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Empire of Dreams – Book Review

By April 29, 2016Reviews


Whenever I make a hypothetical comment about succeeding big in Hollywood, or receiving a call from someone big, I’m always referring to Steven Spielberg.  As in, “I’m going to turn off my iPhone, because I don’t think Spielberg is calling me.”  Or, “if Spielberg calls me, I’m going to buy everyone I know a new house.”  That kind of thing.  As if Spielberg would actually read one of my scripts and say, “hey Norith, I want to pay you the maximum for a screenplay so you can get everyone you know a house.  Your financial problems are over, my friend.”  That will  never, ever happen, of course.  It’s not impossible to sell Spielberg a script, I’m just a million percent sure the conversation wouldn’t go like that.


Growing up in the 70s, 80s, 90’s (arguably, I’m still growing up), the name Spielberg is synonymous with the height of a filmmaker’s success.  Who doesn’t love ET, Jaws, Raiders, Jurassic Park, Duel?    When you get involved in movies, in the back of your mind,  you know you would kill to be in Spielberg’s position.  Not just as a director, but as someone who can get movies made, like “Back to the Future.”  You get that the Spielberg ceiling is the Sistine Chapel of movie-making.  Who’s films have made more, what filmmaker boasts the kind of power Spielberg boasts, and who wouldn’t want to be him?


Therefore, the secret to Spielberg’s recipe is something you’re always seeking.  I’ve read a couple of his biographies.  The McBride one wasn’t bad, but I don’t really remember anything from it.  Last year, my buddy Mikhail Zislis introduced me to a book called Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg. This book could very well be the code breaker of Spielberg’s success.


This fleshy treat of a book, by one, Andrew M.Gordon, hypothesizes that all of Spielberg’s films are deeply Freudian.  And not by accident either.  Films like ET, Raiders, and Jaws are deliberately Freudian!  If you’ve ever had a long conversation with me about movies, you know that this is precisely what I’ve always believed.  By accident, Sigmund Freud, the man who discovered dream interpretation, is responsible for cinema.  Gordon uses Spielberg quotes to back up his claim, along with pin point analysis of each film from Duel all the way to Minority Report, that rings so true, I’ve found myself re-reading paragraphs and muttering a Keanu-like, “oh yea.”


I won’t get too much into it, but Duel for example, is about a castrated man with homosexual fears.  That’s the enormous truck, driven by a leather clad faceless man, rams his little car from behind.  That’s why the protagonist (who is named Mann) has problems with his wife, who chastises him on the phone for allowing another man to “practically rape her.”  Not until Mann appropriately duels with his inner man, the giant truck, does he finally prevail.  “Hook” reflects Spielberg’s concerns about his deteriorating fatherhood skills.  “ET” is about the father substitute.  The opening scene in “Jaws” is one of the most violent rape scenes in cinema.

Why is “Empire of Dreams” such a revelation about the Steven Spielberg formula?  Because not many filmmakers actually use it, not deliberately anyway.  The only other director I know who intentionally employed Freudian symbols was Alfred Hitchcock, who was also the most successful director of his time.


You may think Freud is a joke, because of “penis envy” or the “Oedipus complex” but if you desire to be financially successful or commercially successful, you may want to put your Freudian prejudice aside and read “Empire” before you embark on your next project.  This may be the best film book that was ever recommended to me.

Written by: Norith Soth

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