Steven Spielberg’s latest film is finally out and running in movie theatres. I went to see it last week with high expectations given its director and I could not have been less disappointed. I left the cinema hall heart warmed and even more fascinated by the art of filmmaking. Thus, let us analyze what makes The Fabelmans a film worth watching on the big screen and a little jewel for film lovers.
The screening opens with a brief introduction by Steven Spielberg, which will only be available when watching the film on the big screen. The renowned director of E.T. and Jurassic Park addresses the viewer and sets the film as his most personal production ever made. Throughout the introduction, Spielberg reveals that the film is semi-autobiographical and his personal ‘love letter to cinema’.
Undoubtedly, the director’s introduction plays an important role in the viewer’s experience of The Fabelmans. The events on the screen are redefined as part of Spielberg’s personal life, making the viewers wonder where fiction ends and reality starts. Additionally, the director thanks the audience for having come to watch his film in a cinema. His words of thanks to the audience strike being unusual yet truly felt, and the product of the troubling times in which the film has been developed. In fact, cinema’s crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on filmmakers and, especially on movie theatres. Moreover, with the rising popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Disney +, cinemas are still suffering a decrease in popularity.
Thus, through The Fablemans Spielberg wants to rekindle the public’s interest in going to the movies by showing how he fell in love with cinema as a child and how his love for films changed his life. Indeed, from the very first scene of the film, in which the young Sammy Fabelman is brought to the movies for the first time by his parents, the viewer can witness and share the boy’s marvel and astonishment at the images on the big screen.
Indeed, the director reminds us of the magical experience of watching a film in a cinema, of feeling amazed and inspired, and here suggests that those images on the big screen have the power to change lives and that they did, in fact, changed his.
Like Spielberg’s previous films, this is also a coming-of-age story, following Sammy Fabelman and his family, a Jewish family living in post-World War II Arizona. In particular, the plot follows Sammy’s interest in filmmaking from his childhood to his adolescence and as a young adult and the dynamics of his family, his artistic and eccentric mother (Michelle Williams), his hyper-rational father (Paul Dano), and his two sisters.
Sammy’s love for cinema, and by extension Spielberg’s, shows throughout the whole movie. In particular, the scene in which the little boy projects his first short movie on his hands is heartwarming and special. Similar feelings arose from the many scenes in which Sammy works on creating and editing his films in his room, carefully handling the film, cutting it, and reassembling carefully and skillfully, creating creative special effects like gunshots. This is all done in a religious silence, following Sammy’s movements as he is visibly passionate and satisfied with his work.
David Sims states that The Fabelmans is a story about perspectives. Indeed, the film is Spielberg’s attempt to watch his childhood, his parents, and their actions through a new perspective. Also, it shows how the boy’s perspective is shaped by looking at the world through a camera. It is in fact through this filter that he understands the world and can look at things and notice hidden truths, like his mother’s love for the family’s friend Bennie.
Moreover, the film’s final scene further highlights the attention to perspective. In this scene, a nervous Sammy is invited into the studios of the famous director John Ford (David Lynch). The eccentric director tells Sammy: ‘Now remember this! If the horizon’s at the bottom, it’s interesting. If the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. If the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit. Now, good luck to you.’ Enlightened by the new ‘perspective on perspective’, the boy walks away from the camera, and the camera reframes, tilting upward and thus, following Ford’s advice. This little camera movement is of a significant impact and succeeds in breaking the fourth wall between the director and the viewer once again after the introduction.
In an interview with Collider, co-screenwriter Tony Kushner reflects on the effect of this ending saying: ‘it does something to your experience of watching it. Maybe it's because it makes a really immediate connection between you and the guy that made this movie.’
Overall, The Fabelmans is exactly what the director promised the viewer, it is to say, a love letter to his family and the art of cinema. It features intimate and personal storytelling, and a simple plot performed skilfully that will let you go with a smile. It will appeal especially to film lovers, and it will hopefully inspire new generations to approach filmmaking as it happened to Sammy and Steven Spielberg.
A reviewer addresses it as ‘one of the purest and most perfectly told films in his (Spielberg’s) entire career.’ Other critics seem to agree. In fact, The Fabelmans has already won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival and it was named one of the top ten films of 2022 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. Moreover, the film received five nominations at the 80th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director for Spielberg.
In conclusion, everything in Spielberg’s latest film is in the right place. It is partly a memoir, a love story, and also a movie that will make you rethink the place that films have in our lives as food for thoughts and dreams.
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