Every time my mandatory annual viewing of E.T. is complete, there's not one dry eye left in the room. Elliott's emotional goodbye to his extra-terrestrial companion is never easy to watch, but once you know the real life inspiration behind Spielberg's friendly alien you'll be weeping even harder!
The visionary director didn't have the easiest of childhoods, and can certainly be seen as a kindred spirit to Elliott - an outsider, bullied because of his differences and in desperate need of a friend:
"It isn't something I enjoy admitting, but when I was seven, eight, nine years old, God forgive me, I was embarrassed because we were Orthodox Jews. I was embarrassed by the outward perception of my parents' Jewish practices."
Spielberg also received the physical brunt of anti-semitic prejudice:
"In high school, I got smacked and kicked around. Two bloody noses. It was horrible."
'The Brother I Never Had'
After his parents' divorce in 1960, Spielberg invented his own imaginary friend to try and comfort himself, helping to relieve some emotional pain. He said that the imaginary friend was an alien, who was:
"A friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore."
The masterful director has also noted how his own unstable childhood influenced the movie, which in turn came to influence countless other childhoods:
"We would go from town to town. And it would just so happen I would find a best friend, and I would finally become an insider at school and at the moment of my greatest comfort and tranquility we'd move somewhere else. And the older I got the harder it got. And E.T. reflects a lot of that. When Elliott finds E.T., he hangs on to E.T. and he announces in no uncertain terms, 'I'm keeping him,' and he means it."
We all felt Elliott's desperate plea to protect E.T. from the adults, but of course, as we know, Elliott must eventually let him go home. In this way, we can see how Spielberg was also forced to let go of his imaginary friend, as growing up means becoming independent and stronger within yourself.
Knowing the significance behind E.T. as a character, and what he meant to the director who created him, has given me an even deeper appreciation for the movie and its poignant message about friendship. Now, see if you can hold back the tears during this scene, punctuated by that spine-tingling score:
Great, now I'm bawling again.