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斯皮尔伯格的三部电影评论

(2010-12-31 04:17:00)
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电影评论

杂谈

分类: 音乐*文学

What’s on the mind of Steven Spielberg?

 斯皮尔伯格的三部电影评论

 

斯皮尔伯格的三部电影评论

 

Introduction:

 

The films I have researched are all directed by the renowned American director, Steven Spielberg. They are, in the order of release date, Empire of the Sun (太阳帝国, 1987), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (人工智能, 2001) and Catch Me If You Can (逍遥法外 / 猫鼠游戏, 2002). Although the three films are set in different eras, they deal with common issues such as how family trauma can affect a child’s future life, and how people lose or regain their self identity in society.

 

The films A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Catch Me If You Can are both directed by Spielberg in the early 2000s and both films were stylistically very different from Spielberg’s earlier films such as Indiana Jones and Jaws--they explored societal issues in greater detail and their purpose was not necessarily to entertain, but to inform. Empire of the Sun shared a similar style to Spielberg’s later films and was an experiment by Spielberg to explore the war-film genre in an avant-garde fashion.

 

* * *

 

Question 1: What were the issues Steven Spielberg addressed in his films A.I Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can and Empire of the Sun?

 

Steven Spielberg clearly addressed two main issues in those three films: childhood trauma/family breakup, and self identity.

 

斯皮尔伯格的三部电影评论 

Childhood Trauma

 

A major issue which was examined and addressed in all three films was that of childhood trauma/family breakup. Spielberg himself had a troublesome, if not tragic childhood-his parents divorced when he was only 12 and he was forced to live with his aunty. It was not surprising, then, that the protagonists from all three films had some sort of family issues which was often what drove the stories behind Spielberg’s films.

 

* * *

 

In the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, childhood trauma and family breakup played a central role in the plot of the story. David was a robot designed to offer uncompromised love to anyone who activates his program, yet it appeared that his uncompromised love was treated as a consumer’s product and not something that was genuine from the bottom of his heart.

 

David symbolized the naive-nature and innocence of children in our modern day society-his uncompromised love represented the kind of love pre-adolescent children would have towards their parents. Such symbolic references were also represented in David’s firm belief in the story of ‘Pinocchio’ and that if he could find the ‘Blue Fairy’, he would turned into a real boy and thus his family will love him again. David’s dialogue in the film was deliberately done in a way so that viewers will feel that his words seem to have come from a real boy. David cried out to his ‘mother’: “Mommy, don't! Mommy if Pinocchio became real and I become a real boy can I come home?”

 

Instead of addressing the issue directly, Spielberg has decided to place what was on his mind into a robot, thus indirectly exploring and demonstrating his opinions on a common societal issue.

 

* * *

 

The reference to childhood trauma is a lot more subtle in the film, Catch Me If You Can: indeed, the film deals with the effects of childhood trauma rather than directly tackling the sensitive issue of family problems. The main character, Frank Abagnale Jr had a turbulent childhood which destroyed his belief in truth and honesty—indeed, he grew up to become one of the most notorious bank frauds in the world. Once again, Spielberg had not portrayed Frank Abagnale as a stereotypical antagonist or a protagonist—Spielberg simply portrayed him as a character, a member of society, a victim of childhood neglect.

 

The trauma caused by his parents’ divorce turned Frank Abagnale into the person he became.

 

Frank Abagnale quoted:”“Dear Dad, you told me an honest man has no fear, so I'm trying hard not to be afraid.” Thus Spielberg left a bit of compassion in the creation of his character and in the end, Frank Abagnale realized his wrong ways and eventually redeemed himself as crime-fighter combating financial fraud around the world. This story ultimately had a good ending and even though childhood trauma took its tow, Spielberg wanted to show his viewers that criminals are in fact victims themselves of social neglect, in this case, childhood trauma.

 

* * *

 

Family-breakup was a crucial element in the creation of the film, Empire of the Sun. This was also the film that echoed Spielberg’s own childhood in the most direct manner possible. Spielberg showed this through the main character, Jamie, who was separated from his parents during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Jamie was placed into a prisoner-of-war camp and went through the first-hand experience of the brutality of war, such as the atom bomb drop on Nagasaki. He quoted: “Learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like the God taking a photograph”.

 

Jamie witnessed so much death and destruction around him that he became a completely different person when the war eventually ended. Spielberg wanted to show the direct consequences of family breakup and the kind of trauma a child would suffer from without his or her parents, the kind of everlasting effect of separation can have upon an innocent child.

 

* * *

 

斯皮尔伯格的三部电影评论

 

Self Identity

 

Self identity was an important issue in the film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg showed this through characterization of the protagonist in the film. Set in the near future world, ‘mechas’ or robots became an integral part of society as they did not take up too much resources and were far more reliable to employ. When humans decided to create a mecha capable of actual love, however, the moral issue of whether robots should be considered as living beings was raised and this argument became the driving force of the story. The mechas were so advanced that they were capable of questioning their own identity.

 

One of the protagonists, Gigolo Joe, stated: “You are neither flesh, nor blood. You are not a dog, a cat, or a canary. You were designed and built specific, like the rest of us.” This showed that the mechas were capable of questioning their own self-identity. Spielberg wanted to show the contrast between a mecha such as Gigolo Joe (who is familiar with the humans’ attitude to mechas) and a mecha such as David (who’s unfaltering love for his ‘mother’, Monica, overcomes the boundary between human and mecha) and use that contrast to give us, as the viewers, an image of the near future.

 

Perhaps Spielberg was not only trying to show a hypothesis of the near future and the moral issues which may be raised regarding the identities of humans and mechas. On the other hand, mechas such as Gigolo Joe and David are also representation of people in the modern day society and how they cope with problems regarding self-identity-David can be seen as a representation of an orphan (abandoned child) and Gigolo a sex worker whose social status was at the very bottom of the ladder.

 

* * *

 

In the film Catch Me If You Can, the issue of self-identity played an important role in the creation of the character, Frank Abagnale Jr. The fact that Frank Abagnale became a notorious bank fraud was almost entirely due to childhood influences, yet as his mind matured with age, Frank Abagnale began to wonder if he was living his own identity, being the real Frank Abagnale as he was and always will be, or living the identity of the man he was impersonating. He admitted to his lover, Brenda, that: “Brenda, I don't want to lie to you anymore.”

 

In my opinion, Spielberg created the character of Frank Abagnale in such a way so he can show the viewers his opinion on how one should live his or her life: while impersonating someone else might seem exciting and prolific at first, one will eventually realize that the only person he or she had cheated was him or herself. Spielberg was trying to show the viewers, through the character of Frank Abagnale, that no matter how clever fraudsters try to cheat his way out of life’s problems, the fact that he was a fraud will eventually come back and haunt him-something that’s very true yet often ignored by such people.

 

* * *

 

Self identity played a major part in the formulation of the character Jamie Graham in the film, Empire of the Sun. Jamie was separated from his family during the Second Sino-Japan War and he was placed in an internment camp in Soochow. Due to his young age, it was not surprising that the events Jamie experienced during the time of war had an everlasting impact on him, especially issues regarding self-identity. At first, Jamie identified himself with the Japanese fighter-pilots, whom he assumed as his ‘childhood hero’, though when the war slowly drew to a close and American planes began to be seen over the skies, Jamie was drawn to the Americans. It was this association between himself and the American planes that gave birth to the famous quote: “…Cadillac of the skies!”

 

From this quote, we can clearly see what message Spielberg was trying to convey. He wanted to put the issue of self-identity into a historical perspective and inform the viewers that a child’s self identity can easily be altered in ways one cannot even imagine. The characterisation of Jamie Graham was done so that the viewers can realize what can happen to an identity of a boy who literally ‘grew up to quickly’.

 

Question 2: How did Steven Spielberg make us become aware of those issues in his films A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can and Empire of the Sun?

 

In the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg employed a wide variety of film techniques and characterization to make us become aware of the issues-childhood trauma and self identity.

 

When David was first introduced to his ‘mother’, Monica, the medium shot portraying his silhouette was intentionally blurred, especially towards the centre, reducing the image of David to almost an-alien-like figure. In a symbolic sense, this establishing shot shows us how David was perceived as a stranger, even though we soon see him who he really was: a young boy. This showed that, even from the very beginner, David was perceived as a stranger in his family and his identity of being a member of the family was never established.

 

Many close-up shots showed David holding hands with Gigolo Joe, showing that the trauma that he had gone through forced David to find mental refuge in someone trustworthy like Gigolo Joe-which was in fact ironic since Gigolo Joe’s social status was that of a sex worker. The issue of childhood trauma was also illustrated in the dialogue, as David “Mommy, don't! Mommy if Pinocchio became real and I become a real boy can I come home?” This can be perceived as the turning point of the film, as David’s status alleviates from that of an ‘emotionless robot’ to a ‘want-to-be human’. David’s wish to be a human defined the film and illustrated the issues of self identity through examples of childhood trauma.

 

* * *

 

Spielberg employed similar techniques to make us become aware of those issues in his film, Catch Me If You Can.

 

Having escaped from a plane that would have extradited him back to the United States, the first thing Frank Abagnale did was tracking down where his mother lived. In a memorable seen, a medium shot was taken when he watched through the window of his mother’s house as the police rounded him up and had him arrested.

 

The medium shot had Frank Abagnale in focus-his solemn facial expression was highlighted to show that he wanted his normal life back. He had been, in fact, staring at his half-sister who was in the house-this symbolized the kind of childhood trauma Frank went through and illustrates his hope to go back to the boy he was.

 

The issue of self-identity was also shown in his scene. As the police cars drove up the driveway, the emergency lights illuminated the darkness behind Frank Abagnale. This showed his identity in society-a criminal pursued by the police. Yet the emergency lights could also be seen as  a symbolic feature, in the sense they eradicated the ‘darkness’ (the crimes Frank had committed) and that the police were in fact here to help him. In fact, Frank eventually helped the FBI to catch financial fraudsters.

 

* * *

 

The issues of self-identity and childhood trauma were closely interlocked in Spielberg’s film, Empire of the Sun. This was done mainly through cinematography in the film’s most iconic scene, Jamie Graham’s witness of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

 

Jamie Graham witnessed the death of Mrs. Victor, a British woman who was his ‘neighbour’ at Soochow. When she died, a bright white light came from the east on the other side of the ocean, which was in fact the radiation of light from the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki.

 

This memorable scene was symbolic in the sense that Jamie had mistaken the light as being a miracle being performed by God, as if Mrs. Victor’s soul was being transported into heaven. The extreme close-up shot of Jamie showed that even after all of the trauma that he had endured through the years of war, he was nevertheless still a boy. However, this momentary, gratifying moment was short-lived and the close-up shot soon turned completely white, making the viewers wonder if this was truly a miracle or the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Spielberg showed the other side of childhood trauma: even though a child went through countless instances of great trauma, he or she would still be, in the end, a child.

 

This scene also illustrated the issues of self-identity. Jamie affiliated himself with the Japanese aviators whom he perceived as ‘brave’-they were his ‘childhood heroes’. When the American planes started to be seen, however, Jamie started to identify himself with the Americans. Having witnessed the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, though, Jamie realized that his affiliations with both sides had been destroyed-the reality was that his ‘childhood heroes’ were in fact at war with each other.

 

Spielberg showed Jamie’s realization of his former self in the quote: “Learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like the God taking a photograph.” Jamie was no longer a child who was subjective to ‘childhood heroes’. He had become much more objective, as if he was ‘taking a photograph’ and objectively, deciding for himself, what was wrong and what was right.

 

Question 3: Why did Steven Spielberg make us become aware of those issues in his films A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can and Empire of the Sun?

 

I believe that Spielberg’s ultimate intention was portraying his views on the modern society through creating characters in the past, present and future, in a variety of contexts that reflect the issues of childhood trauma and self identity.

 

For example, in the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the character of David could be seen as the innocent ‘orphan’ whose only wish was to be turned into a real boy so he would be loved again. In this sense, David was similar to Jamie in the sense that they both witnessed death of their fellow beings (which counts as trauma) and both ‘grew up too quickly’. They were both easily influenced by people around them, as David was influenced by Gigolo Joe and Jamie was influenced by the Japanese pilots.

 

Spielberg wanted to show through those characters that the effects of childhood trauma has been downplayed in our modern day society and he wanted to show us, in a subtle and indirect fashion, what was really happening to boys like David and Jamie who had gone through family breakup and emotional trauma.

 

While the film Catch Me If You Can is stylistically different from the other two films, the issues which the film illustrates are largely similar. Frank Abagnale was influenced by his parents since his youth, just like how Jamie was influenced by the Japanese and the American pilots. Frank Abagnale went on to become a great financial fraudsters due to the negative influences he received, while David continued to pursue his dreams of becoming a real boy thanks to the encouragement from Gigolo Joe. Frank Abagnale is the archetype of the kind of child who received bad influences, while Jamie and David are the perceived ‘good-boy’ types.

 

-Frank Abagnale was unsure whether he wanted to continue to be a fraudster or be with his family again.

-David was uncertain on whether he was simply a mecha designed for ‘uncompromised love’ or the ‘human boy’ he was programmed as.

-Jamie was confused on whether he should believe in the fanatical patriotism of the Japanese pilots or the ‘Cadillac of the skies’ a.k.a. the Americans.

 

In other words, Spielberg wanted us to realize that anyone can raise doubts about their own identity, and that there are in fact people just like the characters he had created, in the modern day society, who are asking themselves the same question.

 

Conclusion

 

Spielberg’s virtuosity in filmmaking has culminated in three films that, in my opinion, reflect his views on various ‘archetypes’ of the modern day society. The issues he illustrated are associated and shared among those archetypes: questions regarding self-identity and the effects of childhood trauma. Although the three films, Empire of the Sun (1987), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Catch Me If You Can (2002), were set in totally different contexts, they were nevertheless meant for the same purpose: to illustrate Spielberg’s opinions on the problems of the modern day society.

 

Bibliography:

 

Empire of the Sun, 1987, Spielberg, Warner Bros.

 

A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001, Spielberg, Warner Bros and DreamWorks

 

Catch Me If You Can, 2002, Spielberg, DreamWorks

 

Wikipedia.org

 

IMDB.com

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