The Long Goodbye

A sorrow beyond words: Henry Thomas and friend in 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'
Courtesy of ILM
A sorrow beyond words: Henry Thomas and friend in 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'

Spielberg works in an ideologically discredited manner: He gets the audience to laugh when he wants them to laugh, and to cry when he wants them to cry. (Apparently some people choose to experience Dickens and Griffith purely out of political interest.) What makes the man an artist--what makes him not, in other words, "a latter-day Walt Disney," as his friend Martin Scorsese once described him--is his insistence on our experiencing primal emotions without disposing of them. At the end of E.T., Elliott, like the middle-aged NASA type (Peter Coyote) who was the creature's last childhood host, is left alone again after his friend goes home, holding nothing but the feeling of bittersweet loss. Absence and yearning are the fuel of Spielberg's art; in that spirit, his fans might already fear that the director will never again make another film as offhandedly tender, as modestly scaled, as playful in its melancholy as E.T.

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