Its interesting how movies in our childhood can effect us in later life. E.T The Extra Terrestrials (1982) was one such movie. It really got to me then and still haunts me today.
Spielberg is the 80s. The way we view 80s burbs, 80s kids and 80s pop culture is all influenced by his movies during the late 70s and early 80s. None more so than E.T. It’s a simple story, childish even. An alien child gets left behind, on Earth, by his parents. He gets taken in by a young boy and his siblings. After E.T contacts his parents he becomes sick and appears to die only to resurrect with the power of love and be finally rescued by his family. Now, even when writing that, the narrative seems incredibly cheesy and childish. You could almost argue that it crosses the line into mawkish.
But mawkish it is not, and in fact, E.T is the movie that affected me the most as a child. Even just writing about it now brings back the emotion felt when watching it for first time. I am reminded that the magic stems from Spielberg’s commitment to presenting it from the child’s viewpoint. It’s just the sort of fantasy a young 80s boy would have. The fantasy I did have.
I vaguely remember seeing this masterpiece on the big screen but the impact was made further down the line from my front room. There are very few films that I saw as a child that have made such an impression on me.
Elliot is me
Elliot is a child with two siblings, a mother and a somewhat absent father. I was an only child myself and whilst I cannot relate to what it’s like to have brothers and sisters, I can relate to being in a one parent family. It goes without saying that having a friend from another planet, who would just be for me, is something I would have relished.
My mother was amazing and gave me everything she could but I was a lonely child. I wanted siblings that I could not have. So, as many children do, I created imaginary friends. Watching E.T was like having the ultimate imaginary buddy and with this movie, more than any other, I felt a childhood connection with the main character, Elliot. All the decisions he made,such as taking E.T in, helping him contact his family, or risking his own safety to get E.T home are all choices I believed I would have made. In a way Elliot was as much a fictional hero to me as say Indiana Jones, or Optimus Prime was to other children.
My empathy for Elliot was probably why the emotional moments hit me so hard. The vacant father and the mother trying her best to look after the family were all things I could relate to in my own life. But it wasn’t just the real life associations I’ll probably have to tell a psychiatrist about in my later years that got me. I used to have trouble watching the movie after the part where they contacted E.T’s family in the woods. The sight of his pale body in broad daylight calling out for Elliot was too much for my little mind to take. The hospital scene were he dies was devastating to me. It was a full on tearfest! I hadn’t lost anyone close to me, but the empathy that I felt for Elliot was immense.
Of course, being a child’s fantasy , we have to have a happy ending. The BMX bike scene is pure Spielberg joy. E.T. was alive and returning to his family, we could all breathe a sigh of relief!
The goodbye scene at the end is incredibly well done. Remember that for various reasons Elliot and myself are in total emotional sync at this point. So when E.T is telling Elliot “I’ll be right here”, he’s talking to the ten year old me. Yes he’s leaving but he will be with him always. That was the kind of relationship I wanted. I don’t know if I was relating that to my lack of good friends or absent Father, all I knew was that I needed something and this movie filled a void for me.