favorite movies: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. Poster

I’ve posted a little bit about E.T. before but I watched it again this weekend and felt the need to talk a bit more about this classic movie and its effect on me.

The thing that I love about E.T. is that there is something for you at every age level. When I first saw it, I could only have been a preschooler. I assume that those first few viewings, I was along for the ride with Gertie, not really understanding the deeper meaning behind the actions, but following the story enough to know that E.T. and Elliot were friends but E.T. needed to go home.

Watching it later on VHS, closer to Elliot’s age, I must have identified with that lost boy. My home life was not like Elliot’s but even though I might not have understood what divorce was yet, or even what it was like to have an older brother, I understood what it felt like to be a kid in a world where everyone seems older. You have no power, it can be hard to find friends (because clearly Elliot is a bit of a loner. We only see him interact with his siblings on a regular basis), and you are constantly trying to make yourself heard. And E.T. comes along and fills all the voids in Elliot’s life: he is someone Elliot can teach and care for, he turns into a friend, and eventually E.T. even becomes a father figure, giving Elliot the goodbye he has been longing for the entire movie that the absentee parent did not give him.

Much later, I watched the film again, this time along with Michael. I would have had a younger brother at this point, a new person in my life who I wanted to both protect and strangle. That’s what little brothers do – drive you crazy. But, as the older sister, I had to watch out for him. So when Michael agrees to let Elliot take the lead, I understood why. That bond between siblings, especially when the adults around you make you wonder about growing up, can be stronger than any logic. Michael understood how important this all was to Elliot and he stood by him. Near the end, you know he has a bit of regret, that maybe he shouldn’t have become to caught up in the excitement, when he finally reveals to the mother what is going on.

And now, here I am watching this 30 year old movie, seeing it as an adult. Watching the poor mother, caught up in her own problems and work but trying to stay present for her three children – it’s a juggling act all too common. If they had gone to her from the start, E.T. would have been taken away and the story would have ended there. Adults and parents are far too mature and logical. They don’t see the world from the right perspective (and we don’t get to see them for most of the movie. The Mom is the only adult who we get to see all of until the very end when the scientists force themselves inside). As an adult, you are torn between rooting for Elliot and the kids to foil the scientists, but at the same time you ache with knowing that kids do have their own world and you can’t protect them.

It’s a beautiful movie for so many reasons and I could go on and on, but this aspect of it always strikes me every time I watch it. It was brilliant for Melissa Mathison to put these three children in the story, spanning different ages. It gives the film this magical staying power. Every time I watch this movie, I find something new to love, some little thing on the sidelines, some little big of dialogue I didn’t notice before – but every time I watch it, I have that pang of emotion, wishing that I could go back to that sweet innocence of Gertie, or remember the struggle of being a 10 year old, or even just find that confused teenager again…but we don’t live in Neverland and eventually we grow up. And it’s a big “ouch” but E.T. will always be a favorite of mine, a film deeply ingrained in my heart and in my mind.

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