“E.T.” is pretty much the quintessential Steven Spielberg film. It’s very much an autobiographical tale, and speaks waves about the life Spielberg led and the life he almost wished he’d had. “E.T” is about a weird boy from a divorced family who gains a kinship with yet another outcast who happens to be from another world. The way protagonist Elliott is able to bond with the alien that is stranded on Earth is possibly because Elliott is something of an alien in his own world as well. Despite his best intentions to mix in with his family and his class, he’s something of an oddity who gains something of a sense of identity after garnering a bond with someone from a whole other galaxy.
“E.T.” is a wonderful story about friendship and finding someone in a very dark world, as we meet Elliott who has grown up in a broken home most of his life. When an alien from another world is left stranded on Earth and is hunted by locals, fate intervenes and he meets Elliott. Elliott feels a strong sense of protectiveness for the alien who begins to learn Earth’s ways and displays amazing powers, including a symbiosis which allows him to somehow form a single mind with the beings he touches. Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison compose a very emotional family film that pictures two friends learning about each other and trying very hard to hide out from the darker aspects of the world. This includes Elliott’s brother and sister, both of whom react in different ways than he ever really anticipates. There’s also Peter Coyote’s character Keys whose authoritarianism and cynicism taints the purity between the friends.
For every aspect of “E.T.” Spielberg dabbles in the idea of discovery and every element of the film involves someone learning something fantastic about each other and about themselves. Whether it’s Drew Barrymore’s Gertie initially displaying terror but viewing the being as child in its own rite, or Elliott kissing the girl of his dreams during an epic frog breakout in school, Spielberg encourages learning and casting aside preconceived notions and ideas about ignorance and hatred. Spielberg is very careful about conveying wonder in even the smallest nuance the alien crosses paths with, and he becomes an even sadder individual when we learn he’s not really an explorer so much as a traveler who merely wants to go back home.
While “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was for the philosopher, the adult, and the existentialist, “E.T.” is for the child, and for the family. It’s connection, its life, and it’s about feelings of love that tends to transcend species and stars.