Not only does it flatter Logan’s ego, but it captures the imagination of the kids in the dance hall. Future Spielberg contemporary Brian De Palma would make horror history when he adapted Stephen King’s Carrie so masterfully that to this day we crack jokes about pig’s blood at school proms. After all, it’s at such a dance that Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is humiliated by a bucket of livestock blood, causing her to reveal her ominous superpowers to her peers.
In its own way, the prom sequence in The Fabelmans plays the same. Before this sequence, Sammy is at best a curiosity for his WASP-y classmates, including his girlfriend (Chloe East), who is as enamored with the forbidden fruit of Sammy’s religion as she is the funny kid always holding a camera. But when the class sees one of his films, they at last see him. Filmmaking, at least according to Spielberg, who co-wrote The Fabelmans with Tony-winner Tony Kushner, is his superpower. And while the other kids are not horrified by that gift like Carrie White’s classmates, they’re nevertheless thunderstruck by it. Shock or awe, it looks the same on a big screen.
This includes Logan, who cannot reconcile the images he saw of himself coming out of the projector. The man he watched onscreen was perfect, divine, even innately good. Hell, he was a bigger all-American hero than the sometimes caddish Indiana Jones. That isn’t the real Logan though. The audience knows this; Sammy knows this; and even the jock knows it. Nonetheless, it’s such a seductive image that the girlfriend Logan cheated on takes him back after seeing that he-man up there in the flickering light.
“That’s not me!” he later laments in a fury to Sam. It’s a lie! He doesn’t understand why the put-upon Jewish kid would give him this monkey-pawed slice of hagiography, and to be honest Sam is also not entirely sure. “Maybe I did it to make the movie better?” Sam finally offers.
It certainly makes The Fabelmans better. For here we get a keyhole-sized peek into what Spielberg sees when he looks back at us.
As one of the most consequential filmmakers of all-time, Spielberg’s fatherly demeanor and mild-mannered good humor are as famed as his household name. This image was not achieved by accident. During the 1980s, Spielberg successfully turned his persona into something as synonymous with all-ages family entertainment as Disney. There are countless behind-the-scenes stories about how he pursued that too, such as when he pulled out of producing Hocus Pocus because he didn’t want to be in bed with Disney… he wanted his Amblin Entertainment to rival the house that Walt built.