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Drezner, J.L. (1983). E. T.: An Odyssey of Loss. Psychoanal. Rev., 70(2):269-275.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(2):269-275

E. T.: An Odyssey of Loss

Review by:
Jeffrey L. Drezner, M.D.

E.T. is an emotional movie about a subject that is easy to identify with. Spielberg takes us on an odyssey of a child who dwells within us. It is a dramatic metaphor about the loss of a parent of a latency age child. And, on another level, it is a representation of the loss of a stage of thinking, the relinquishing of magical thought in favor of rational thought, that is critical to our development from childhood to adulthood. This critical factor allows us to identify with the plight of poor Elliot and to become emotionally embroiled in his struggle to preserve and finally to let go of E.T. and all that he represents.

The developmental stages of children as they journey to adulthood have been well documented, as have been the inherent difficulties of moving from one phase to the next. Each transition represents a loss. Yet, with the help of a nurturing environment, or to borrow a phrase from Winnicott, a “good enough mother,” the child is helped to sustain and accept the loss and to pass onto the next phase of development which carries him to adulthood. In addition to the support and reinforcement received from parents facilitating each new step, the child employs different kinds of thinking that enable the child, in his primitive way, to develop his particular sense of the world.

To understand the movie E.T.., and to appreciate Elliot's conflict, we must consider the special problems of latency age children. This is a time when the child has already established a sense of safety so that he can physically separate from the mother and explore his environment on his own. The child is presented with the enormous task of trying to make sense of the world around him. The development of rational thought, the understanding of how things connect together


* This paper is dedicated to my father from whom these insights originated.

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