Spielberg’s Classic Film Celebrates Childhood Imagination


Over the past six decades, Steven Spielberg has become one of the most prolific and respected filmmakers of his generation, forging a vast body of unforgettable films. And with classics like Jaws, Dating of the Third Kind, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, jurassic park, Schindler’s list, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds and West Side Story in its name, it’s easy to see why. The man specializes in delivering character-driven, emotionally rich, and supremely satisfying cinematic experiences. But for all the classics of Spielberg’s name, a film remains a startlingly singular encapsulation of precisely who he is as a storyteller more than any other work: HEY

Much like Spielberg’s other works in the 70s and early 80s, HEY is a genre film rooted in classically pulpy sci-fi storytelling. It started life as a much more menacing alien-centric thematic sequel to Dating of the Third Kind title night sky. But night sky kept stalling as Spielberg struggled to find an endearing hook to the story, as seen in Susan Lacy’s excellent film Spielberg documentary, until he teamed up with writer Melissa Mathison and turned the film into an account of a much more benign alien encounter. But the masterstroke that turned HEY into the indelible classic that it is today was how Spielberg and Mathison captured childhood.

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On the surface, the alien, affectionately nicknamed ET, is the narrative engine at the heart of HEYthe story. He is accidentally stranded on Earth and taken in by young Elliot Taylor and Co. As a team of military researchers search for him, ET experiences life on Earth through Elliot and his family’s eyes and forms a bond. close with Elliot in particular. When said military forces inevitably collide with history, Elliot, his friends and family must work to free ET and bring him home. Thematically, however, what Spielberg and Mathison do with HEY is to make a film about childhood imagination and the desperate struggle to hold on to it as people grow into adults.

ET is symbolic of Elliot’s childhood innocence, coming to Elliot at a time when he needed it most. When HEY begins, Elliot’s parents have just divorced and Elliot has to take on more and more responsibilities at home. ET appears in the garden shed in the Taylors’ backyard, and no one else in the family believes Elliot when he tells them about the “goblin” he saw. This means that only Elliot believes in ET, especially because of his innocence.

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This leads to Elliot not only finding ET, but forging a bond with him by bringing him to his childhood bedroom and showing him his world. Elliot’s room is a child’s room decorated with toys and star wars paraphernalia: a veritable incubator of Elliot’s imagination. One of the first things Elliot shows ET is how to play with these toys, proving how much Elliot loves to let his mind run free within these walls.

As ET learns more and more about Elliot’s world and is introduced to both Michael (Elliot’s older brother) and Gertie (Elliot’s younger sister), HEY remains vehemently committed to the idea of ​​being a children’s film. Spielberg keeps the camera low, showing the audience the world from Elliot’s perspective. John William’s insatiably wonderful score and Spielberg’s camera work work the extra hours to sell the admiration of every moment of discovery with ET and Elliot to phenomenal effect. Most telling of all, aside from Elliot’s mother, HEY does not feature a single adult face onscreen for the first half of its runtime.

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The first half of HEY is singularly committed to creating an incubator of childhood innocence and imagination, not just for the characters but for the audience. Even on the periphery, Spielberg stuffs ET’s margins with bits of his own childhood: Elliot re-enacting scenes from his idol John Ford The quiet manGertie being read Peter Pan or AND communicating with children via Buck Rogers comics. But as the story progresses, ET gets sicker and sicker, more and more desperate to “phone home”, and the army closes in on them. Here, HEY literally depicts childhood sliding into the pragmatically analytical nature of adulthood.

And it wasn’t until military forces seized the Taylor home, and Spielberg’s camera took the audience through the hazmat tunnel into the home’s quarantined state, that HEY shows the public the faces of adults. The awesome wonder of ET as a character and HEY as a film is put to the test and literally dissected before the eyes of the public. The adults aren’t as enamored with ET as Elliot is, and his siblings see him as something to quantify rather than feel.

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When a government official asks Michael about the connection between ET and Elliot asking him: “Elliot is thinking about his thoughts?” Michael responds, “No…Elliot feels his feelings.” The connection between ET and children is driven by emotion, while any connection between ET and adults is bound to be driven by intellect. This is best demonstrated by Keys, the main government agent who led ET’s search, who tells Elliot that he once met ET when he was a child and has been searching for evidence ever since.

Keys is the adult who has spent his entire life trying to reclaim his childhood wonder. He is, in many ways, a darker echo of Elliot. Because while ET is under government scrutiny, so is Elliot. He is brought headfirst into the adult world in HEY, his once delightfully idiosyncratic and imaginative bedroom turned into a cold, calculated, sterilized observatory. When ET dies, Elliot’s imagination and innocence also vanish – his childhood, literally and metaphorically, is lost. But as ET rises from the dead and Elliot and Co. decide to fight for him, to save him from the clinical analysis of the adult world, they fight for the very pleasure of their childhood wonder. .

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All this leads to HEYThe transcendent final moments of Elliot, his friends and family bring ET back to his spaceship. Here, Spielberg and editor Carol Littleton take HEYThe main themes at heart in the development of the montage: they avoid linear cutting rooted in the narration in favor of an associative cutting rooted in emotion. As Williams’ operatic score crescendos and ET says goodbye, he points to Elliot’s forehead and says, “I’ll be there.” Just like Wendy in Peter PanElliot knows he has to grow up, that he can’t stay a kid forever, but right now, ET reassures him that the beauty, imagination and innocence of childhood will always be with him.

In many ways, Spielberg is Elliot. He has spent his career retaining the awe and imagination of his childhood, successfully recreating that same sense of wonder for generations of moviegoers. With HEYSpielberg made a timeless ode to the stories he loves and the fine act of preserving childhood imaginations in earnest.


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