Steven Spielberg has famously said that E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is his most personal movie because it is a movie about divorce. I assume in saying this, he means that making E.T. helped him process aspects of own childhood and find new levels of healing as a victim of divorce in his childhood. To refer to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial as a movie about divorce as Spielberg does, however, is to make it sound like a depressing, hopeless experience of the trauma that divorce is for children. To the contrary, it is about the possibility of having needs met that have been neglected as a result of divorce. It is about the reality that healing and hope are possible and available, often from the most unlikely of sources. It is about the relationship between childhood fantasy and that healing.
Elliot and his siblings are always portrayed as normal children. They don’t seem to be defined by their parents’ divorce. They have a great mother who does her best for them in every circumstance. They appear to be healthy and generally happy. Nevertheless, they have a huge void left by their father who abandoned the family to be with another woman. Parent-figures trying to heroically fill the gaps left by absent parents are common fixtures in film history going back to the silent era (Charles Chaplin’s The Kid is an especially great example). What makes E.T. so special is that E.T. never tries to be a parent-figure; he never tries to fill Elliot’s father’s space, but he does help to meet Elliot’s needs.
Instead of being a father-figure for Elliot, E.T. is his friend. E.T. feels just as lost and confused being away from his family as Elliot does without his father. The two share those feelings and begin to navigate the world together. They provide an example of the healing power inherent in friendship. Elliot and E.T. teach each other to love; they sacrifice for each other; they show themselves willing to even give up their lives for each other. When they are capable of knowing what is best for the other, they make room for that regardless of any painful feelings involved. They offer each other hope to be able to grow up and live in an uncertain world, moving beyond the traumatic experiences that marred their early years. We finish the movie knowing that they have equipped each other to live long, productive, joyous lives because of what they shared in the few short weeks in which the movie takes place.
E.T. and Elliot have a friendship like none other portrayed in film. I say this not because it is between a human and an alien but because it is so real, so human, so rare. Busyness, distractions, and various kinds of hurts and fears too often hinder us from giving ourselves to other people in truest friendship and from receiving that same kind of friendship. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial is one of the most inspiring films ever made because it so beautifully shows what the love between friends can look like. It shows the reality that true friendship can help bring emotional healing, can meet needs that others have neglected, and being sacrificial in nature can even portray a picture of the divine friendship intended between God and humanity.
“Stumble” Alert: You may want to take caution before watching this movie with your child, especially if he/she is prone to repeat things heard. There is a scene of sibling rivalry at its most hilarious, where Elliot calls his brother a vulgarity (“penis breath” to be exact) that is timed so perfectly, it’s one of the funniest lines in film history but may not be appropriate for more impressionable ears. There are also several scenes that the youngest of viewers may find quite frightening, but in most situations it serves as great family viewing with some profound life lessons.
Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985)