Steven Spielberg is one of the most quintessentially “American” filmmakers of all time; While his films span countless genres and appeal to a variety of different generations, Spielberg has always had a keen interest in both examining and challenging what “patriotism” really is. Whether it is the bravery of a world-weary archaeologist in The Raiders of the Lost Arkthe “nuclear family” deprived of its rights AND The Extra-Terrestrial, a team of seasoned soldiers in Save Private Ryan, an American lawyer in the rules of the art bridge of spiesor a team of diligent journalists in The post office, Spielberg has spent his career showcasing the diversity of the American experience. It’s no surprise that Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical project, The Fabelmanswould explore yet another side of what it means to him to be American.
Steven Spielberg’s Jewish Education and Roots
The Fablemans is obviously Spielberg’s most personal film, and it allowed him to address issues he’s alluded to throughout his career. Spielberg was raised in the Jewish faith from childhood, as his grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Ukraine. As a child who lived in New Jersey, Arizona and California, Spielberg experienced the ugliness of anti-Semitism in his youth. It’s a facet of his journey that he’s played close to his chest; during the promotional campaign for Schindler’s listhe talked about some of the difficulties he faces from bullies.
While Spielberg has explored historical examples of anti-Semitism in films like Schindler’s list and Munich, The Fablemans anchors these questions in the context of his life story. Even though Spielberg’s talents were evident from an early age, he grew up in fear of powerful people who discriminated against him because of his heritage. The Fablemans is a prayer for empathy in many ways; it shows the revolutionary power of cinema and storytelling to win hearts and minds. Showing how Spielberg faced societal hatred on his journey to bring happiness to generations only makes his story even more inspiring.
“The Fabelmans” depicts the struggles of the Jewish-American family
The Fablemans follows the progression of Spielberg’s real family replacements; the young dreamer Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) took an early interest in cinema after going to see a screening of The greatest show on earth with his mother, Mitzi (michelle williams), and his father, Burt (Paul Dano). Young Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) notes upon returning from the screening that their house is the only one in their neighborhood without Christmas lights. However, it’s a benevolent Hanukkah gift from his parents that sparks Sammy’s ingenuity; they give him an expensive toy train in order to recreate the thrilling sequence he had seen on screen.
This pivotal moment of benevolence is linked to a privileged moment around the celebration of faith. Although Sammy has had disagreements with his parents on several occasions, he never turns his back on his heritage or tries to deny the spirituality that is so closely linked to his identity. Spielberg is considered a progressive filmmaker, and it’s worth noting that the question of whether Sammy is ever “ashamed” of his past isn’t even addressed.
The concept of the “broken American family unit” is one that appears in many of Spielberg’s childhood films, including AND, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Hook, Empire of the Sun, AI Artificial Intelligenceand even the subtext of the IndianaJones series. The Fablemans is another addition to this concept, but it is intrinsically linked to a family’s struggle to be labeled “outsider” in their own community.
The horror of anti-Semitism
In the film’s final act, Sammy faces upheaval when his family moves to California. It’s at a dark time in history, when Sammy has just learned of his mother’s secret affection for his father’s friend, Bennie (Seth Rogen); his inner turmoil even convinces him to temporarily stop making films. It is essential that it is during this “all is lost” moment in history, that Sammy is confronted with the reality of anti-Semitism within an affluent community. He is ridiculed with hateful insults and slurs when he plays volleyball in gym class.
After Sammy is tormented relentlessly by anti-Semitic bullies Logan Hall (Sam Calculator) and Chad Thomas (Oakes Fegley), his compassion attracts the attention of his classmate Monica Sherwood (Chloe East). Her unspoken kindness and playful comments about her heritage indicate that she doesn’t approve of bullies’ behavior or their comments. These simple moments resemble the restless scenes of childhood in HEY and AI Artificial Intelligencebut the typical “cinema bullies” are replaced by real figures who terrorized the young director.
Sammy and Monica’s multi-faith relationship
However, it is also this scenario that allows Spielberg to playfully examine the nature of a multi-faith relationship. Monica is a devout Christian, which led to a few awkward moments during their first romantic encounters. Spielberg uses Sammy’s uncomfortable nature for comedic effect when surrounded by Christian iconography in Monica’s bedroom. It’s a fun and humorous moment that is so specific that it must have reflected Spielberg’s personal experience.
The power of cinema
Spielberg also shows the power of cinema to reveal the inherent nature of Sammy’s classmates. In the entire movie’s standout sequence, Sammy plays a recorded compilation of moments from his senior class’ beach party at their prom. None of his classmates can hide who they are from Sammy’s all-seeing camera lens; the detestable Chad turns out to be nothing more than a lonely oaf, and he is mocked for his immaturity by the rest of the students.
Ironically, Logan is presented as a heroic athlete; When the former bully questions Sammy after the screening and asks him why, Sammy tells him that he’s either just trying to make the best movie he can or he’s trying to avoid further torment. It is subtly noted that while Logan is mean to Sammy, he seems to tolerate anti-Semitism more than he believes in it. Either way, we see the power of cinema to change hearts and minds when Logan defends Sammy by giving Chad a much-needed punch.
‘The Fabelams’ is Spielberg’s most personal film to date
The Fablemans is Spielberg’s purest distillation of all that he does best. Many of his fans have noted Spielberg’s ties to John Fordanother cataloguer of the American experience, a connection which is confirmed thanks to a popular appearance by David Lynch like the famous filmmaker. They are similar in many ways, it’s just that Spielberg has a Jewish-American background; his films reflect both the anxiety and the compassion linked to his faith. As a celebration of both his life’s work and the connective nature of cinema itself, The Fablemans is a positive example of representation and Spielberg’s most personal project to date.