“The Fabelmans” movie review – a show of force

“The Fabelmans” movie review – a show of force

The genesis of the drama


Steven Spielberg


Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabrielle Labelle, Judd Hirsch, David Lynch.

Premiere date:

February 3, 2023.

age limit:

9 years.

«This isn’t a movie, it’s an empathy machine. It’s a show of strength.»

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Just apologize upfront, because this will be personal. It’s hard not to when it comes to Steven Spielberg. More than half an autobiography of his upbringing, The Fabelmans is the most personal film he has ever made.

Besides, it’s a somewhat impossible task not to relate to the main character when you’ve been running around growing up with a video camera attached to your hand – without comparison in any other way.


It’s 1952. Sammy Fabelman is six years old. His parents took him to the cinema for the first time – Cecil B. DeMille’s circus epic “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Sammy doesn’t say a word on the way back to New Jersey. The film has a climactic train crash, which shackles and traumatizes him. Recreates it with his own model train track. He needs to see it again and again. The solution is to immortalize it with the family’s narrow film camera. Self-treatment in the film reel. The control lies with the film roll.

Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) has become a teenager. He takes on ambitious Western and war film projects with his Boy Scout buddies in his childhood red-desert valley, Arizona. The idyllic camping trip becomes decisive in retrospect only after he looks at the raw material from his camera. The film he made for his parents nonetheless shows a happy family. There is truth in the movie. There is a lie in the movie.

Great Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) is visiting. He tells us when he was working as a lion tamer. Two forces are fighting inside him. His attraction to art was stronger than his love for his family. “Putting my head in a lion’s mouth is bravery. Making her not shut her mouth is art.” Adventures lie in the darkness of cinema. In the dark cinema lies escape.

It was 1964. The Fabelman family is moving west. As if Sam was destined to end up in Hollywood. Sam’s school life becomes a chalk white nightmare, a conservative Christian in high school where anti-Semitism appears to be a popular sport. But the insane control of his camera allows him to shape reality. In the camera lies the power.

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The frosty alias Fabelman doesn’t try to hide that this is Spielberg’s own story. Even Sammy’s ambitious home movie projects bear the same name as Spielberg’s real-life saga of amateur teens.

In a clocklike 150 minutes, all the seeds are sown for what will become one of the greatest works of art of our time: a tug of war between the artistic focus of an engineer’s father (Paul Dano) and workaholism; and the all-consuming emotionality and creativity of his unstable piano-playing mom (Michelle Williams)—one parent has very limited emotional language, the other has language that’s out of control. Detail-focused observation and craftsmanship. Emotional music the kinship between anxiety and dread, emotionality and shattered illusions.

Not least his existential attraction to stories about creatures who desire, but are unable to communicate with one another; about broken families, parental absences, helplessness and loneliness, strangers and strangers; And the conflict between duty and calling.

The watch is clean

There aren’t a lot of great things about Spielberg/Sammy’s upbringing. Despite the aforementioned breakdown, and audiovisual packaging reminiscent of the melodrama of the day, this is no rip-off. It’s not even a particularly sad movie.

What sets Spielberg apart is his talent – his ability to tell his story.

There is no one who can play the audience’s heartstrings like a grand piano better than Spielberg when he first started playing. His cinematic and emotional language is so pure – and his artistic control so thorough – that he’s always able to convey what’s on his mind. One never doubts his intention.

He always knows where to position his camera for maximum effect. He has always managed to create images we’ve never seen before, visual metaphors that nonetheless tell us something we’ve always known. Like a little boy showing a movie of a wrecked train in the palms of his hands. It’s as if — with our ability to see through the viewfinder, an extension of Spielberg’s eyes — we’re able to read characters’ minds.

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One of Spielberg’s (and co-screenwriter’s) strokes of genius on this film is to turn this ability, this gaze, toward both the narrative and the director himself.

Dark Film Abyss

First of all, it ensures that The Fabelmans does not turn into a celebratory speech praising the art of cinema. Spielberg has no illusions that just because a camera lens is able to see through people, it means it conveys reality. The movie can also be 24fps as real. At the same time, the truth can be more terrifying than the lie you hide. In one of the film’s many dialogue-free scenes of bravery, Sammy is painfully aware of the strength he suddenly possesses.

If you stare into the dark abyss of movies, you risk being stared back at.

But most of all, it makes it clear what Spielberg wants from this movie. Despite his hilarity, Spielberg has rarely been willing to analyze his films on anything other than an artistic level. For example, he never recorded commentary tracks during the heyday of DVD Extras. But just as it’s easier for Sam to show his mother a truth-telling home movie than to tell her how he actually feels, “The Fabelmans” is a Rosetta Stone that allows us to understand both Spielberg himself and all of his other films. Everything he fears, everything he has, he has and dreams about.

This is where I lose it. This primordial core level hit me so much that all my defenses were completely blown away.

More than a birthday sausage

It’s probably more difficult because it’s impossible for me to separate Spielberg’s films from my upbringing. It’s why I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for half my life, I’m obsessed with movies, and I write books about spaceships. Absolutely. Or maybe he hits home because, like all great storytellers, he makes it sound like he’s talking to me and me alone.

I’m in fourth grade. I’ve just realized the power of a video camera—not just filming disinterested kids at a school play or a hot dog birthday party—but telling stories that don’t even exist.

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I am eleven years old. My mom drove me to the Colosseum to see Jurassic Park on her own. For the sixth time. At the same time, in the year 2023, I felt tears running uncontrollably down my cheeks.

It’s the winter of 1995. I’ve connected two VHS players in series to put together an action movie about a death-defying ski trip on the hill behind our building. I perfectly sync John Williams’ soundtrack to the film’s climax. At the cinema I try to quell the hiccups. It’s so embarrassing to burst into tears with Morten Stoll Nielsen two rows in front of me.

strength demonstration

I became a filler. for two and a half hours. You know that scene in “Rotatouille” where a rotten food critic tastes a morsel of ratatouille and the sensory experience is so intense that he instantly flashes back memories of childhood that he can’t remember forgetting? That’s how “The Fabelmans” was to me.

It’s pretty impressive to be able to capture that feeling once in the course of a movie, and hold it for thirty seconds that scene went on. Here, Spielberg does it again and again. This isn’t a movie, it’s an empathy machine.

It’s a show of strength.

All the pieces from an artist for a lifetime’s work I’ve followed since I could barely read the subtitles fall into place, comically as only Steven Spielberg can.

He’s finally letting us see him – the man whose films have meant so much to so many – in the only way he knows how. through his camera.

He allows us to see him, even telling us that he sees us, and that all he wants is to use the power in his hands and eyes to allow us to see ourselves, and each other. As long as there are stories that are very personal and universal, no one is really alone. Love and desire to communicate flow out of each frame.

That was what it was all about. What it always was for him.

The movie is Spielberg’s emotional language.

Ashura Okorie

Ashura Okorie

"Infuriatingly humble web fan. Writer. Alcohol geek. Passionate explorer. Evil problem solver. Incurable zombie expert."

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