Thursday, 10 March 2016

"E.T." (1982) - A review.

Fig 1. 
E.T. (1982) directed by Steven Spielberg centers on a young boy, Elliot - affected by the split between his Mother and Father - who encounters a stranded extraterrestrial, dubbed E.T. Thereafter, Elliot learns about, and eventually bonds with E.T. and eventually aids him in his attempts to ‘phone home’. It’s a slow burner, that takes it’s time to show Elliot’s need for friendship, which pays off so well in the third act, it could probably wring a tear from a rock.

Fig 2.
First, It is useful to note the father's absence in proceedings. For it informs us to Elliot’s isolation, and perhaps could be passed as sound reasoning on why the relationship between E.T. and himself works so well. Indeed, “E.T.” is very much a film that basks in the absence of Elliot’s father. Spielberg himself muses “I really have always thought E.T. was about the divorce of my mom and dad.  Ever since my parents’ divorce (I think I was 16 or 17 years old) I had a lot of stories in my mind about how to tell it, and I had this story kicking around about a boy who finds an imaginary friend (in this case would be an extraterrestrial friend), and that was going to fill his many, many needs for the missing father.” (Spielberg, 2001) Of course, the absence of the father figure is ingrained within the cinematography itself, in that, we don’t see an adult male's face for the majority of “E.T.”’s run time. The ones that we do see are always filmed from the waist down, until the relative end of the movie, wherein we finally see the identity of the man that had been hunting E.T. since he landed.
Fig 3.

This way of filming has another effect, in that it plays on earlier tropes established by Spielberg in “Close encounters of the third kind” where he portrays alien characters in a sympathetic light, and in E.T’s case, builds on this and even reverses it, in so far as we humans seem the most alien of all. A particular scene which sticks in mind is when the men from NASA are walking down the street, backs to the sun. Walking in unison, as if pod people.

Indeed, the absent father is a recurring motif in Spielberg’s works.  “Beyond E.T. alone, Stahl notes that the “workaholic absent father is a recurring character in Spielberg’s movies.” Many of Spielberg’s other films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hook, exemplify strained father-son relationships, or absent fathers altogether.” ( There is a certain sense of longing, and loss too, that seeps into the very soil of this film, it lends itself to making E.T. an emotionally complex piece; not only in a way that the audience can relate to, but also in a way that seems like a cathartic experience, for both the audience, and Spielberg himself.  “After dealing with the dark and malevolent forces that came from behind and below, Spielberg counterbalanced it with two “light” (versus dark) movies about benevolent creatures from above, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (’77) and E. T.  In both movies the benevolent creatures come from outer space, but E.T. is much more about inner space and inner feelings” (Reiter, 2008) This is shown succinctly at the end, when Elliot is forced to say goodbye to E.T. It’s a moment that resonates for its purity, its believability. Yes the day is saved! - but you still have to say goodbye.

E.T. is the perfect balance of character development, showing and not telling, and ultimately, Spielberg’s most personal film. Strangely adult for a family film, it portrays the complexities of loss, the magic in being found again, And the bittersweet magic of saying goodbye.  


Arbeiter, Michael “How Steven Spielberg’s Daddy Issues Influenced Every Film from ‘E.T.’ to ‘Lincoln’” [online] Available at: http://www.hollywood.com/movies/how-steven-spielberg-s-daddy-issues-influenced-every-film-from-e-t-to-lincoln-59093251/ [Accessed 10/03/2016]

Spielberg, Steven “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 20Th Anniversary Special”. NBC, 2002. video. Quote found at: http://internationalpsychoanalysis.net/2008/05/22/e-t-the-extra-terrestrial-advent-of-the-absent-father/ [Accessed 10/03/2016]

Reiter, Gershon “E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Advent of the Absent Father” [online] Available at : http://internationalpsychoanalysis.net/2008/05/22/e-t-the-extra-terrestrial-advent-of-the-absent-father/ [Accessed 10/03/2016]


Fig 3. NASA [image] Available at: http://deadshirt.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/et_the_extra-terrestrial_6.png


  1. 'Strangely adult for a family film, it portrays the complexities of loss, the magic in being found again, And the bittersweet magic of saying goodbye.' - A very engaging review, Joe :)

    1. Thank you Jackie :) Glad you enjoyed it.

      Should have the Rosemary's baby one up soon.