Catch me if you can: How the good guys won


While “Catch me if you can” professes to be based on a true story, it has all the earmarks of a classic Spielberg tale – only much darker.

We have the shattered family and the intense need to heal the wounds left as a result of the breakup.

We also revisit Spielberg’s perceptions of media, authority and isolation.

Spielberg’s post turn of the century films seem to rely strongly on the basic princip0le of horror: Isolation and the character’s struggle to find a place of safety in an incredibly more dangerous world.

This differs sharply from Spielberg’s earlier films such as ET or even Close Encounters where the characters manages to find a subculture that helps do battle against the menace (often the government).

As in AI and Minority Report, the main character in “Catch me if you can” is denied any society and must fend for himself.

In AI, the character is abandoned. In Minority Report, the character is set up to commit a crime, and is pursued. In Catch me if you can the character becomes an outlaw flaunting authority as he isolates himself.

The story is about a boy who leaves his family and becomes a con artist, forging checks so well that he becomes rich and somewhat famous.

As in most Spielberg films, where a central character needs to be rescued, the hero in this film is being pursued by a father figure FBI agent, who seeks to stop the boy and eventually seeks to save him.

While Minority Report tended to depict authority in the same threatening manner as ET: a determined, faceless, and relentless force pursuing the hero and escalating the hero’s desperation, Hanks in Catch me gives authority a gentler, fatherly face.

Hanks becomes the substituted father the boy ached to have, the practical man who his real father never was – and the boy tests the lover of his new father by taunting him and daring him to catch him giving new meaning to the old phrase: “if you really love me you will…”

For all of the boy’s acquired wealth, he is still tormented by loneliness and desire for family.

At one point, the boy seeks to buy his father’s happiness, but his father refused it.

His father appears more pleased by his son’s resistance to authority than at his financial success – doing what the father could not do.

Yet money and rebelliousness prove hollow.

In some ways, you have to think of Spielberg as reflecting his own situation in the post-stalking era, how he has managed to achieve great wealth and fame, but has not resolved some of the fundamental needs inside himself. He may even feel more isolated than he was by becoming what he is – he is a boy locking himself behind security to keep the world from hurting him.

In Catch Me, we catch the acute longing for resolution, a finding of a father and a place in the social order.

While the father and son in Catch Me are both rebellious against society, the son clearly does not want to be, and half his efforts are designed to make society respond to him and find a way of bringing him in.

Oddly enough, the authority – which the father claims torments him – became a benevolent force in the boy’s life, even if this does not seem to be the case at first glance.

The Hanks character becomes the Blue Fairy or ET, whose determined efforts saves the boy in the end.

This differs from the aliens at the end of AI or even the rescue of the Tom Cruise character in Minority Report by his ex-wife -- although in both cases, the main character is as helpless to break out of his own isolation.

Hanks is the authority Spielberg films previously showed contempt for, the general in Close Encounters and the police in ET.

What does Spielberg’s depiction mean when the authority, the government he distrusted in the past, becomes the very saving force Spielberg has always sought to present us?

In some ways, Spielberg reflects the changing attitudes of society over the last 40 years as we moved out of Boy’s Dylan’s “paying your parking meters” and distrust for leaders to an era more filled with patriotism.

In “Saving Private Ryan,” we see a tug of war between two factions, as characters come to grips with the conflict and their duty. In some ways, we see Spielberg beginning to change, testing the water for hopes of redemption and salvation, each film exploring a different possibility, from seeking the help of an impossible entity such as the Blue Fairy in AI to enforcing protection via Gestapo-like tactics of the police in Minority Report. In Catch Me, he seeks the forces of good in government for protection.

After all the police and the courts eventually helped make Spielberg and his family safe by locking up the stalker who sought to hurt them.

But we also get something else in Catch Me – since the main character is not only caught, tried and imprisoned, but he is released from his captivity.

For a man like Spielberg (not to mention the host of other celebrities) imprisoned by their own fame, Catch Me may be an even greater fantasy that AI, claiming that they might once more again be set free from the prison of their own lives, when as in IA, they may actually be trapped for an eternity..

It seems no accident that the thing that locked up the boy hero in Catch Me was his talent and his art, just as Spielberg’s movie-making caused him to become a prisoner in his own homes.

But in this film, we see the boy’s art freeing him as well, perhaps signally a similar hope in Spielberg.


The Dark Side of Steven Spielberg -- photos and Essays

New monologue menu

blog menu

New photo/video menu

Main Menu