Even Steven Spielberg’s greatest films tend to have deep personal connections. After decades of indirectly tapping into his youth, the acclaimed filmmaker brought his childhood to the screen with his semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans.
From boy scout adventures to parental struggles, the film transforms Spielberg’s mythological past into a cinematic daydream that’s already making waves in awards season.
The setting for The Fabelmans is almost identical to the world Spielberg inhabited during his formative years in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the core of the film, young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) grows up under the wing of two opposing forces. His mother is a piano player (Michelle Williams) and his father (Paul Dano) is very interested in science.
Completing the cast: Seth Rogen plays a close family friend. Judd Hirsch (independence Day) portrays an influential uncle who offers timely words of wisdom.
As Sammy falls in love with movies, we see many elements that Spielberg has faced on screen for years. The amazing Sammy sees the world through film cameras. But his father inside The Fabelmans hopes he will give up daydreams for a life of science. “In this family, it’s between the scientists and the artists,” Sammy’s mother says in the trailer, creating an ongoing conflict for Sammy (and Spielberg) to resolve.
His mother’s inspiration seems to have come straight from Spielberg’s life. Shortly after her death in 2017, Spielberg called his mother, Leah Adler, his “lucky charm” and was previously involved Schindlers List to her (per variety). His mother also connects another big theme that can be seen in The Fabelmans.
While the family experienced anti-Semitism, Adler once said Spielberg regularly stood up to fight the bullying.
For decades, Spielberg has brought parts of his life to the big screen. In 1989, he addressed the National Scout Jamboree to celebrate the inclusion of cinematography in the Badge of Merit program. “It taught me to make eye contact, to speak up when I had something important to say,” Spielberg said of his experience as a Boy Scout, the Washington Post reported.
Filmmaking wasn’t technically honorable in the early ’60s. But Spielberg’s squad leader made an exception for the enthusiastic 13-year-old. Spielberg shot a short film in 8mm, which was met with wild cheers from the troupe (via Flickering Myth). Despite the unconventional path, the troupe awarded him their Photographer Merit Badge.
The intersection of Boy Scouts and Spielberg’s childhood also holds an important place The Fabelmans. In the trailer, Sammy is wearing his red Boy Scout bandana. We also see him riding a bike flanked by fellow Boy Scouts (per Scouting Magazine).
While adventurous cycling comes with shades of ET, we also see young Sammy making some kind of war movie in the middle of the desert. Along with actors who appear to be boy scouts, the movie within the movie seems to directly channel the movie Spielberg made to earn his merit badge.
Spielberg’s speech to the Boy Scouts came just months after he introduced the world to a young Indiana Jones. The title character, of course, made the same transition from boy to man in a Boy Scout uniform.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was technically a high-profile Hollywood sequel. Yet everything from the setting to Indy’s relationship with his challenging father (Sean Connery) is reminiscent of Spielberg’s childhood. The young Indy scenes were shot against the familiar backdrop of Arches National Park in southern Utah. Spielberg would have seen the same kind of red rock desert landscapes on Boy Scout trips near his hometown of Scottsdale.
The disapproving father figure towers over young Sammy The Fabelmansessentially the same conflict that we see Last Crusade. While Indy goes out to score with unconventional methods, his father insists on the methodical, scientific approach. Spielberg even said adding a father figure and casting Sean Connery was the biggest contribution he made to the series, reports Entertainment Weekly.
But the art versus science debate of The Fabelmans has already been fleshed out in another Spielberg masterpiece. After his breakout moment with Jawmade Spielberg Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film is full of unforgettable images and wild encounters with aliens. However, it is also based on realistic scientists trying to grapple with the impossible. Even as Spielberg pursues his artistic impulses, the conflict with the scientific world deepens the mystery and adds to the film’s magic.
As a famous story goes, Spielberg was visited on set by his good friend George Lucas, who was distraught over the possible failure of Star Wars: A New Hope.
see impressive things close encounters set, Lucas was confident it would be a much bigger hit than war of stars. He made a deal with Spielberg to provide a small amount of insurance (according to TCM). Spielberg and Lucas traded 2.5% of the (backend) profits of the two films, a deal that has since become a Hollywood legend.
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