A vicious sort of urban legend began to flourish about the time of Richard Gere's alleged alliance with rectal rodents. Its subject was Steven Spielberg, and the gossip had to do with the director's overweening fascination with child actors. Mindful that hearsay is sometimes false, we are withholding the delicious details. But the fact that this rumor exists at all confirms an underlying unease over the presumably innocent entertainments created by Hollywood's oldest Wunderkind.
Spielberg's latest theme park-style extravaganza, "Jurassic Park," isn't as explicitly swishy as his failed "Hook," but it reveals components of the auteur's personality that have parents wondering about the movie's appropriateness for children.
"King King," "The Lost World," and "Godzilla," three monster epics cannibalized by "Jurassic Park," achieved their thrills without resorting to on-screen menacing of tots. Indeed, only on milk cartons can we find children so physically raped as the celluloid juveniles of "Jurassic Park." The film's sadistic tone is established early on, when a fat child challenges the paleontological theories of protagonist Sam Neill. Neill turns on the boy, and in low, menacing tones, he demonstrates to the child how a prehistoric nasty would mangle and devour him. Adding a distinctly Peter Kurtenish frisson, Neill slashes near the child's belly and crotch with a large, sharp claw.
Perhaps among all our "childlike" wonderment with the subject of dinosaurs, we forget that child abusers commonly invoke the threat of large beasts to frighten and silence their victims. Is the director conjuring the trappings of childhood obsessions only to wield them for a darker purpose?
Although overtly sadistic, "Jurassic Park" was reined in by its obeisance to special effects; it revealed few of the excesses of "Hook," in which Spielberg's psychodramatic inclinations were allowed to roam free.
"Hook" is the culmination of over a decade of false starts in bringing J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan to the screen. At first, Spielberg was reportedly considering a live-action redo of the Disney animated feature, starring Michael Jackson as the perpetual pre-pube. But the auteur of suburban childhoos wasn't satisfied with a simple remake.
The high-concept Hollywood sound bite, "What if Peter Pan grew up?" not only indulged Spielberg's predilections, it provided the film's investors with a tinkingly trendy phrase redolent with the "recovery" metaphysics that have become the ethos for Hollywood's haut monde, the same haut monde who have lately forsworn the continual cocaine-and-Quaalude concatenations so relentlessly documented by former Spielberg producer Julia Phillips in her autobitchography, You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again.
The recovery movement is led in part by ex-drunk John Bradshaw, who smilingly encourages his readers to throw off the ruinous shackles of adulthood in order to "liberate the inner child." It comes as little surprise that Steven Spielberg takes part in Bradshaw's therapies, which include workshops where "lullaby music is played and participants cradle and stroke one another."
Asking Steven Spielberg to liberate his inner child would be akin to asking a serial murderer to actualize his anger. By his own admission, Stevie has experienced little in the way of adulthood outside of his overprotective upbringing and the adulatory, toadying fantasy land of Hollywood. Bradshaw's "inner child" therapy is a mere baby-step away from the Diaper Pail Fraternity, a Sausalito-based group for grown men who revert to incontinent fantasy, where surrogate mommies exclaim and coo as they wipe the kinky kid-fetishists' dirty behinds.
Spielberg's is redolent not only of the inner-child component of recovery, but also its darker aspect: child molestation. Bradshaw seeks to place blame for psychological malaise on a dimly remembered past in which some form of traumatic abuse took place. The less the so-called abuse is remembered, the more convinced are Bradshawian therapists that it actually occurred. At the time that "Hook" went into production, all the radio and television talk shows fixated upon child abuse in a catharsis of mass scapegoating. Suddenly, millions of Americans were convinced that they had been molested by their nuclear family or ritually abused by Satanists.