E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

What would we do without Steven Spielberg?

Here is a man who has done what so many storytellers long to do, and yet so few accomplish: he has achieved immortality through his stories, both by his telling and our remembering.

I had the opportunity, like with Raiders of the Lost Ark, to see this film in a theater, and it was worth every penny. I even got my mom to go, which is hard to do, because she still remembered how it made her feel. This film is essential cinema for a growing child, and yet often not for the reasons you might think.

Young boys and girls in movies these days are so safe, their experiences glazed over until you’re not sure they’ve lived in the world at all. They are model children, not real ones. Elliott, though, feels entirely authentic. He calls his brother “penis breath,” for crying out loud. At some point along the way, studios seemed to forget that children do not exist in isolation, free of influence, but rather in a world full of adults.

E. T., the alien, does not necessarily teach us that, but it’s something I noticed. At some point, we began to shelter our children from the world, and it’s done us a great disservice. We become adults by acting like them, and yet our naivety gives us away. This film taught me how the world used to be, and made me wish I could bring it back.

In case you haven’t seen it–come on–the story revolves around an alien who misses the ship back home, and a young boy and his family help him return to his people. Everyone in the family, for the most part, falls in love with the innocent, hobbling alien, and it only makes the end all the more tearful. The film is funny and heartbreaking, often in adjacent beats, and late screenwriter Melissa Mathison should be given all the credit in the world. She gifted the world with a creature who is living on Earth for the first time, and does not hesitate to show us the love and terror that comes with it.

Of all the classic Spielberg films of yesteryear, this is one of his most memorable. If you saw this as a child, as I did, it is a formative experience. Seeing it now, I felt like a child again, and I’m sure you do too. Seeing it now, I was able to look at the world through a lens I’d long thought broken.

We do not stay young forever, and we see the world until we take it for granted. There become fewer and fewer things that we can experience for the first time, things we can see that we’ve never seen before. This film will last forever, in the end, because of a single ingredient: the marvelous feeling of novelty, the ecstasy and the agony of a new experience. Or, more simply, wonder.

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E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

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