In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for The Fabelmans, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Gabriel LaBelle – Sammy Fabelman
- Michelle Williams – Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman
- Paul Dano – Burt Fabelman
- Seth Rogen – Bennie Loewy
- Julia Butters – Regina “Reggie” Fabelman
- Judd Hirsch – Boris Podgorny
- Jeannie Berlin – Hadassah Fabelman
- Robin Bartlett – Tina Schildkraut
- Keeley Karsten – Natalie Fabelman
- Sophia Kopera – Lisa Fabelman
- Sam Rechner – Logan Hall
- Oakes Fegley – Chad Thomas
- Chloe East – Monica Sherwood
- Isabelle Kusman – Claudia Denning
- Tony Kushner – Writer
- Steven Spielberg – Writer and director
Important motifs in The Fabelmans
This one is obvious—but there’s so much to unpack when it comes to the use and role of cameras in The Fabelmans. As we discussed in the Themes and Ending sections, The Fabelmans is very much a metafilm. Which means we the audience are made aware that we’re watching a movie. Spielberg is behind the camera, and the movie is about his own life: we are actively watching Spielberg as he reviews his childhood and how he became a filmmaker.
So anytime a camera is used, that information becomes a driving force of the film’s aesthetic. Sammy isn’t just using a camera to make movies—he’s using the camera to survey his surroundings and track his personal growth. The camera becomes an outlet to so many lessons (such as when Sammy coaches the Boy Scout to be sad about losing his friends in battle) and discoveries (such as when he finds out about Mitzi and Bennie’s affair) that would go on the shape him and the man (and artist) he’d eventually become.
Burt is enthusiastic about Sammy making movies, but only as a hobby. As a man of science, Burt believes that a “standard” education is the best path for Sammy, and that filmmaking isn’t a legitimate path for a career.
Mitzi is the opposite. As a musician, she is a creative. She believes in creating something with your hands, in using the right side of your brain to grow and develop. She pushes Sammy to consider filmmaking more than a hobby, to allow his passions to flourish and guide him.
Burt and Mitzi’s eventual break-up marks symbolic tension for Sammy. Spielberg knows his younger self could very well have abandoned his passions and followed in his father’s footsteps. So as Spielberg tracks Sammy’s journey to becoming a filmmaker, he’s sure to mark important conversations and moments where Sammy had to reckon with which path he’d take. These are pivotal moments in the movie that coincide with Sammy’s development and growth.
Sammy’s Jewish heritage is part of several crucial dynamics and scenes throughout The Fabelmans. In all cases, Judaism shares an important relationship with Sammy’s growth as a human and as a filmmaker.
It starts with Hanukkah, when Sammy receives an additional piece of a train set on each night of the holiday. He’s desperate to acquire the set after his viewing of The Greatest Show on Earth, eager to recreate the train crash scene from the movie. Religion becomes a means of realizing his desires and triggering a lifelong passion.
Then there’s Sammy’s conversation with his Jewish uncle Boris, who cautions Sammy about pursuing his passion for filmmaking. “Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on earth, but also, it’ll tear your heart out and leave you lonely,” Boris says, directly speaking of religion and the afterlife. In addition, Boris says, “Family, art—it will tear you in two.” These prove to be prescient words, as Sammy’s father views filmmaking as nothing more than a hobby and pushes Sammy to receive a proper education. Plus, Sammy’s resentment over his mother’s affair causes him, in a Freudian move, to temporarily give up filmmaking, as Mitzi is a creative.
In the midst of his filmmaking hiatus, anti-Semitism becomes a powerful force in the film. Before moving to California, Sammy doesn’t encounter much prejudice or racism. But in his new California school, he’s suddenly forced to discuss and defend his Jewish heritage. And the only way he’s able to reconcile contentious relationships with Logan, the high school bully who makes fun of Sammy’s heritage, is by making a movie that highlight’s Logan’s accomplishments. It’s when Sammy does this that he rediscovers his passion for filmmaking.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more motifs you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Fabelmans? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider them for the guide.
Write a response