More of my journey through the women who helped to spark a lifelong interest in sex when I was a child.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
STIR CRAZY (1980)
Turns out everyone was right; Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor are incredibly funny together. Glad I know that now. Not a great movie, but a funny one. *** stars.
TOUCH OF PINK (2004)
One of my favorite current actors, Jimi Mistry, stars as a Pakistani-Canadian living an openly gay life in London. Things become complicated when his widowed mother comes to visit him; he’s living with a man, he’s lied about having a fiancé, and his imagination is running wild. How wild? He sees and has conversations with Cary Grant. This is a sweet movie that plays like one of those old Doris Day romance comedies, only if the people in the movie were intelligent. There were a lot of surprising moments in here; it keeps subverting expectations. One of the biggest surprises is Kyle McLachlan, an actor I don’t care for, playing an absolutely spot-on Cary Grant. At some point, very early on, I was just looking at Cary Grant, the character, and not an actor. For that alone, this movie is a delight. A fun *** star movie with the always-likable Jimi Mistry.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)
So many things wrong with this movie... I mean, it could’ve been good. In a few brief action sequences, it is. Some of the scenes are so suspenseful, a better director could have made a gripping film out of it. But it’s so mediocre. The actors are all either bad or underused. The special effects are terrible, and the cinematography (Janusz Kaminski, once again using the overexposed light and grainy film stock that plagued Minority Report) is shit. The effects blend badly with the underwhelming imagery; the layers are always obvious. Most of the movie plays like Steven Spielberg’s greatest hits; are we sick of the raptor kitchen sequence from Jurassic Park being used over and over again yet? In some ways, the movie feels like a betrayal; why is it the same Spielberg who once told us not to fear the unknown in Close Encounters and E.T. has now reversed his message? Jurassic Park, A.I., Minority Report, and especially War of the Worlds have a "fear science, fear the unknown" message that I find distasteful and infantile. His manipulations are more heavy-handed and obvious than ever. This is a dumb movie for dumb people. Independence Day was more serious. * star, pretty much for Dakota Fanning and a couple of genuinely suspenseful scenes.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005)
Thank God people are still making political movies; we need them now more than ever. At eye level, this is a fairly simple, straightforward story about Edward R. Murrow’s journalistic investigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the unconstitutional methods he used to railroad alleged communists. But that very directness is the key to this film’s importance. Director George Clooney uses a lot of archival footage of McCarthy, which is an important point. Rather than having someone reinterpret McCarthy’s actions and pretend to be him, Clooney lets McCarthy’s own manner and tone speak for itself. In a time when many young people don’t know who McCarthy was or why this story is important, it is refreshing to see that some people still care about freedom. Clooney’s direction is less flashy but more assured than it was in the underrated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. David Strathairn’s performance was as spot-on as ever. **** stars; an important movie (without being smug about it).
BEST SELLER (1987)
A great, largely forgotten B crime thriller with Brian Dennehy as a cop/true crime author and James Woods as a hit man who wants to be the subject of his next book. The problem is, Woods seems unstable and dangerously close to coming unhinged. The two leads are great, and the film is unconventional without being overly cute. **** stars.
V FOR VENDETTA (2006)
Talk about political; this movie is so relevant right now that it’s scarily like looking into the next couple of years. I’m amazed that something this good come ever come from the Wachowski Brothers; this is the first thing they’ve been involved in that I haven’t despised. Hugo Weaving, whom I’ve come to like, does an excellent job as V, a swashbuckling dandy in a Guy Fawkes mask who begins terrorizing a totalitarian government in the near-future of London. Natalie Portman, who is better than usual (have to give her credit for not being too vain to shave her head), plays Evey, a girl who becomes involved in V’s vigilantism. The critics who are arguing that they can’t quite bring themselves to like a movie that endorses terrorism and makes a hero of a terrorist are so caught up in the current atmosphere of political bullying that they’ve missed the point. They are too cautious to realize that Robin Hood could be called a terrorist. So could the leaders of the American Revolution. This is an important film that, besides being a damn entertaining movie, attempts to rekindle the revolutionary spirit in the West. It’s a movie that looks at us in our complacency and tells us that we surrender our freedom too easily. This is not about violence; it’s about what is right. A thing of beauty. **** stars.
SHE’S THE MAN (2006)
I love Amanda Bynes and I hope she never stops making films. Too many people are on about Shakespeare and what this film does to it; but you know, I always thought Twelfth Night was a very silly and outlandish play, and this film only reflects that. Can Amanda Bynes convincingly play a man? Of course not, and she wisely tries not to, mining her role for as much over-the-top comedy as she can get out of it. If the script, director, and supporting cast were better, it would be a help. It’s rare for an actor as young as she is to be this funny, and it would be a shame if she weren’t put to better use very soon. *** stars; it’s fun, but Amanda deserves a better vehicle.
Rounding out the politically active movies I saw in the past week, I guess. Edward James Olmos directed this film about the 1968 East LA walkouts, undertaken by the Chicano majority of students who were being beaten for speaking Spanish, among other things. Still relevant to today; recently in Alabama, a woman was fired from her job for speaking Spanish at work. The movie is a tab predictable, but young people should be shown it. Alexa Vega continues to grow as an actress. ***1/2 stars.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
1. When the hell did conversate become a word? I've heard it a disturbing amount lately, especially on courtroom shows. Seriously? Conversate? Look, when you're talking to someone, you're conversing. Or perhaps you are having a conversational discourse. But you are not dialoguing, you are not speechifying, and you are certainly not fucking conversating! Alright?
2. The nearby village of Lombard, where Becca grew up, has passed a resolution to make English the official language of Lombard. There is a large population of Asian/Pacific Islander people, and a large number of Hispanic people. There are about 12 to 14 languages spoken in Lombard homes. But the suggestion of printing some government documents in Spanish made enough village board members fly into a rage and make English Lombard's official language. Glad to know that Anglocentric white supremacy is still alive and well (and only 40 minutes away).
Does anyone else think that Hulk Hogan's obsessive interest in his daughter is a little... sexual? I'm not saying that the Hulkster wants to have sex with his own daughter, of course. I'm just saying that his major awareness of her seems to be as an object of sexual desire. He's so busy safeguarding her from boys, so busy looking around for any possibility that a guy might look at her in a certain way, that he's going to miss out completely on getting to know who she is as a person. She's growing up right in front of him, and instead of experiencing that joy parents claim to get from watching their children develop emotionally and intellectually into adults, he's hoarding her as a forbidden treasure that he must hide from the outer world. Dude, she's not going to stop growing up.
Have you been watching Hogan Knows Best? In the second series opener that aired on Sunday, Brooke decided she needed her peace and moved out of the house. Well, sort of. She struck a deal with her parents to go and stay in their nearby beach house, offering her some sort of chance at building an identity as an autonomous person. Hulk, perhaps predictably, doesn't want his seventeen year-old daughter to have any autonomy away from him, though, so he's constantly spying on her. Literally. Remember in the first series, when she wanted to go out on a date and he put a GPS tracking device in her car? Well, this time he and his crony Brian Knobs went out and bought an elaborate spy camera system (installed under her nose by a guy pretending to be the air conditioner repairman) and listening equipment so that he can stalk her in car and on jetski without being a disruptive presence. At one point, he seemed to seriously consider planting a spy in the beach house! Does he think Brooke's not going to see the episode air, or does he just think she won't care?
Hogan Knows Best is a great show for learning how not to raise your children. Any reasonable child would be completely alienated from her father by these actions. There's no trust there, first of all. There's no respect for her experience. There's no respect for her ability to make decisions, to keep out of trouble, to choose things that are right for her. And how is she supposed to meet the man who's right for her if she's barely allowed to date? Jesus, she's seventeen! Dude, are you just going to pick out the guy and tell her she has to marry him?
In point of fact, I think Hulk misunderstands women completely--when he sees Brooke's birth control pills, he flips out and assumes she must be having sex (though I don't know when she's actually out of his eyesight long enough to be having it). Most teenage girls use the pill to regulate and relieve their periods, which she explains. Then he flips out again, because he doesn't know every single private, personal detail of the maturation of her body! And then, even more insane, he reams out his wife Linda for not telling him about it, claiming that he should know everything about his kids... even though he didn't tell Linda that he's installed cameras in Brooke's house! At what point does fatherly concern--and I point out that this concern is nowhere near as strict when it comes to his son, Nick--become creepy stalking? I mean, this guy even tries to control what Brooke eats!
Man, he's got to be realistic. Some day, Brooke is not going to be a virgin anymore. And the longer Hulk tries to make her innocence the defining characteristic of her identity, the bigger the disappointment he's going to harbor when she finally starts acting out. And even if she doesn't, the distance caused by mistrust and lack of understanding is just going to deepen.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Let’s just say it: Steven Spielberg is an emotional child. His parents are divorced, and he has spent his life directing films that show men as weak and incapable, desperate for the approval of an absent father to whom he is slavishly devoted. His films also vilify women (specifically mothers) for pushing men away. His comfort in the escapist fantasy of childhood and flight is, in a man of his age, deeply embarrassing artistically. There’s been no growth at all. Here’s a rundown of Spielberg’s motifs.
Reverence for Childhood: Very little this first time.
Glory of Flight: I think in this instance, driving across the open country replaces flight. Much of the fear of the salesman comes from the fact that he’s menaced during what should be something very enjoyable and glorious.
Male Weakness: Oh, this is a trove of male weakness. The main character played by Dennis Weaver is less manly than the truck driver who menaces him (for example, he can’t push the stuck school bus with his car, but the trucker can do it). He’s henpecked by his wife during their telephone conversation, and he seems to be out on the road to escape her. If you aren’t manly enough, the movie seems to be saying, you can’t survive on the open road.
Comfort in Confinement: Again, Spielberg takes this and twists it so that the one place people feel safe–their cars–becomes something terrible.
Benevolent Authority: None.
Father Issues: The trucker seems to be a manifestation of patriarchal disapproval.
Mother Issues: None.
THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1973)
Reverence for Childhood: Tons. Goldie Hawn and William Atherton commit several crimes and spend the entire movie on the run from the police because they don’t want their baby to get taken away by the state. Goldie Hawn reveres her own childhood, and wants her baby to have the same.
Glory of Flight: Again, replaced by cars.
Male Weakness: William Atherton’s character is easily led by Goldie Hawn’s. She lures him along with promises of sex and simply by dominating his retreating personality.
Comfort in Confinement: The family beds down for the night in a camper that feels homey. Otherwise, they live in the car.
Benevolent Authority: Ben Johnson’s police officer is warm and caring and genuinely wants to save their lives, despite the fact that they have committed murder to keep their own kid.
Father Issues: William Atherton functions more as Goldie Hawn’s lieutenant than a fully functioning father and husband.
Mother Issues: Goldie Hawn genuinely means well and genuinely wants to care for her baby, but is too deranged to go about it in a conventional manner.
Reverence for Childhood: Touches here and there; Brody plays with his kids and wants to make the world better for them.
Glory of Flight: None.
Male Weakness: A lot. Brody is a weak man, the sheriff of an island town who is afraid of the water. He envies Hooper, who is bookish and small but still willing to go into the shark cage, and is afraid of Captain Quint, who is the epitome of rough male power. When the two of them compare scars, all Brody has is his appendectomy scar.
Comfort in Confinement: Even as the ship is sinking, Brody retreats into the enclosed cabin.
Benevolent Authority: The system obviously can’t be trusted to keep people safe, and at least Brody is capable enough to take matters into his own hands. Eventually.
Father Issues: Subtle, but under the surface one can feel Spielberg critiquing Brody's parenting. Brody wants Quint's approval.
Mother Issues: None to speak of, though it might be worth pointing out Mrs. Brody’s minuscule role.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
Reverence for Childhood: Very selfish; Roy Neary resents his children because he’s too busy fighting to remain an irresponsible child. Barry, on the other hand, is treated like some sort of preternatural god-being.
Glory of Flight: Obvious; the UFOs are treated as personifications of emotional response, not metal hulks with someone inside. The little ship that follows the others is a Disney gag.
Male Weakness: Roy is henpecked by a dominant wife and his children treat him like shit (Spielberg treats it as a crime when the children won’t go see Pinocchio). He spends most of the movie in inactive frustration.
Comfort in Confinement: Roy showers with all of his clothes on when he can’t figure out what’s happening.
Benevolent Authority: Francois Truffaut’s Claude Lacombe is so warm and awe-inspiring that we’re left with the impression that aliens are lucky to meet him, rather than the other way around.
Father Issues: Roy’s son screams at him when he catches Roy crying. Roy leaves his children behind to go with the aliens without a second thought.
Mother Issues: Neary’s wife is a total bitch who refuses to understand what’s going on with Roy. When he needs her to be strong for him, she leaves with their children.
Reverence for Childhood: The whole movie is basically Spielberg jacking off to things he thinks he remembers from his childhood (but is actually too young to have witnessed).
Glory of Flight: World War II planes; need I say more? It’s worth pointing out that the one pilot we get to see, Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi, the only good part of the movie other than the score), is like a big kid.
Male Weakness: Tons. Everyone in the army is incompetent or insane or both, Ned Beatty’s character is a slave to public opinion, and Bobby DiCicco plays an idiot.
Comfort in Confinement: The tank could be seen as something, as could the Japanese submarine.
Benevolent Authority: Toshiro Mifune plays the sub commander as honorable and unwilling to press his advantage because it would be too sneaky. The general played by Robert Stack is so preternaturally wise about strategy that he barks orders while trying to watch a theatrical screening of Dumbo (which he cries during) rather than, I don’t know, leading the military response.
Father Issues: Spielberg seems to be trying hard not to include them, but he clearly sees Robert Stack’s character as an ideal father figure.
Mother Issues: None, though most of the women in the film are inane idiots.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Reverence for Childhood: The genre speaks for itself; Indiana Jones is nothing but a big child. Indy goes to find Marion, a girl he loved as a younger man but childishly ran away from.
Glory of Flight: Despite the seaplanes, there really isn’t any.
Male Weakness: Even Indy’s afraid of snakes.
Comfort in Confinement: Indy and Marion make love in the cabin of a boat. That hat seems to separate Indy from the real world, confining him safely inside a character through which he can act.
Benevolent Authority: Even the Nazis aren’t true villains, and the French Belloq seems to want to open the Ark of the Covenant to study it rather than gain any real power. And then there’s God, the most benevolent authority of all, who spares Indy and Marion because they don’t look at his destruction.
Father Issues: Indy gets involved in the mission to recover the Ark because of his debt to the murdered Professor Abner Ravenwood, who was like a father to him.
Mother Issues: None.
E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Reverence for Childhood: This is the mother lode, isn’t it? If you’ve even heard of this film, you know that childhood is glorified at a level far exceeding how great it actually is. The whole film is shot from a child’s eye level, and even E.T., described in the script and novelization as "ancient," is portrayed as a child.
Glory of Flight: Lots of it. The bicycles, and of course E.T.’s ascent at the end of the film.
Male Weakness: Other than Keys, all the males in the film are children. And even Keys acts like a child, justifying his hunting of E.T. as the culmination of a childhood dream.
Comfort in Confinement: E.T. lives in a closet. When E.T. is dying, Michael finds comfort sleeping there. Lots of scenes take place in bedrooms. E.T. originally retreats into a cornfield and a tool shed. Once E.T. is inside, the outside is seen as a fearful place where government agents are circling and closing in.
Benevolent Authority: All of the authority figures might as well have no faces, except for Keys, who praises Elliott’s ingenuity and love for the alien.
Father Issues: Elliott’s parents are divorced, and his father is absent. Spielberg implies that the children are unhappy but don’t blame the father for the divorce (typical of boys, actually; he’s not around to be the target of blame).
Mother Issues: Spielberg heavily implies that Dee Wallace’s character, a working divorcee, is too wrapped up in her own life to notice anything that happens to her own children.
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
Reverence for Childhood: Not only is Indy still childish, his best friend is a little kid, too. Witness the childish argument they get into during a game of cards.
Glory of Flight: Again, Spielberg creatively subverts that glory by making it life-threatening (the opening plane crash), showing that he fears it as much as he idealizes it.
Male Weakness: Indy is suave and cool, but has a hard time dealing with women and is never fully capable. A lot of things happen out of dumb luck.
Comfort in Confinement: Creatively subverted; Indy is nearly crushed in a chamber.
Benevolent Authority: The British officer is immediately warm and trustworthy, seemingly for no reason except he’s the authority figure.
Father Issues: The relationship between Indy and Short Round is co-equal, but when Indy is revived from his hypnotized state, the two of them become father and son. Indy saves the enslaved children, leading them home.
Mother Issues: None, although Willie Scott ain’t winning any maternal instinct prize.
THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
Reverence for Childhood: A lot. Mister’s children may be little assholes, but Celia and Shug are both emotional victims of their fathers (and it turns out, so is Mister). Celia’s own children grow up to be African missionaries who return to her as angelic figures. Despite constant rape, Celie seems determined to make her childhood the only time she is happy.
Glory of Flight: None.
Male Weakness: Mister only beats Celia because his father considers it the right thing to do. Mister is also in love with Shug, though he can’t act to do anything about it. Harpo is a weakling who tries to emulate his father, only to be beaten by his own wife.
Comfort in Confinement: Shug takes a lot of baths; Celia tries to hide in her bedroom and in the attic.
Benevolent Authority: Mister cares deep down inside; he makes it possible for Celia’s children to come to America, and eventually dismisses his domineering father when he realizes he will never win the approval he craves.
Father Issues: Mister and Old Mister; Mister and Harpo; Shug needs the approval of her preacher father; Celia was raped by her father several times, and never has a father figure to trust.
Mother Issues: Actually, this is the one time Spielberg seems to be sensitive to women. I credit Quincy Jones for it, but still.
EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987)
Reverence for Childhood: The whole movie is about the tragedy of Jim’s lost childhood. It’s almost like the whole of World War II is really sad because Jim has to stop acting like a kid (even though he continues to try).
Glory of Flight: Jim treats planes as a religious experience. When the Japanese airstrip is bombed by American pilots, he acts as though they are rescuing angels.
Male Weakness: John Malkovich is a thief and ultimately a coward who finagles other people into doing his work and keeping him comfortable. The Japanese officer who commands the prison camp seems to hate himself for doing his job.
Comfort in Confinement: John Malkovich’s truck is a place of wonder. Jim is most at ease in the cockpit of a downed plane. When everyone leaves the camp, Jim stays behind. When China is invaded, Jim returns to his home thinking that his parents will find him there.
Benevolent Authority: Subtle, but there. The Japanese officer lets Jim stay a child as long as he runs errands. The US army officer at the end treats Jim with dignified respect, saluting him with an admiring nod.
Father Issues: After his parents lose him during the invasion, Jim seeks out John Malkovich as a father figure. When that proves a disappointment, he treats every other male with cavalier lack of respect, though he never stops trying to win John Malkovich’s approval.
Mother Issues: Jim’s interest in Miranda Richardson, who cares for him in the camp, is creepily sexual.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
Reverence for Childhood: Indy’s still an overgrown child.
Glory of Flight: Indy and his father fly together; Henry quotes Charlemagne when he sends the birds up in front of the Nazi plane and wins Indy’s respect.
Male Weakness: Typical Indy (success through mistake), and we see that he gets it from his own father; Brody is a comical buffoon; Sallah, so capable in Raiders, is now an object of comedy.
Comfort in Confinement: None, really, though it might be worth pointing out that the Grail lies in a temple hidden inside a deep canyon in the desert that looks like, well... it is the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, get it?
Benevolent Authority: Once again, the Nazis are merely the puppets of someone else; this time, a rich American collector who wants to live forever. Henry Jones is as benevolent as they come, though his rebukes can be harsh. The Grail Knight is a figure of mysticism and, typically for a Hollywood movie, obviousness.
Father Issues: Fertile ground here, eh? The implication of the movie is that Indiana Jones is a persona created by a child desperate for his father’s approval. Once he wins that approval, Indy ceases to exist and a more capable Professor Henry Jones Jr. becomes reality.
Mother Issues: Indy’s mother barely rates a mention and is long-dead. Henry laments her death and seems to want to prove the existence of the Grail to justify his long absenteeism. Make what you will of Alison Doody sleeping with both Henry and Indy.
Reverence for Childhood: Richard Dreyfuss doesn't want to marry Holly Hunter and have children with her because he's still acting like a child himself and worries he'll lose that part of himself.
Glory of Flight: Richard Dreyfuss plays a pilot who dies in flight and becomes the guardian angel of another pilot.
Male Weakness: Every male here is weak emotionally and physically.
Comfort in Confinement: The cockpit, as always, even though Dreyfuss dies in one.
Benevolent Authority: Audrey Hepburn plays a warm, caring angel who makes God seem like a stern father who is afraid to show emotions lest he be thought of as weak.
Father Issues: It may be worth pointing out that this is a remake of A Guy Named Joe, a favorite from his childhood (and a film from those magical 1940s that Spielberg seems to revere).
Mother Issues: None.
Reverence for Childhood: Well, it’s Peter fucking Pan, isn’t it? The whole movie is an orgy over the magic of children and childhood; the idea of being a father and witnessing childhood from an observer’s eye is the one thing that can get Peter Pan to grow up.
Glory of Flight: Again, it’s Peter fucking Pan. Peter remembers his ability to fly when he thinks about his son being born. His children can fly when they think of their parents. Flight is a transcendent act, but one that seems most possible only when experiencing love for family. Heavy handed, eh?
Male Weakness: Tons. Not only has Peter turned into one of those henpecked businessmen who is a slave to his cell phone, he’s also overly-cautious and easily overwhelmed by responsibility. Captain Hook is revealed to be a sad old man who is not only extremely jealous of Peter’s ability to hold on to feelings from childhood, he’s also secretly fearful of his own age (hence his obsession with destroying clocks).
Comfort in Confinement: The Lost Boys live in a treehouse. Captain Hook lives on a boat. Wendy's old nursery is seen as a place of magic and wonder (it's round; like the Canyon in Last Crusade, we're comforted in the womb here).
Benevolent Authority: The cops are pretty powerless, but they’re nice about it.
Father Issues: Whoa. It’s almost as though Spielberg really believes that if his father had just loved being a father enough, he never would’ve had to leave.
Mother Issues: Peter’s wife Moira can’t help him go to Neverland and defeat Hook; she has to sit on the sidelines and desperately hope her children return to her on their own.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Reverence for Childhood: The kids are sent to the island with their grandfather because their parents are getting divorced. Dr. Grant hates kids at first, but comes to revere them as objects to educate.
Glory of Flight: Everyone escapes by helicopter; Dr. Grant feels hopeful when he sees condors.
Male Weakness: Dr. Grant is smart, but less capable in the jungle. Ian Malcolm is slick, but gets mauled by the Tyrannosaur. Dr. Hammond lets his ambitions get the better of him. Dennis is done in by his own greed.
Comfort in Confinement: The kids hide from the Tyrannosaur in a Ford Explorer. This is subverted during the scene in the kitchen, when they are stalked by raptors. And, you know, it all takes place on a friggin' island.
Benevolent Authority: Dr. Hammond wants to be benevolent, but is incapable.
Father Issues: Dr. Grant is forced to step up and become a father figure, even though he doesn’t want to have children with Dr. Satler.
Mother Issues: None, though the secret breeding of the dinosaurs is almost seen as wilfully contemptuous. I could be reading into that one. "We just deny them the X chromosome."
SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
Reverence for Childhood: Lots of shots of poor children hiding in toilets and stuff like that, as though the tears of a child are the real cost of war. The girl in the red dress acts as a sort of martyr figure for childhood itself.
Glory of Flight: None.
Male Weakness: Oskar Schindler does what he does because he feels rotten for being such a wastrel. Eamon Goeth takes out his frustrations on everyone around him; he almost feels bad for it, but that doesn’t stop him.
Comfort in Confinement: Lots of Jewish prisoners hiding in small spaces, though they are always found. Again, Spielberg creatively subverts this. And then reverts, as Schindler's factory becomes a safe haven for Jews.
Benevolent Authority: Part of the flaw of the movie’s narrative is that Schindler is all three things: the benevolent authority figure (his motives are immaculate), father-figure, and weak male hero who tries to take control of his weakness.
Father Issues: Schindler plays unreadable father to the whole of the Jewish race. At least that’s how Spielberg seems to see it (and wish for it; it seems like his ideal father-figure is one who is one who is benevolent and caring, but unreadable and completely remote; the emotional distance is sort of sad).
Mother Issues: None; women are emotionally absent from the film (in a strange coincidence, Emilie Schindler is played by Caroline Goodall, who also played Moira Banning in Hook in an equally non-participatory role).
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
Reverence for Childhood: Ian Malcolm is now transformed into an incapable father to a young daughter. The Tyrannosaur rampages San Diego to rescue its baby.
Glory of Flight: Not much, although the final shot of a Pterosaur seems to be reveling in the glory of evolution.
Male Weakness: Dr. Malcolm is kind of a weakling. The hunter played by Pete Postelthwaite really only succeeds through brute force and luck; as a leader, he’s kind of a fool.
Comfort in Confinement: Everyone tries to hide under a waterfall. Subverted again when the Tyrannosaurs attack the camper. Arliss Howard is killed in the cargo hold of a boat.
Benevolent Authority: Not much, though Spielberg seems to instinctively trust the developer played by Arliss Howard.
Father Issues: The Tyrannosaur looks on with unmistakable pride as its baby devours Arliss Howard. Dr. Malcolm manages to keep his daughter safe.
Mother Issues: The Tyrannosaur mother is killed. Julianne Moore’s character is forced to be protective of Malcolm’s daughter.
Reverence for Childhood: None, although Cinque and the other slaves are troublingly seen as simple little children.
Glory of Flight: None, though we’re back to boats.
Male Weakness: Cinque is able to break his chains in the boat, but Spielberg almost implies that he’s captured because he’s not paying attention.
Comfort in Confinement: Subverted; Cinque is imprisoned first in a boat, then in a prison.
Benevolent Authority: John Quincy Adams only wants to help; the justices of the Supreme Court passively hand down justice (remote and distant again).
Father Issues: Not many, though Adams is a sort of condecending father figure to Cinque. Cinque himself talks about his kids in one of Spielberg's absolution scenes (he's always absolving fathers of their responsibilites; Cinque wants to be a good father, but can't be because he's in captivity).
Mother Issues: Becca feels that Cinque's wife is aware of his capture, but does nothing about it.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
Reverence for Childhood: Well, I think sending a bunch of guys to rescue the last living son of an American woman is a little overly reverent, don’t you?
Glory of Flight: The planes that burst in at the end are called angels.
Male Weakness: Upham is an incapable coward who watches a friend get stabbed and does nothing about it. Captain Miller is an English teacher, and is partially criticized for being so sensitive; he lets a Nazi go, only to be killed by him later. As an old man, Private Ryan needs the approval of his family to feel like Miller’s sacrifice means something.
Comfort in Confinement: Upham hides in a house during one of the battles.
Benevolent Authority: The US Army is immediately seen as an honorable institution (Spielberg always treats the army with the utmost piety, unless the plot calls for a few insensitive buffoons).
Father Issues: Miller is a father-figure who only wants to protect his men (all younger). He’s a teacher, which invests him with some kind of patriarchal authority that Spielberg seems to find warm.
Mother Issues: There’s some implication that Ryan’s mother is to blame for the deaths of the men who saved him.
Reverence for Childhood: Tons. As a remake of Pinocchio, the entire movie is about the magic of childhood. The kid wants to be real so that his "mother" will love him.
Glory of Flight: Not so much, although that flying car that takes David to his creator is obviously an ascent.
Male Weakness: Even the male robots are weak creatures; no one in this movie has much of a spine, and everyone seems to act out of fear and jealousy.
Comfort in Confinement: The kid spends a thousand years or something under the ocean inside a flying car.
Benevolent Authority: All shadowy, all unexplained.
Father Issues: Wow. The kid’s "father" is encouraging, but absent. Gigolo Joe is a brief father figure, but he’s too weak. The kid goes on a long search for his real creator, only to be disappointed when he discovers he’s a marketable product, not someone’s unique, special child. You can almost hear Spielberg finally saying "Fuck you, Dad."
Mother Issues: His "mother" abandons him in the wild; the search for her approval drives the entire movie. His one moment of joy comes from a single day spent with a simulated version of his mother, who tells him she loves him.
MINORITY REPORT (2002)
Reverence for Childhood: Anderton and his wife have let their lives go to ruin because their son died. The pre-cogs are seen as needy children who need to be helped.
Glory of Flight: Not much; the flying police officers are objects of oppression.
Male Weakness: Anderton is addicted to drugs and not really any good at being a cop.
Comfort in Confinement: Anderton hides from those raptors, er, um, spider-robots in a bathtub.
Benevolent Authority: Once again, the authority figures are all shadowy and acting on their own authority.
Father Issues: Anderton sees Max Von Sydow’s character as a father, but is, of course, betrayed by him.
Mother Issues: Anderton’s wife bonds with Agatha, but can’t protect her.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
Reverence for Childhood: Leonardo DiCaprio ceases to grow emotionally once his parents get divorced. When he discovers that his mother has had a child with her new husband, he acts like his mother has stopped being his mother.
Glory of Flight: Leo impersonates a pilot for some time, and often escapes by plane. Airline pilots are seen with the kind of reverence and admiration usually reserved for astronauts and movie stars.
Male Weakness: Leo is consistently weak and seeks escape constantly. Tom Hanks is also weak; he neglects his family in order to chase the criminal down.
Comfort in Confinement: Leo hides a lot (once in an airplane bathroom).
Benevolent Authority: More and more, Spielberg sees the American government as the haven for little men doing big jobs; Tom Hanks’s fellow authorities are either fools or wilfully ignorant.
Father Issues: Leo impersonates flashy people (including James Bond) in order to win his father’s approval. When that fails, he admires Martin Sheen and tries to emulate him as a lawyer. He also tries to win Tom Hanks’s respect, and bristles when Hanks figures out what makes him tick.
Mother Issues: Rather than his father’s lack of responsibility, Leo blames his criminal lifestyle on his mother’s infidelity (prostitution is implied) and subsequent remarriage; i.e. she broke up the family. When Leo flees to France, he goes to his mother’s hometown and hides there (hiding in the comforting story of how his parents met in, you guessed it, World War II).
THE TERMINAL (2004)
Reverence for Childhood: Victor is still a child, trying to complete his father’s work of collecting the autographs of famous jazz men (it’s implied that when he completes this, he will be grown up).
Glory of Flight: Subverted; Victor is stuck on the ground because of a political crisis.
Male Weakness: Stanley Tucci’s Homeland Security officer is petty and vindictive. Victor takes forever to come clean with the truth to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s flight attendant.
Comfort in Confinement: Victor has the terminal to himself and makes it homey.
Benevolent Authority: Same as in Catch Me If You Can.
Father Issues: Victor loves his father enough to get in this situation to complete his collection.
Mother Issues: None; Victor never mentions his mother. However, Catherine Zeta-Jones does well as a stand-in. Spielberg doesn't allow her any happiness, and when she sacrifices their relationship to get him a travel visa from the politician she is sleeping with, Spielberg is disgusted by her act of prostitution rather than honored by her sacrifice.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)
Reverence for Childhood: Besides the fact that Tom Cruise’s self-consciously blue collar character is still a child (and Spielberg seems to think that’s pretty cool), he frames Dakota Fanning in such a way you’d think she’s playing an angel. When Cruise's son runs off, it's to become a man. When the son returns at the end, it's Spielberg warning parents not to interfere in the lives of their sons, because they need freedom to find their own way to adulthood. The kid also becomes more respectful as a result.
Glory of Flight: Subverted; commercial airliners destroy a yuppie subdivision. So... if flight is disallowed, suburbia will be destroyed?
Male Weakness: Tons. Tom Cruise is a terrible father, and can barely protect his family. The whole of mankind is seen as basically weak against the onslaught of the Martians.
Comfort in Confinement: Tom Cruise seems to think that small spaces are safer; he and Dakota hide under a table, in two different basements, under stairs, in a minivan, in a cramped diner, etc. There is a lot of twisting into small spaces when Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins hide from the raptors, er, um, Martian scavengers.
Benevolent Authority: The army is seen as basically powerless, but Spielberg never misses an opportunity to show soldiers as petty and uncaring. The ferry captain in particular. Cruise takes the kids to their mother in Boston, who is with her parents; as always, the boy defers to benevolent parenthood. God intervenes again; the final narration seems to imply that the germ plague that kills the Martians is an act of divine protection.
Father Issues: Tom Cruise is a terrible father, but hey, Spielberg seems to say, give him a break, he’s trying. In Spielberg world, wanting to be a good father passes for being an excellent father. His son shows his lack of respect for Cruise by calling him by his first name.
Mother Issues: Miranda Otto, as the children’s mother, is the kind of shrew usually played by Hope Davis. She is subconsciously blamed for ruining Cruise’s relationship with the kids because she dared to marry a better man.
Reverence for Childhood: Avner’s entire quest for revenge is framed in some measure as something he must do in order to protect his child. The scene with the little girl nearly getting blown up is as manipulative as it gets. Avner’s childhood is constantly referred to as a motivation.
Glory of Flight: Not much, though references to air hijackers seem to be a reference to people taking idealism and making it political. Much like this film…
Male Weakness: Avner is one of Spielberg’s typical heroes; uncertain, unsure, and awkward. Oh, he can get the job done, of course, but not without becoming hollow.
Comfort in Confinement: Avner seems most at ease in dank hotel rooms and such. When he quits working for Israel, he takes his family and hides out in a cramped little neighborhood in the Bronx.
Benevolent Authority: Oh, here we go. The entire Israeli government is seen as a benevolent force that Avner has no choice but to serve. They tie notions of family together with notions of government and duty; at the same time, Avner is “officially unofficial,” and has the freedom to move outside of the government. Not only does Spielberg seem to be arguing here that governments are power players who can make people do whatever they want, but he also seems to be arguing simultaneously that people can only make a difference when they move apart from governments. Which is it?
Father Issues: People are constantly invoking memories of Avner’s father to manipulate him. Avner himself is a father, and uses that as an excuse for revenge killing. A powerful underworld operative treats Avner likes a son and is only referred to as Papa.
Mother Issues: As usual, women barely play a role in the film. Golda Meier is seen as a tough mother to Israel who will do whatever she must to protect her children. Avner’s wife barely registers. The murder of a female Dutch spy is the most cruel in the film. Avner’s mother is manipulative and shady.