I've been wanting to do a post about Spielberg and after FINALLY watching The Post, I thought now would be a good time. Got my preorder of Ready Player One sorted (oh yes there'll be a post about that too), even picked up Munich on Blu Ray recently - one of my favourite Spielberg movies. So, it's no surprise that I've been thinking a lot about Spielberg and just why I have so much damn love for the filmmaker.
Yes, Raiders is my all time favourite film, and Jurassic Park practically rewired my imagination as a child, but that only scratches the surface. It's not even the fact that he is consistently proving that he's the hardest working filmmaker in Hollywood, with Jurassic Park and Schindler's List having overlapping production schedules - just think about that for a second, and now, The Post and Ready Player One being made almost back to back. While most filmmakers are lucky to be able to make a mediocre film every two years, Spielberg knocks it out of the park (yes he does, don't be a hater!) sometimes twice in a single year.
The trait that I find most fascinating about a Spielberg movie is that he uses allegory in his films to speak about contemporary issues. The Post is no different. The Post is about the employees and owners of The Washington Post newspaper, who must contend with a hostile presidency who threatens legal action against the media for printing sensitive and compromising documents about the Vietnam war. I don't need to explain the significance of this film in present day America, do I? I won't... it's pretty timely, let's just leave it at that. And that's typical Spielberg. When he's not making action adventure films like Tin Tin or Indiana Jones, he's making timely and damn fine films about pressing issues in our world today.
Munich was Spielberg's response to America's quest for retribution after the tragic attacks on 9/11. It told the story of Israel's response to the slaughter of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic games and how futile the effort proved - one terrorist leader killed, another taking his place. The cycle of violence going on for years. It was an incredible look into the past to show us what our future might hold.
He touched on 9/11 again in War of the Worlds to explore the widespread fear and panic that gripped America immediately after the attacks. The film might not jump out as a 9/11 movie of sorts, until you start studying some of the visual cues throughout, such as fleeing civilians covered in grey dust - an image that draws parallels with the images of New Yorkers in Manhattan on the morning of the 9/11 attacks.
While everyone was talking about a Barack Obama biopic and the potential casting choices for such a film, Spielberg opened up the history books again and made a biopic about Abraham Lincoln and his battle to end the civil war while also trying to end slavery. Such an act required cooperation with politicians from across the aisle, a problem that is so prevalent in American politics today and one that hampered Obama throughout his own term. It mirrored his own struggles to pull America out of an economic crisis, to put an end to the war on terror and to bring about universal health care as well.
Whether or not these comparisons are intentional (and let's face it, most clearly are), it provides a powerful vehicle nonetheless for stimulating the audience's thought process and getting them to engage in issues that they might not normally wish to deal with when watching a film.
Allegorical storytelling can be incredibly useful if you want to highlight and issue or get audiences talking about something. You can't preach to them, like Oliver Stone and others tend to do. The audience will close up and withdraw. But if you show them something related to the issue, historical or even fictional, the audience will join the dots themselves (if they want to) and, more importantly, they'll willingly engage with the issue more because of the fact that they came to it by themselves.
Remember that great cinematic storytelling should make the audiences work. It should give them an active role. Sometimes that can be a murder investigation that they are trying to solve, or a puzzle of some sort. But sometimes, in the case of many of Spielberg's more serious works, it can be about getting an audience to engage with an issue by leading them to it from an unexpected avenue.
So, next time you want to communicate something important to your audience in a screenplay, don't preach to them by simply making a film about that issue, use allegorical stories to achieve it. Your audience will thank you for making them part of the discussion.