Why The Fabelmans And Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade Make The Perfect Steven Spielberg Double Feature

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This post contains spoilers for “The Fabelmans” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

With his semi-autobiographical film, “The Fabelmans,” our beloved master of the modern American blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, has reached the pinnacle of self-reflection over his career. Spielberg has always had a gift for capturing the most personal and intimate essences of his life in his films, from the fraught family dynamics portrayed in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” to his version of “West Side Story” fashioned from the memories of watching the original with his late father.

Spielberg is as sentimental as they come, but his dreamy depiction of his coming-of-age in “The Fabelmans” reaches new levels of personal for the filmmaker. Through the fictionalized Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), we get to see Spielberg demystify himself and reveal his cinematic roots. Most importantly, through Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams), Spielberg is confronting the event that has informed almost every single piece of his body of work to date: His parent’s divorce.

After watching Spielberg’s origin story play out in “The Fabelmans,” you might be eager to revisit the director’s filmography with a renewed sense of context. Or perhaps you’re pumped up from the new “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” trailer that was released this week? Either way, I have rewatched Spielberg’s entire filmography in preparation for his latest film, and upon reflection, I found that “The Fabelmans” makes a perfect double feature with “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Emotionally Stunted Fathers And Sons

The connection might not be immediately obvious, but when you take the phase of Spielberg’s career that led to the creation of “Last Crusade” into account, the blockbuster feels like a meta-textual epilogue from where “The Fabelmans” chooses to end its story.

Sammy’s ambition has always been split between two extremes — logic and imagination, father and mother, the left brain and the right brain. Arnold Spielberg, the inspiration for Burt Fabelman, was an inventive engineer that played an instrumental part in the development of the modern computer. His ambitions were in the workplace, so he wasn’t the most present father. According to HBO’s “Spielberg” documentary, when his parents divorced, Spielberg harbored lots of resentment towards his dad, believing it was his fault the family became fractured.

That pain born from absence manifests itself in many Spielberg films, but in “The Last Crusade,” released four years after Spielberg had become a dad himself in 1985, that impulse transformed into a desire to comprehend his father’s distance. “The Last Crusade” follows Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) on his most personal mission yet — to save his estranged father Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), who went missing in his pursuit of the Holy Grail.

Though they’re a joy to watch interact onscreen, Indy and Henry’s flawed bond serves as a reflection of Spielberg’s connection to his own father. Both are accomplished and ambitious men with similar interests, but they both lack the proper depth to communicate with one another. When Indy opens up to his father about his lonely and unconventional childhood, Henry interjects with his belief that he raised his son to be self-reliant. When Henry asks what Indy wants to talk about now that he’s here, Indy is at a loss for words.

Expressions Of Love In Unique, Masculine Ways

Though Sammy and Burt Fabelman don’t hunt for buried cultural artifacts together, they — like Indy and Henry Jones — have an emotional distance. At one point in “The Fabelmans,” Burt tries to meet his son in the middle by saying their professions as engineer and director both use problem-solving as a means to accomplish their goals. Though dismissive of Sammy’s ambitions to make filmmaking a lifelong career, Burt tries to express his appreciation for his son’s talent in a way only knows how — an observation based on practicality.

Similarly, Sammy himself stumbles to vocalize his feelings, not just towards his father, but in any direction outside of his passion for creation. After discovering his mother’s emotional affair with family friend Bennie (Seth Rogen), Sammy bottles his emotions and saves them for the set. When he creates his WWII picture, “Escape to Nowhere,” he pours his entire soul into instructing his lead actor, revealing through his craft a certain kind of genuine openness that he’d never share with his family.

It’s clear that both “The Fabelmans” and “The Last Crusade” brush on the unique way masculinity inhibits the bond between father and son. But crucially, they both conclude these threads on moments of forgiveness and vulnerability. When Henry mistakenly believes Indy is dead, his son overhears all the love and regret that Henry has in his heart. Even if Henry can’t seem to express it to his face, he truly loves his son. When Sammy chooses to step away from college and forge his own path to become a filmmaker, Burt expresses that he may not understand but knows Sammy will go on to do great things. He reassures his son, “We’ll never not know each other.”

Where’s The Horizon?

In real life, after decades of separation, Steven and Arnold Spielberg would soon reconnect in the years past the creation of “The Last Crusade.” The reconciliation brought them closer than ever before, and in honor of his father’s experiences as a WWII veteran, Spielberg dedicated “Saving Private Ryan” to him. “The Fabelmans” ends before we get the pleasure to see an older and accomplished Sammy make peace with his life, but that meta-text exists in between the lines of the third “Indiana Jones” flick.

But, there’s one more connection between “The Fabelmans” and “The Last Crusade.” George Lucas’s admiration for 1930s pulp serials was always one of the inspirations behind the “Indiana Jones” franchise, but John Ford’s influence on the Western genre — and therefore, Spielberg’s own technical craft — is immeasurable. For example, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and its truck chase sequence owes a lot to a similar stunt in Ford’s “The Stagecoach.” Part of why “The Fabelmans” is so wonderful is because it shows Sammy falling in love with cinema through the act of homage and recreation.

Spielberg’s auto-biographical masterpiece ends with one of his most important memories put onscreen: The wisdom John Ford (David Lynch) shared with young Spielberg at just 15 years old before taking him under his wing:

“If the horizon’s in the bottom, it’s interesting. If the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. If the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as s**t.”

If Spielberg’s body of work is one large puzzle, “The Fabelmans” is the centermost piece that gives all the other films a wonderful new perspective. After knowing the story behind it, it’s impossible to look at the final shot of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” the same way again. Where’s the horizon?

Read this next: 12 Best Performances In Steven Spielberg Movies

The post Why The Fabelmans and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Make the Perfect Steven Spielberg Double Feature appeared first on /Film.

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