With a career spanning several decades, Steven Spielberg has consistently brought forth noteworthy work that is widely accessible. His new semi-autobiographical film – ‘The Fabelmans’, based on personal experiences from his childhood, is another addition to the same list. Starring Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen in the lead roles, it presents an intimate portrait of Spielberg’s love for cinema since such a young age. For this coming-of-age film, he has partnered with his frequent collaborators – Tony Kushner for the screenplay and Janusz Kamiński for cinematography.
The Fabelmans (2022) Movie Plot Summary & Synopsis:
The Fabelmans is about wide-eyed Sammy, who fell in love with cinema at a young age. In 1952, his parents – Mitzi and Burt Fabelman take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth by Cecil B. Demille. It is the first film he has ever seen, and he falls in love with the spectacle of a crashing train being captured on film. He decides to replicate the same wonder at his home with the toy train model set his father brings home for him in Hannukah. With his mother’s motivation, young Sammy soon starts shooting the crashing scene repeatedly with an 8mm camera of Burt and creates a movie on his own.
Burt is passionate about science and tries to make his children just as enthused about it. However, Sammy is more driven by the art of cinema and does not want to see it just as a hobby. He keeps indulging in different acts of storytelling with his siblings. After a job offer Burt receives in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1957, he moves there with his family and his friend & business partner named Benny. As Sammy gets older and reaches his teen years, he continues making movies and putting the vision from his mind onto film. He even earns a badge in photography while making films with his friends in a boy scout group and working on post-production effects.
Later, on a camping trip the Fabelmans take together, Sammy shoots a bunch of footage of their personal montage. One of these videos is Mitzi dancing to the tunes of her own mind, which the kids get baffled by, but Burt does not stop. Sometime soon after this incident, her mother dies. Burt tells Sammy to create a compilation of his videos to please his bereaved mother. However, he wishes to work on a western film that he had envisioned and called cast and crew for. Burt sees it just as a hobby and argues that the home video is more important at the time.
Sammy then works on it and, while going through the footage, stumbles upon the relationship between his mother & Benny. He starts getting distant from both of them. After weeks of that harsh treatment from him, they get into a heated argument, where she even slaps him. He shows the footage, which makes Mitzi realize his knowledge about their affair. He promises to keep it a secret from the other family members. When the family plans to move yet again to Saratoga, California, due to Burt’s promotion, it is decided that Benny will stay back. He gives Sammy a film camera which Sammy is determined never to use.
Over there, Sammy gets bullied by Logan and Chad, his antisemitic schoolmates. During this time, he falls in love with a devoutly Christian girl named Monica and experiences his first crush and first relationship, among other factors in his discovery of love. She lets him use her father’s 16mm camera to shoot their Senior Skip Day at the beach. He loves to get this camera so that he can record as per his desire and records the precious moments that students share together. Soon after, the Fabelmans move from a rental to a purchased home, where Burt and Mitzi break the news of their divorce due to her affair with Benny. It leaves the family heartbroken.
Later, Sammy presents the compilation of their trip footage during their prom night. He receives a fantastic response from the students, where he learns the impact his craft can hold. In this video, he shows Logan, one of his bullies, in a good light, who finds it absurd and gets enraged at him. Despite the way he behaved with Sammy, why did he go on to show him in such a heroic way? He cannot understand it, and through this very confusion, they bond, at least for a brief moment or two. On the same night, Sammy tells Monica his plan to move to Hollywood and expects they would move there together. However, he mistakes their companionship as a lifelong bond, which is why she breaks up with him.
The Fabelmans (2022) Movie Themes Analyzed:
Utility vs. Creativity:
Burt is a logical thinker, or he at least prides himself on being one. Whenever the question of emotion comes, he experiences it like any other person but stays true to the logic of the situation. Even when seeing Sammy’s deep interest in moviemaking, he always refers to it as his hobby. Since Sammy’s childhood, he enforces the idea of utility over artistic creativity onto him. In a way, he fits the parental archetype where a parental figure tries to imbibe their interests and inclinations onto their children. His mother, on the other hand, is more sentimental and does things based on her impulses and desires. In the relationship of these three, the chasm between logic and sentimentality is recurringly present.
Minor Characters in Your Life Story:
Played by Jude Hirsch, Boris is Mitzi’s uncle, who gives a sudden, unannounced visit to the Fabelmans’ place. Mitzi was scared of him since her mother feared him. She only knew him as a lion tamer in the circus. However, he reveals working in the film industry for years afterward, which makes Sammy interested in him. This old man shares the tricks of show business with this teenager and also reveals the nature of art, which is soul-sucking and rewarding at the same time. Once you get soaked into it, there is a constant struggle between that and family. Be it his or Sammy’s visit with John Ford, these minor characters in his (or anyone’s) life story can have a significant impact on the overall worldview.
The Fabelmans move from a Jewish neighborhood in Phoenix to a place in California where they are the only Jewish family. Every young person goes through their own period of adjustment. However, it becomes especially hard for Sammy to tackle the antisemitic bullies who harass him, especially in the early days in this new school. The film handles that as a crucial factor for one’s coming-of-age journey at this tender age.
Communication through Movies:
Movies were a source of intrigue, pure joy, and enthrallment for Benny. Since the moment he watched a train crash on a huge scale, he wanted to recreate that magic on his own. While he kept working on perfecting the craft and learning new techniques, it is prom night when he specifically realizes how communication works in regard to movies. Seeing the rapturous reaction by his fellow classmates, he gets excited. However, it is the selective reactions of Logan and Chad that show him how his ideas got communicated. Movies are a source of communication. But it is not just about what an artist wants to communicate, but more about what the audience is able to receive from it.
The Fabelmans (2022) Movie, Ending Explained:
After the prom night, Mitzi and Sammy have a conversation about their future, and she advises him not to give up his love for filmmaking. One year later, upon moving to Hollywood, he gets restless since he hates being in school, and even when he considers getting work in Hollywood, he hardly gets any response despite his enormous passion. As a result, he also thinks of dropping out of college. Burt, who had not been optimistic about this pursuit by him, sees his son having panic attacks.
During this visit to Sammy’s apartment, Burt sees the photos Mitzi sent to him of her new life with Benny. He gets emotional by this and then agrees to his wish while not being hard on him the way he had always been. He then shares a letter from CBS, who offers him work on the sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes. Upon seeing his deep interest in moviemaking, the network executive invites him to meet the legendary film director John Ford, who is one of his personal heroes and influences in filmmaking.
Sammy goes to meet the revered director and gets humbled by his stern persona. This is the same person who is known for saying a straightforward line – ‘My name is John Ford; I make westerns,’ with a determination and a clarity of vision about his own work. John shares a valuable lesson with him about framing in regard to where the horizon should be in a frame (not in the middle, but either on the top or the bottom). His advice basically goes with the learning in framing techniques which says that the way you place your subject in a frame in accordance with their background determines the overall impact.
While this is now considered a rule in itself, Ford’s suggestion is very straightforward and, thus, elaborative of his persona. ‘That is how you make your work look interesting’, he says. One of the many lessons Sammy goes on to learn in his career, the one that would probably make the most impact – is to get the basics right. From behind the camera, Speilberg plays a trick on the same advice in the very next scene, where Sammy jumps out of the studio with extreme excitement about his future. While in the beginning, we see the horizon placed right in the middle, it shifts to the way desired by Ford, perhaps indicating how much he still revers this old master of his.