In 2022, Steven Spielberg presented another cinematic gem, but this time it’s different – much more personal and sentimental. There are not as many special effects and action scenes, but it is still full of drama. The “Fabelmans” shows Spielberg’s childhood and his adolescence: how he started making films, the dynamics of his family relationships and how films helped him to understand the world better. “Fabelmans” is not a documentary, so one must not expect precise accuracy, but there were tears, authenticity and sharing of memories on the set, which touched every person involved in the film-making process.
Spielberg first hinted that he would like to make a film about his childhood back in 1999. Then his sister Anne Spielberg wrote the script for the upcoming film, which she titled “I’ll Be Home”. Nevertheless, the director was afraid of upsetting his parents, worried that they would be offended by the way he portrayed them, and postponed the project until later. He returned to it just after 20 years, in 2020, when his parents had just passed away and Tony Kushner, a screenwriter known for “Lincoln”, “West Side Story” and “Munich”, had begun writing the script for “The Fabelmans”. Spielberg wanted to show how, as he grew up, he slowly came to see his parents not as gods, not as angels, not as some kind of childless continuation of his personality, but as living, feeling people.
“The Fabelmans” is certainly a slightly different film than we are used to see with Spielberg’s name on it, but it retains the same style – the director sticks to Hollywood tradition and uses traditional storytelling devices to effect, i.e. in a film where evil is destined to fail and good is destined to win. It has drama, ideals, even tragedy – each with its own tragedy is the worst. “Films are dreams”, says Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams) to her son Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle). That’s exactly what Spielberg’s latest film looks like. But let’s start from the beginning.
The action begins in 1952, when Sammy Fabelman, still a small boy, goes with his mother Mitzi and his father Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) to see his first movie in a cinema hall. He is nervous and scared because he often has nightmares and his father told him that people on the screen look big. But Mitzi calms the child and comforts him that he will see things he has never seen before.
Eventually, the image on the cinema screen overwhelms Sammy so much that he wants to recreate what he saw. This is how the young Fabelman’s directing career begins.
Fabelman’s family is beautiful and seemingly idyllic – the parents love their children tremendously, the children love their parents very much. They all go hiking, have lunch together, celebrate Jewish holidays in a beautiful way and listen to their mother playing the piano. Burt’s best friend and colleague Benny (Seth Rogen) is always hanging around, entertaining everyone and, most of all, amusing Mitzi.
However, Burt and Mitzi are like two different poles. Mitzi is an artistic person who dreamed of being a pianist but gave up her dream for her family, whereas Burt is a practical precisionist who, if the product of his work cannot be used in any useful way, there is no point in working. Mitzi is usually the soul of the company, the spark of the party, as ephemeral as a hand, while Burt is maybe a bit boring, but a very nice person. They are both wonderful on an individual basis, but for Mitzi, Burt’s kindness doesn’t seem to be enough. The family’s big tragedy begins when the Fabelmans need to move for Burt’s job and Mitzi can no longer hide her feelings…
The movie touches topics such as the artist’s life, when he has to choose between family and art, the director’s craft, the confrontation between feelings, impulses and mind, duties, parent-child relationships, the role of the mother in family life. Mitzi feels guilt for wanting to live her life as if she does not exist without her children, which is quite common, often due to the socially accepted image of the mother who will sacrifice everything for her family. Furthermore, Mitzi’s children are unaware of her, and in fact she feels like a caged monkey who has been stripped of all the means to express her own elemental nature. Spielberg shows us that parents are also human beings, not just creatures made to serve their children – they have an individual life.
An unexpected visit from his mother’s brother, Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch), reveals himself as a messenger, inviting Mitzi’s son Sammy to go on an adventure – even though he says that art is a dangerous thing and that artists often have to endure loneliness, he urges Sammy to follow the voice of the heart. The first signs that Sammy is destined to be a director appear on the amateur film set, when the young filmmaker convincingly explains to one of his actors the psychology of his character – so convincingly that the actor breaks down and can’t stop sobbing.
It seems that Spielberg wanted to shake off some weight from his chest, as if he wanted to make a confession, to tell what had been bothering him for many years. Perhaps it is also a tribute to his parents, a way to keep their memories alive and to better understand the influence they had on his life. It seems that he made this film not for anyone else, but for himself. In addition, he has succeeded in presenting the events through the eyes of a child and a teenager, making it a movie that is suitable not only for adults, but also for the whole family.