“After that I no longer looked at her as a parent”: ‘Power of Cinema’ is How Steven Spielberg Realized His Mom is Having an Affair

Steven Spielberg learned the power of cinema early on after accidentally discovering his mother's affair through his recordings.

steven spielberg
Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Elena Ternovaja

SUMMARY

  • Steven Spielberg learned about his mother's affair, after accidentally recording it in his Super 8. 
  • After keeping it secret for decades, the director eventually told this story on the big screen with The Fabelmans.
  • Making The Fabelmans was therapeutic for the director, as it brought his sisters closer to him.
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While most of Steven Spielberg’s releases are very different from each other, which stands as a testament to his versatility, at the core, all of his movies are very personal to him. However, his 2022 semi-autobiographical drama, The Fabelmans, takes a step further, as it draws a more intimate portrayal of the Oscar-winning director’s formative years.

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Apart from delving into his passion for cinema, the film also tackles his mother’s affair, which he discovered as a kid following his love for filmmaking.

Steven Spielberg Discovered His Mother’s Affair While Editing His Early Film

Michelle Williams and Paul Dano in The Fabelmans
A still from The Fabelmans | Credit: Amblin Entertainment & Reliance Entertainment

Before crafting monumental blockbusters and acclaimed dramas, Steven Spielberg spent his teenage years recording every moment around him on his Super 8. Although by the time he was 18, the director had already made 15 short films, his passion for filmmaking also led to him inadvertently recording evidence of his mother Leah Adler’s affair with his father’s best friend. 

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The Fabelmans director Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg. | Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.

This also made the 16-year-old Spielberg at the time realize the power of cinema, as it wasn’t until he saw a “frame around it later, on my editing machine” that he believed it. While he confronted his mother about it, it was a “secret that we shared for most of our lives”. But this did change the way he perceived his mother, as instead of seeing her as a parent, he saw her as a person with vulnerabilities that he saw in himself.

I realised the power of cinema young. That early film I made changed my relationship with my mother. That was how I found out about her affair… That early film I made changed my relationship with my parents, especially my mother. That was how I found out about her affair. After that I no longer looked at her as a parent. I saw her as a human with all the vulnerabilities I saw in myself.

Shortly after the incident, his parents would part ways, leading to his mother tying the knot with his father’s friend. But during their separation, his father Arnold Spielberg took the blame upon himself to protect her, stressing “She’s fragile, and she still is… I still loved her”. This eventually led to the young director growing estranged from his father for many years.

The Fabelmans brought Steven Spielberg closer to his family

When Steven Spielberg eventually broke the secret to Tony Kushner back in 2005, the screenwriter kept on pushing the filmmaker to make a movie about it. Subsequently, his late mother also pushed him to tell the story on the big screen, and when Spielberg eventually got the ball rolling on The Fabelmans, it was therapeutic for the director.

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The Schindler’s List director explained that it was a way of bringing his parents back, and unfolding the story on the big screen also brought his sisters closer to him than ever.

Steven Spielberg's The Fablemans
A still from The Fabelmans | Amblin Entertainment & Reliance Entertainment

He said (via EW):

I thought, if I was going to leave anything behind, what was the thing I need to resolve and unpack about my mom, my dad, and my sisters? This film is, for me, a way of bringing my mom and dad back. And it also brought my sisters, Annie, Susie, and Nancy, closer to me than I ever thought possible. And that was worth making the film.

While his parents never got to experience the film on the big screen, Spielberg did maintain a close bond with his mother, as he stressed that the secret “brought us together”. He also got to resolve things with his father, to whom he dedicated his 1998 war epic Saving Private Ryan, which at the core is about reuniting a family.

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The Fabelmans is available to stream on Paramount Plus.

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Written by Santanu Roy

Articles Published: 1576

Santanu Roy is a film enthusiast with a deep love for the medium of animation while also being obsessed with The Everly Brothers, Billy Joel, and The Platters. Having expertise in everything related to Batman, Santanu spends most of his time watching and learning films, with Martin Scorsese and Park Chan-wook being his personal favorites. Apart from pursuing a degree in animation, he also possesses a deep fondness for narrative-driven games and is currently a writer at Fandomwire with over 1500 articles.