. See abduction of children childhood : as adult anxiety, 195, 196; as adult ideology, 185, 195, 196; ghosts of, 165; and adulthood, 185, 197; and innocence, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 27, 57, 64, 72, 79, 121, 122, 123, 127, 133, 134, 141, 144, 146, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 157n34, 166, 173, 175, 178, 183, 185, 187, 198, 203, 209, 214, 231, 248; as nostalgia, 190, 195, 196, 197, 198; as myth, 190, 195, 198; as performance, 165, 169, 172; and race, 13, 141–156; and sentiment, 1–2, 11, 231, 232, 242; and time, 171, 175 Christian religion, 49, 51, 52, 63 Citizen Kane, 9 Clayton, Jack, 46, 58 Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 21, 23, 29, 34, 36, 37, 38, 42n48, 49, 50, 57, 62, 64, 68n60, 91, 94, 95, 98, 99, 100, 107, 124, 128, 129, 131, 134, 136n34, 191, 207, 210, 216, 232; abductions in, 77–78, 81, 83; depiction of extra-terrestrials in, 77, 79; home invasions in, 77–81; illusion of safety in, 77; music in, 79; parental focus in, 79–81, 85–86; shifting perspectives in, 78–81 Clouse, Robert, 45–47, 50, 55, 60, 63, 65 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 4, 5 Collins, Jim, 183, 190, 191, 192, 194, 195 Color Purple, The, 8, 13, 31, 36, 38, 71, 72, 113, 124, 128, 129, 131, 138n47, 141–156 Color Purple, The (Walker), 8, 142

Conjuring, The, 51 Coveney, Peter, 11 Coyote, Peter, 6 Crawley, Tony, 66n5 Crichton, Robert, 222 Damien: Omen II, 3 Demara, Ferdinand Waldo, 222 DeMille, Cecil B., 2 Denby, David, 108 Dennis, Sandy, 47, 53, 61 depression. See manic depression Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 208 DiCaprio, Leonardo, 207, 223 Dickens, Charles, 8, 9, 157n34 Disney, Walt, 4–5, 29, 95, 183 Disney company, 4, 5, 15n28, 19, 22, 30, 35, 36, 98, 99, 107, 109, 110, 141, 180n25, 185, 187, 191, 195, 196, 201 Douglass, Mary, 142–143 Dreamworks Animation, 261 Dreyfuss, Richard, 5, 11, 21, 207 Duel, 3, 33, 38, 45, 46, 66n5, 67n42, 94 Ebert, Roger, 222 Empire of the Sun (film), 1, 8, 13, 31, 34, 71, 72, 122, 124, 126, 127, 128, 131, 134, 141, 145, 207, 208, 209–216, 217, 218, 219, 221, 226, 227 Empire of the Sun (novel), 209 Empire Strikes Back, The, 98, 99 Enter the Dragon, 45 Escape to Nowhere, 2 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 14, 23, 29, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 50, 57, 63, 72, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 100, 101–106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 116n76, 117n98, 126, 127, 131, 136n34, 137n41, 137n42, 141, 207, 259–260 exorcism, 58–59, 61–63, 64 Exorcist, The, 3, 45, 46, 47, 60, 61, 66n15, 68n48 family-adventure movies, 93, 99, 112, 113 family audience, 19, 30, 98, 99, 178

Index family film, 21–23, 30, 31–32, 34, 35–36, 37, 39 Fantasia, 5 fathers and fatherhood, 46, 58, 59, 63, 65, 92, 93, 95, 99, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 109, 112, 113, 197, 199, 201, 211, 216, 218, 219, 223, 224, 225, 227, 268; and authorship, 201, 202 feel-good film, 23, 33–34, 38 Female Gothic, 52 film classification, 166 Finney, Jack, 62 Firelight, 2, 96, 98, 100 Fox Studios, 261 Ford, Harrison, 100, 126 Fox, The, 53 Freud, Sigmund, 60, 63, 208 Friedkin, William, 45 Friedman, Lester D., 1, 33, 36, 38, 63, 114n17, 134, 151, 177, 185, 186, 202, 232 Friedman, Norman, 258 Gale, Bob, 99 Gartenberg, Jon, 109 Gelmis, Joseph, 108 gender, 131, 133 Gone with the Wind, 9, 110 Goonies, The, 137n36, 141 Gordon, Andrew M., 8, 11, 29, 42n48, 50, 77, 114n17, 136n34, 234, 248 Gottlieb, Carl, 46 Graham, Billy, 68n48 Greatest Show on Earth, The, 2 Great Expectations (Lean), 8 Great Imposter, The (book), 222 Great Imposter, The (film), 222 Gremlins, 32, 112, 141 Guffey, Cary, 5, 57, 77 Harry Potter franchise, 26, 27, 112 Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin series, 14, 254, 256, 257, 260–262, 263–264, 265–267, 268, 269 Hitchcock, Alfred, 66n16, 95, 191, 266 Hoberman, J., 10, 34 Hoffman, Denis, 96–97 Hollywood film conventions, 254; buddy genre, 259–260, 268;


commercial strategies, 257–258, 265; education plot, 258, 259; homage to, 265–266; maturation plot, 259, 261, 268; scriptwriting theory and practices, 258–259, 260–261 home invasion, 49–52 Hook, 4, 5, 13, 63, 71, 72, 134, 137n35, 141, 207; aesthetic, 185, 187, 192, 193, 194, 197; critical reception, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187; narrative, 184, 187; and new sincerity, 183, 184, 190, 191, 192, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 202, 203; and nostalgia, 194, 195, 196, 198, 201, 203; and Peter Pan, 183, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196, 198, 199, 200 Hooper, Tobe, 1, 50 hysteria, 50, 52, 53, 54. See also mothers and motherhood Imaginary, the, 163, 233 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 63, 112, 124, 126, 131, 141, 144 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 9, 57, 61, 71, 112, 124, 128, 129, 130, 131, 141, 144 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, 32 Indiana Jones series, 23, 31, 35, 36, 141, 144, 145 Innocents, The, 46 Jackson, Peter, 261, 264 James, Henry, 46, 47, 49, 58 “Jar, The” (Bradbury), 55 Jaws, 22, 33, 36, 38, 46, 52, 94, 97, 98, 114n18, 116n49, 124 Jim Crow, 142–143, 145 Jurassic Park, 9, 14, 60, 112, 126, 131, 233, 234–237 Jurassic World, 141 Kael, Pauline, 7, 11, 53, 94, 95, 211, 228n11 Kauffmann, Stanley, 94 Kaufman, Dave, 45, 53 Kendrick, James, 1, 9, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 50, 52, 114n17, 122, 134, 136n34, 138n49, 185, 188, 215, 229n35, 232



“Kick the Can”. See Twilight Zone: The Movie Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, The, 71 kidult, 12, 19–40 Kiley, Dan, 5, 20–21, 25 King, Stephen, 52, 67n32 Kolchack: The Night Stalker, 67n42 Kotzwinkle, William, 107–108 Kowalski, Dean A., 114n17 Kraepelin, Emil, 208 Kubrick, Stanley, 10, 58, 217 Last Train Wreck, The, 2 Lean, David, 8 L’Engle, Madeleine, 62–63 Les Misérables (Hugo), 222 Lewin, Bertram D., 214, 215 light, Spielberg’s use of, 47, 48, 49 liminality, types of, 163 Lincoln, 32, 34 Locke, Richard, 189, 199 lost children, 1, 8, 14, 49, 50, 62, 63, 87, 207, 217, 218, 221, 226, 227, 232, 248, 249; abandoned children, 212, 216, 217, 218; missing children, 231, 232, 233, 238, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244. See also abduction of children; possessed child Lost World, The: Jurassic Park, 9, 32, 124, 126, 128, 131, 137n39, 141 Lucas, George, 11, 15n28, 29, 30, 31, 35, 36, 95, 98, 107, 108, 110 MacNaughton, Robert, 8, 58 mania. See manic depression manic depression, 13, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 219, 220, 222, 224, 225, 226, 227 Manichean, 52, 62 Martin, Emily, 208 masculinities, 265; adolescent masculinity, 267–268; sexual codes for, 268–269. See also adolescent male body Maslin, Janet, 9, 94 maternal paranoia, 65 Matheson, Richard, 67n42 Mathison, Melissa, 7–8, 95, 100, 108–109

May, Jill P., 188, 189 McBride, Joseph, 1, 2, 3, 14n6, 46, 68n60, 71, 83, 156, 185, 186, 202, 222, 254 McClintock, Anne, 143 McGavin, Darren, 48, 67n42 melodrama, 207 Minority Report, 1, 14, 32, 113, 137n45, 232, 238–243 Morris, Nigel, 114n17, 234 Moskowitz, Gene, 94 mothers and motherhood, 12, 92, 93, 95, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 106, 108, 109, 111, 112, 113, 207, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 223, 224, 226, 227; earth mother, 49, 52, 63; hysterical mother, 47, 52–56, 58–60, 65; New Age mother, 49, 52, 63, 65 motion capture technology, 262, 263–265, 266–267, 270 Munich, 32, 71 New Age religion, 45, 49, 52, 63 new sincerity. See Collins, Jim; Hook and new sincerity Newman, Kim, 46 Nichols, Mike, 54 Night Stalker, The, 67n42 Night Strangler, The, 67n42 obsession/possession. See possessed child occult. See also See witchcraft 45–46, 51, 53, 56–57, 59, 68n43 “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (Wordsworth), 5 Oliver Twist (Dickens), 8, 157n34 Oliver Twist (Lean), 8 Omen, The, 4, 65 Other, The, 46 O’Rourke, Heather, 49, 77, 127 Osment, Haley Joel, 10, 207, 219 paedophobia, 61 pedophilia, 13, 147, 148, 149, 153, 154, 155, 232, 249 Penn, William, 51 Peter Pan : Disney film, 4, 5, 15n28; J. M. Barrie’s, 4, 91, 109, 183, 187, 188, 189,

Index 192, 198, 199, 200, 201; Spielberg’s version of, 183, 184, 187, 188, 189, 192, 195, 198, 199, 201; happy thoughts, 196, 202; influences, 4, 185, 187, 189, 191; In Kensington Gardens, 161; Little White Bird, The, 166; as myth, 187, 188, 189, 190, 191, 194, 195, 198; Peter and Wendy, 180n22; statue, 198; urtext, 4, 192, 193, 196 Peter Pan syndrome, 4, 20–21, 164, 186, 202 Pinocchio, 4, 5, 10, 217 Polanksi, Roman, 46 police procedural, 267 Poltergeist, 1, 7, 49, 50, 57, 63, 64, 71, 72, 82–88, 95, 100, 113, 126, 136n34; abduction in, 77, 82, 83; alignment with real-life abductions, 85–87; ambiguous loss in, 83, 85–86; direction of, 88n4; family stress in, 86–87; illusion of safety in, 77, 82, 83, 86; MPAA rating of, 85; “paradox of absence and presence” in, 83, 85; parental focus in, 82, 83–85, 84; remake of, 85; similarities to “Little Girl Lost,” 83; sound in, 83–85 Pomerance, Murray, 35 popular culture genres, 255, 258 possessed child,. See also See Something Evil 3, 12, 45, 46, 47, 56–57, 66n15 Postman, Neil, 21, 25, 26–27 psychoanalysis, 91, 92–93, 95 puer aeternus, 20 Quakers, 51 race. See childhood and race Raiders of the Lost Ark, 94, 95, 98, 99, 100, 107, 114n18, 268 Real, the, 232, 238 regression (psychoanalytical concept), 20, 25, 28, 38, 39, 40 Richardson, Alan, 4 Riley, Thomas, 122, 134 Rockwell, Norman, 215, 226 Roman Catholic demonology, 56 Romanticism, 3–11, 163, 164


Rose, Jacqueline, 166, 186, 195, 198 Rosemary’s Baby, 46, 53 Sarris, Andrew, 95, 108, 109, 111–112 Saving Private Ryan, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 113 Schickel, Richard, 121, 229n26 Schindler’s List, 1, 2, 8, 9, 31–32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 71, 113, 134 science fiction, 96, 98–99, 100, 112 Second Wave feminism, 52 Selinsky, Wladimir, 47, 48, 49 Selznick, David O., 9 Sheehan, Henry, 5, 68n52, 162, 186, 187, 200 Sheinberg, Sidney J., 3 Shining, The, 58, 64 Shor, Francis, 187, 200, 201 Showalter, Elaine, 53 Silvers, Chuck, 3 Sinyard, Neil R., 4, 33, 46, 53 Sixth Sense, The, 112 Slipstream, 96 Smith, Ceil, 45, 48 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 4 Something Evil, 1, 3–4, 8, 12, 33, 45–66, 66n5, 67n42, 71, 75, 97 Spielberg, Arnold, 2, 3, 208 Spielberg, Steven: amateur films of, 2, 96; and anti-Semitism, 115n28; bullying, 2; childhood and upbringing, 2; early career of, 3, 96, 97; education, 2; effects of parents’s divorce on, 2, 6, 95, 208, 222 Star Wars, 23, 31, 91, 92, 94, 98, 99, 107, 110, 112 stereotypes, 142 Sterritt, David, 95, 116n76 Stevens, Wallace, 221 Stockton, Kathryn Bond, 197 suburban trilogy, 49, 50, 52, 64, 65, 136n34 Sugarland Express, The, 3, 63, 68n60, 71, 72, 75–76, 87, 94, 97, 115n19, 124; abduction in, 76; inspiration for, 75; parental focus, 76, 85 Superman, 23, 98, 99 Symbolic, the, 233



Taylor, Philip M., 46, 66n5 Ten Commandments, The, 99 Thomas, Henry, 6, 11, 57 Thomson, David, 94 three-dimension projection technology, 261–262, 265, 266–267 Titanic, 112 Todorov, Tzvetan, 47 topographies, 167–171; Nursery, the, 168; Neverland, 167 Toy Story franchise, 113 Transformers franchise, 39, 112, 141 trauma, 2, 3, 10, 12, 14, 20, 38, 47, 64, 71, 77, 83, 85, 86, 92, 95, 98, 104, 113, 122, 151, 207, 208, 227, 229n35, 235, 237, 238, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 247 Trouble with Harry, The, 66n16 Truffaut, François, 6 Turn of the Screw, The (James), 46, 58 Twilight Zone: The Movie, 5, 124, 127

244–247 Warren, Ed and Lorraine, 51 Wasser, Frederick, 185, 191 Webster, Daniel, 68n49 Whitaker, Johnny, 3, 46, 61 White, Patrick, 24 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, 54 Williams, John, 9, 172 Williams, Robin, 13, 40, 63, 165, 207; performance in Hook, 184, 193; memorial, 203 Wilson, Emma, 231 Winsten, Archer, 109 witchcraft,. See also See occult 45–46, 51, 53, 56–57, 59, 68n43 Wizard of Oz, The (Baum), 91, 109 Wood, Robin, 11, 30–31, 33, 38, 52 Wordsworth, William, 4, 5, 6–7, 8, 9, 11, 163, 164 Wrinkle in Time, A (L’Engle), 62–63

violence, 174, 175

Zaillian, Steven, 9 Zanuck, Richard, 97 Zemeckis, Robert, 99–100, 116n59 Žižek, Slavoj, 232–233

Walker, Alice, 8, 142, 145 War Horse, 8, 32, 124, 129, 131, 141 War of the Worlds, 9, 12, 14, 113, 122, 124, 128, 129, 133, 134, 141, 233,

1941, 94, 95, 99–100, 207

About the Contributors

Jen Baker is a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, UK, examining depictions of the child as monstrous in Anglo-American literature and culture during the period 1830–1930, with a particular focus on the living and dead child body as a means for expressing anxieties about the changing social status of childhood. She is co-founder and co-chief editor of HARTS & Minds, a peer-reviewed journal for postgraduate students and early career researchers in the Arts and Humanities. She has forthcoming chapters in collections on Alice in Wonderland, Representations of Cruel Children, and the Child in Horror and has published articles on the murderous child in William March’s The Bad Seed and the gothic representation of the pedophile in narratives since the nineteenth century. Jessica Balanzategui received her PhD in screen and cultural studies from the University of Melbourne, Australia, where she teaches film, media, and cultural studies. Her research examined uncanny child characters in a body of horror films from America, Spain, and Japan that emerged at the turn of the millennium. She has also published work about theme parks in Japan, slasher films, the work of Guillermo del Toro, and is currently working on a co-authored monograph about the Hannibal television series. Jessica’s work has been published in edited collections by McFarland and Palgrave Macmillan, as well as journals such as Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, Media International Australia, and e:tropic. She coedited the Refractory special issue, “Transmedia Horror.” Noel Brown received his PhD in Film from Newcastle University, UK, where he currently teaches film and literature. His primary areas of interest are British and Hollywood cinema history, particularly in relation to “youth culture” and its relationship with mass audiences. He is the author of The Hollywood Family Film: A History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter (2012), British Children’s Cinema: From The Thief of Bagdad to Wallace and Gromit (2016), and Contemporary Hollywood Animation (forthcoming), and co-editor of Family Films in Global Cinema: The World Beyond Disney (2015). He has written for such publications as The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Red Feather, and Scope. He is current281


About the Contributors

ly preparing a book on the children’s film genre for Wallflower/Columbia University Press’s “Short Cuts” series. Ingrid E. Castro earned her MA and PhD in Sociology with Graduate Certificates in Gender Studies and Cinema Studies from Northeastern University, and two BAs from the University of Delaware with majors in Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies. Currently an associate professor of Sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA, she regularly teaches courses related to the sociology of childhood and the sociology of film. She is a co-founding member of the Research and Ethics Committee for the American Sociological Association’s Section on Children and Youth. She is the lead editor for the forthcoming edition of the Sociological Studies of Children and Youth Book Series (Volume 22), titled Researching Kids and Teens: Methodological Issues, Strategies, and Innovations. Andrew M. Gordon is professor emeritus of English at the University of Florida and vice president of the PsyArt Foundation. He is the author of An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer (1980); Psychoanalyses/Feminisms, co-edited with Peter Rudnytsky (2000); Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, co-authored with UF sociologist Hernan Vera (2003); and Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg (2008). In addition, he has published eighty-five essays and thirty-five reviews on Jewish-American writers and on contemporary American science fiction films. James Kendrick is an associate professor in the Department of Film and Digital Media at Baylor University, United States, where he teaches classes on film theory/aesthetics, the history of motion pictures, media and society, violence in the media, and horror film. He is the author of three books: Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg (2014), Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema (2009), and Film Violence: History, Ideology, Genre (2009). He has also published several book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles in Film Criticism, The Velvet Light Trap, the Journal of Film and Video, and the Journal of Popular Film and Television, as well as presented papers at numerous conferences. In addition to his academic work, he is also the film critic for the web site Peter Krämer is a senior lecturer in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) as well as a regular guest lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic) and at the University of Television and Film Munich (Germany). He is the author of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (2014), A Clockwork Orange (2011), 2001: A Space Odyssey (2010), and The New Hollywood: From Bonnie

About the Contributors


and Clyde to Star Wars (2005), and the co-editor of Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives (2015), The Silent Cinema Reader (2004), and Screen Acting (1999). He has published more than sixty essays on American film and media history, and on the relationship between Hollywood and Europe, in academic journals and edited collections, including several pieces on Spielberg. Gabrielle Kristjanson holds an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Alberta, Canada, and is currently a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is associate editor of Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies and former editor of Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature. Gabrielle is interested in how children are represented in fiction, particularly in narratives about lost or abducted children. She has presented her research internationally and has published articles on ambivalence in children’s literature, and on monsters and monstrous spaces in children’s and adult fantasy literature. Her PhD research investigates the stability of childhood in contemporary child abduction narratives. Debbie Olson, PhD, is lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has edited or co-edited a number of collections on children, cinema, and popular culture, including Lost and Othered Children in Contemporary Cinema (2012), Portrayals of Children in Contemporary Culture (2012), and Hitchcock’s Children: The Child in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock (2014). She is also the editor-in-chief of Red Feather Journal: An International Journal of Children’s Popular Culture ( and Series Editor for Lexington Books’ Children and Youth in Popular Culture series. Fran Pheasant-Kelly is MA course leader, reader in Film and Television Studies, and co-director of the Film, Media, Discourse, and Culture Research Centre at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. Her research centers on fantasy, 9/11, abjection, and space, which form the basis for two books Abject Spaces in American Cinema: Institutions, Identity and Psychoanalysis in Film (2013) and Fantasy Film Post 9/11 (2013). She is also the co-editor of Spaces in the Cinematic Home: Behind the Screen Door (2015). Leonie Rutherford (PhD, Australian National University) is a senior lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University. She is the author of a number of national and international book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on Australian children’s television drama and international co-production, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the Australian animation industry, and the institutional and socio-legal contexts of children’s culture genres. Her current Australian Research Council grant explores the influence of marketing communications on


About the Contributors

children’s health and environmental education, and her previous ARC Linkage project used the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children to investigate the educational and well-being outcomes associated with Australian children’s media use. Adrian Schober has a PhD in English from Monash University, Australia, and is the author of Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (2004). He has published widely on the child figure in cinema and literature, including peer-reviewed chapters in edited collections and journal articles in Literature/Film Quarterly, The Journal of Popular Culture, The Lion and the Unicorn, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Senses of Cinema, and Red Feather: An International Journal of Children in Popular Culture. He also serves on the editorial board of Red Feather: An International Journal of Children’s Popular Culture and is a member of the advisory board for Lexington Books’ Children and Youth in Popular Culture series.