Steven Spielberg, arguably the most important filmmaker of our time, has many signatures all over his movies. Move past his dolly work and the dirty over the shoulder shots, there remains one element in each of his scripts that define it: the use of a strong woman. Sometimes it’s on the surface, other times it’s hidden, but look and it’s there. Often they are estranged or divorced from their husbands and are strong willed, independent thinkers. Look no further than “Gremlins” and “War Of the Worlds”. But this trend began much earlier in his film career than this.
From his first major offering “The Sugarland Express” in which Goldie Hawn was the catalyst for the action to “Indiana Jones” where Indy’s love interest always played an integral role and up through the Spielberg produced “American Beauty” where Annette Benning portrayed a housewife pushing her husband into his own apotheosis, Spielberg not only gives them more credence than most directors/producers do, he values them more on screen than most do and it pays off every time.
While reciting the instances in which a woman takes a pivotal role in a Spielberg story is easy. Taking a look at how he utilizes his actresses is more indicative of how much he values this side of the equation. Steven Spielberg has a knack for giving you a story wrought with female figures and using them differently every time.
Until “Jaws” came to the big screen in the mid seventies and made it taboo to go into the water, the pop culture silver screen was mainly adorned with women who took a back seat to their leading men. Their sole job, it seemed was to sit back, look pretty, say some lines, and accentuate their leading men. When Ellen Brody burst on the scene and became the voice of reason in the chaos, it was clear that this role wasn’t just created to fulfill some quota or appease a demographic. It was a choice to emphasize her and utilize her on screen as they did.
With his follow-up directorial outing “Close Encounters Of A Third Kind”, the leading lady played the role of antigonist. Working against the possibility of contact with beings from another world. She desperately wants her old life back and in this way gives a very different perspective to the scenario at hand.
“The Color Purple”, a definitive movie in every sense of the word, held a woman in such high regard that she became the narrator and main character. This was an element to the literary version as well however having that strong female voice had to lend itself to Steven Spielberg’s hand. Having seen his earlier work it shouldn’t have been a question whether or not he would make this piece of literary art into a film, but when.
By the time Spielberg was ready to do the “Indiana Jones” series of films Spielberg was poised to do something very different with his main character. While you rarely saw his mother, a lot could be gleaned off who she was, by the choices Indy himself made in who to take his adventures with. As much of a cad as he was, Indy had a penchant for surrounding himself with strong, intelligent, beautiful women, which were not only important in the film, but they carried more weight than they should have on occasion. They say men marry their mothers. If that saying holds up, then Anna Mary Jones must’ve been a really amazing woman. She obviously comprises the best of what Dr. Jones sees in his own leading ladies. And the with the rate at which he seems to cycle through them (a trait he gets from his father, undoubtably) it seems pretty clear that Indy knows quickly that while these women may have some qualities that resemble his mother, they dont have every trait needed to match his own mother.
In 2011 Steven Spielberg went to San Diego Comic Con to promote “Tin Tin”. He was asked during the Q&A portion of the program, what movie he wishes he would have directed. His answer was as immediate as it was spot on. “American Beauty”. It’s lead female is Carolyn Burnham, a housewife yearning for something more and having the strength to come into her own despite the reaction of her husband. This is the role Spielberg would have loved to craft with his own hands. Mendes was sublime and Spacey was absolutely transcendent (as always) but the character that blossomed in that film was Annette Benning’s turn on Carolyn Burnham.
A lot has been said for the women in Spielberg’s dramas. They are well rounded and beautifully portrayed in their own right, but an even better performance is see that same strong female lead in a different light in an action film like Jurassic Park. Laura Dern plays a conflicted Paleobotanist. She’s excited about the prospect of what Jurassic Park means for her field yet not sure about the concept in it’s totality. The pessimistic resolve is strengthened by Ian Malcom’s stance on the parks prospect. Her role shifts, however, when the park is torn apart at the seams. She swoops in as the voice of reason and plays a more than active role in restoring order. She is the true hero of the movie. The truth is that the role of Dr. Sattler isn’t as big in the original book as it is in the film and it stands to reason that Steven Spielberg’s infinite wisdom came into play here and he expanded the role for the blockbuster.
So…what to make of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie Jurassic World? As its base is founded in literature, the movie is an original story. If his penchant holds true, you can be sure that this soon-to-be blockbuster will use a strong willed, smart, creative women to drive the story forward in unique ways. It will more than likely solidify Bryce Dallas Howard as an A-list leading lady and propel Judy Greer from impressive character actor into the household name she deserves to be. That is, if Spielberg gets his way. And we all know that more often than not he does.