Pope.L, E.T., and Spielberg
As you may not know, E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial is going to be a big part of Pope.L’s upcoming performance. In preparation for the big day, I’ve been doing some research on Steven Spielberg, watching some of his movies and generally getting familiar with the material. Not being very familiar with his work, I was a little surprised at some of what I found.When I think of Speilberg, I tend to think of big, block-buster type movies. Saving Private Ryan, the Indiana Jones films, and Jurassic Park all spring to mind. I picture large, exciting plots and sweeping narratives. E.T. certainly fits among these films. Although E.T. is hardly threatening; as a character, he is implicated in the wider subject of aliens and outer space, and what could be more exciting than UFOs and government agents?
Of course, Speilberg has many such movies, but many of his films employ darker motifs. If you’re familiar with his work, it may be obvious, but I had forgotten that Spielberg also directed Schindler’s List and Amistad. Speilberg is nothing if not prolific, yet there are themes that one can draw across his works. When E.T. is set against films like these, alienation takes on an entirely different meaning. Although E.T. predates both movies, it draws from the same emotional well. If you haven’t seen any of these recently, I highly suggest you look them up. When you do, here are some thoughts to mull over:
In each of these films the possessive gaze of others is a dangerous and frightening thing. The protagonists of the films each risk becoming specimens, to be used and abused. Nazis (Schindler’s list) and the institution of slavery (Amistad) come about as close to evil incarnate as you can get on this earth. Accordingly, their eyes, and their gaze, exert a powerful affect on the characters in both movies. As the gaze of the Nazi officers wanders over the heads of Jewish prisoners, the air is taut with fear. For the Africans of la Amistad, coming to America is an experience that is accompanied by extreme alienation. In court, the prosecution seeks to dehumanize them, to transform them into property to be sold and exploited as things. In each case the possessive gaze, of the Nazis and of the American public—the unwanted attention they impress upon their passive subjects—draws a sharp line between observer and observed.
Whereas before I had thought of E.T. as an uplifting children’s movie, the themes I noticed in Amistad and Schindler’s List made me take a second look. The nameless, faceless, government forces in E.T. seek to control his fate, and by extension the fate of Eliot, the boy who befriends him. Ultimately, the agents and scientists are humanized, but E.T., seemingly, is not. The movie depicts a glancing encounter between two very different worlds—the whole film occurs within the space of only a few days. E.T. is a character who is never fully known, but why is this? Is his alienation of an entirely different character from that experienced under the Nazis or on La Amistad?