[Editor's note: The following is an iChat between Press Play founder Matt Zoller Seitz and his daughter Hannah, a film student, about Steven Spielberg's E.T., which was released 30 years ago this week. It is the most recent installment in a series of dialogues about popular culture; earlier pieces discussed Cinderella, Fantasia and Harry Potter vs. Star Wars.]
Matt Zoller Seitz: Do you remember the first time you saw E.T.? Wasn't it during the 2002 rerelease when you were not quite five?
Hannah Seitz: I don't remember seeing it for the first time at all. But I do remember that when I saw it for the second time a couple of years later, I had no memory of the scenes where the government interferes and E.T. is dying. Was that because I was so traumatized during those scenes the first time?
Matt: Maybe you blocked it out?
Hannah: Maybe. Do you remember me not wanting to watch it at that point? In my mind there was a blank spot between the point where E.T. and Elliott are in the bathroom and the mom comes in, and then the part when Elliot sees E.T. come back to life.
Matt: I don't remember your not wanting to watch that part of the movie when you saw it for the first time, but I do remember you bursting into tears during the scene where the older brother finds the pasty, sickly E.T. lying in that drainage ditch. You were fine up to that point.
I am always a bit surprised by the length and intensity of all the medical stuff near the end. Steven Spielberg really twists the knife. It's like the scene in Dumbo where Dumbo goes to visit his mother in the iron cage. Or the "death" of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Stanley Kubrick used to say that he didn't like Disney movies because he thought they were cruel to children, and I don't think he was necessarily wrong in that description. But fairy tales are often cruel, or unrelenting, and we do want to feel things very intensely when we experience art. Some excess seems forgivable when a work is really, really cooking, in the way that E.T. cooks all the way through. It's operatic or symphonic. It's so powerful that it gives me the kind of feeling that I think you're supposed to feel in church, but that I never felt there.
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