THE FABELMANS is filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age movie about his life growing up in New Jersey, Arizona and California. Sammy Fabelman gets the filmmaking bug in 1952 when he sees the scary train wreck scene in THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and re-creates it using his electric train set. He starts shooting little movies with his two younger sisters and, later as a teenager, with his sisters and his friends in his Boy Scouts troop. However, one day, some camping trip footage uncovers a family secret that shatters his real world.
Although 150 minutes long, THE FABELMANS is another brilliantly directed, funny, dramatically powerful movie from Steven Spielberg. However, it has excessive foul language, including 15 strong profanities. Also, it promotes a strong Non-Christian Romantic worldview that teaches viewers to “follow your heart” rather than God or His moral standards. In addition, the only Christians in THE FABELMANS are three immoral teenagers. Two of the Christian teenagers are overt Anti-Semites who torment Sammy. The third Christian is a weird teenage girl who sees Jesus as a romantic fantasy, not just her Savior.
(RoRo, AbAb, B, LLL, VV, S, N, A, DD, M):
Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Strong Romantic worldview says “follow your heart” when it comes to choosing a career and when it comes to divorce your husband to be with another person you love more, which are equated to one another, and, in some overt Anti-Christian content, two of the three Christian characters in the movie are Anti-Semitic teenage bigots who misuse the name of Jesus and the third is a Christian girl who thinks of Jesus as a romantic, “sexy” fantasy, but there are also some light moral elements, a few of which are endearing and heartwarming
About 20 obscenities (including one “f” word), 15 strong profanities (about three Jesus profanities and 12 GD profanities) and eight light exclamatory profanities, plus mother buys a pet monkey and the youngest daughter tells her brother’s girlfriend that the monkey throws his “poop”
Teenage boys shoot a silent World War II movie where the teenage boys act like they’re getting shot, and there’s some fake blood exploding on their bodies, a movie scene shows a large circus train hitting a car on the railroad tracks and derailing, boy re-creates the scene with his electric train set, teenage boys shoot a silent western where teenage boys in western outfits shoot guns at one another, the “sheriff” in that movie takes care of the stagecoach “robbers” with his six guns, an Anti-Semitic teenage boy punches the Jewish teenage protagonist after the Jewish boy tells the boy’s girlfriend in public that he saw the boy kissing his ex-girlfriend (the protagonist’s nose is bloodied), there’s another scuffle later on with another Anti-Semitic teenage boy, but the other Anti-Semitic teenage boy punches the boy and stops him from beating up the protagonist
Scenes show that a married woman and mother has secretly fallen in love with her husband’s best friend, the mother and father eventually divorce, there’s a scene where a Christian teenage girl takes the Jewish teenage protagonist to her room where she has idealized pictures of Jesus and male celebrities on her wall and seduces the boy for a kiss while forcing him to pray to accept Jesus into his heart, and there’s a scene where the teenage protagonist sees one of his Anti-Semitic tormenters kissing his ex-girlfriend
Upper male nudity in a beach sequence
Brief alcohol use, including by some high school students on a beach in 1963 or so
Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Man smokes a cigar, and an older teenage boy lights up a marijuana cigarette and takes a couple puffs before he exits stage left; and,
A caustic elderly uncle tells the young protagonist that family will tear you apart, and the pursuit of art will make him suffer, boy and his mother hides the mother’s romantic feelings for the father’s best friend from the father, and, when the parents finally decide to get a divorce, the father understands his wife’s “need” to be with the other man, but it clearly still pains him.
THE FABELMANS is filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age movie, which depicts how a young Jewish boy’s discovery of his calling to be a film director uncovers a devastating family secret and shows him the power of movies to help people see themselves. Sadly, THE FABELMANS urges viewers to “follow your heart” rather than God and His moral standards and has 15 strong profanities and Anti-Christian sequences where the protagonist encounters a weird teenage Christian girl who sees Jesus as a romantic fantasy and two hateful teenage boys who accuse the boy of killing their Lord and Savior, but there’s no denying THE FABELMANS is a brilliantly directed, funny, intensely dramatic work by a master filmmaker.
The movie begins with 7-year-old Sammy’s parents taking him to see his first movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s circus extravaganza, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. Sammy is scared about sitting in the dark, but his parents, Burt and Mitzi, assure him the movie is going to be filled with clowns, elephants and jugglers. Little Sammy sits mesmerize, until it comes time for the spectacular derailment of the circus train in the movie.
Traumatized, Sammy can’t get the images of the train crash out of his mind. So, when his father asks him what he wants for Hanukkah, he tells him, and for the following eight days, Sammy gets one train car for an electric train set. A great time is had by the whole family watching the train, including the father’s best friend, an unmarried co-worker named Benny who frequently has dinner with the Fabelmans. However, one night, Sammy decides to stage the train wreck from the movie with his train set.
Sammy’s father is upset that Sammy damaged the train engine, but his mother suggests Sammy take his father’s movie camera and film one train wreck that he can show over and over to himself, until his fears dissipate. Of course, Sammy doesn’t shoot just one train wreck. He films about eight.
Meanwhile, the father, a computer technician for RCA in New Jersey, gets a job offer from GE to move the family to Phoenix. Everyone’s upset about the move, but Sammy’s mother is upset the most because the father didn’t help Benny get a job in Phoenix with GE too. The father says he’s not in charge of the hiring and firing at GE. However, the mother, who’s a housewife but was trained as a concert pianist who sometimes performs publicly, reminds the father that, since he’ll be a manager at the company, he should have the freedom to hire anyone he wants as an assistant. So, the whole family and Benny take a ride all the way to Phoenix to live and work there.
Meanwhile, the father indulges Sammy’s “hobby” making movies. Using his sisters, he makes a movie about an operation and a little horror movie where a plastic skeleton jumps out of a closet and scares the girls.
Later, as a teenager in the Boy Scouts, he and his friends go to the movie theater to watch THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, John Ford’s classic 1962 movie starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. So, Sammy, who now wants to be called Sam, decides to shoot a western with his friends and sisters. Sam’s father still thinks of Sam’s movies as a hobby, but it’s becoming clear that Sam’s hobby is fast becoming a vocation.
One weekend, the family and Benny go on a camping trip. Of course, Sam shoots all the home movies. One night, with the family car’s headlights shining on the campsite so Sam can film what’s happening, Sam’s mother dances lyrically in her nightgown. The scene embarrasses the oldest daughter, but the adults ignore her objections.
Shortly thereafter, the mother’s mother dies. The grandmother’s death throws the mother for a loop. So, the father buys some fancy editing equipment for Sam, but asks a favor from him. He orders Sam to edit together the camping trip video for his mother, to make her feel better. Sam objects that he and his friends are scheduled Saturday to shoot a little war movie. Do this for your mother instead, the father insists.
Sam reluctantly obeys. However, when he starts editing the footage together, he notices that, in the background of many shots, Benny and his mother have clearly fallen in love.
The truth about their affair has devastating effects for Sam personally and, eventually, irreversible effects for the family. Especially when the father moves the family to Northern California so he can take a computer job with IBM, this time without Benny.
In Northern California, Sam runs into trouble with two Anti-Semitic Christian jocks at school. Also, because of the affair between Benny and his mother that his camera caught, Sam has lost interest in movie making. However, he starts dating a weird Christian girl at school who thinks of Jesus as a romantic fantasy. She has large idealized paintings of Jesus on her wall along with posters of male movie stars and other celebrities. In one scene, she seduces Sam to kiss her while she makes him pray with her to Jesus.
Meanwhile, Sam’s mother is become more and more depressed because of not being able to see Benny anymore, even though she assures Sam that she’s going to focus on him, his sisters and his father. Her husband starts noticing her depression, however.
Will Sam ever pick up a movie camera again? What’s going to happen to the Fabelmans family, especially the parents’ marriage?
Despite a long length, THE FABELMANS is another brilliantly directed, funny, dramatically powerful movie from Steven Spielberg. It shares many themes from his other classic movies, such as themes about family life, emotionally distant fathers and childhood fears.
Also, one of the movie’s main themes originates from its references to the John Ford western, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, one of the best Hollywood movies ever made. In that movie, a newspaper editor learns that the state’s long-time Senator, played by Jimmy Stewart, didn’t really shoot the vicious killer, Liberty Valance. So, the editor decides to print the legend, not the truth. However, by even making the movie, John Ford reveals that some of the legends and myths of the Wild West are false. So, in the end, Ford doesn’t really agree with the newspaper editor. Even so, by showing viewers who really shot Liberty Vallance, Ford creates a new Myth of the West, a Mythic story that packs an emotional wallop.
Like the newspaper editor in the western movie, Sammy hides the truth about his mother’s feelings for his father’s best friend. [SPOILERS FOLLOW) Later, the painful truth comes out, however, and Spielberg, as the writer/director, doesn’t shy away from it. Later, Sammy is asked to make a movie about a school picnic day at the beach. When he unveils the movie at the prom, the movie Sam makes turns one of his Anti-Semitic tormenters into an admired, athletic school hero. Of course, to the rest of the school, he was. However, in the hallway after the screening, the boy confronts Sam and asks him why he treated him so nicely in the movie after all the awful things he and his friend did to Sam. The boy is ashamed and feels guilty that the little movie turns him into a good guy. Sam says he edited the movie according to what he saw happening at the picnic. Don’t worry, he adds, maybe someday he’ll make a movie about what a jerk he was, not only to Sam but also to the boy’s girlfriend.
All that said, THE FABELMANS has some immoral themes in it that make it an unacceptable movie.
First of all, when Sam’s parents decide to get a divorce and his mother tells him she’s going back to Arizona to be with Benny, she advises Sam to “follow your heart” just like she’s doing in divorcing his father and returning to Arizona to be with Benny. Now, the attitude to “follow your heart” is a false, lawless Romantic sentiment. As the Lord God says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” It should also be noted, though, that the advice to “follow your heart” and become a filmmaker for your vocation is different from the selfish advice to “follow your heart,” forget your marriage vows and leave your husband and family. These two things are not equivalent. The idea to “follow your heart” and take up the career to which you are most passionate and most qualified to do is more like following the calling, vocation and gifts that God has given you. That’s a righteous, biblical piece of advice.
Secondly, the three Christian characters appearing in the movie, the two Anti-Semitic bullies and the weird girl who thinks of Jesus as a romantic fantasy, are the only overtly Christian characters. Spielberg should have balanced out these offensive depictions by inserting a positive, righteous Christian character in the script, or made these characters Non-Christian. These scenes smack of obnoxious Anti-Christian bigotry and leave a bad taste in the movie’s second half.
THE FABELMANS also contains some strong foul language, including 15 strong profanities and one “f” word. It’s the movie’s strong profanities, unbiblical Non-Christian Romantic worldview and imbalanced Anti-Christian bigotry that’s most unacceptable.
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