A moment before the train crash that brought the alien onto center stage in Super 8, a handful of kids had rehearsed a newly-written scene for the as-yet-named super 8 zombie movie they were making at the train station.
This was a magic moment, because Charles, the director and writer, ached to find a story around which he could build in zombie movie, and believed that by introducing “love” into the film that he would achieve it.
This slight addition, however, resounded through the entire film because it said something about the characters on the other side of the camera, the cast of aching people to whom bad things had happened, and who needed to find a way to heal.
The wife – played by Alice – was saying good bye to her fictional reporter lover, telling him she did not want him to leave, how she hadn’t asked him to cease his obsession to hunt down zombies before, but clearly wanted him to stop.
No moment is so important in this film than this one in, as Alice seems to come up with real emotions which were unexpected from her when she was recruited.
Charles asked her to join the film not as a love interest for the character, but for himself – a pudgy boy, nobody loves, who doctors say will trim down soon – hopefully, but can’t stop eating, regardless of where he goes or what the circumstance.
The reporter tells the Alice character that he has to stay behind to investigate the murders,
“But I would think that it would be safer if you left town for a couple of days” he says.
“John, I don’t like it. This case. These murders.”
“What am I supposed to do? Go to Michigan with you?”
And though she tells him the place is beautiful this time of year, he insists that he has to stay.
“This is my job,” he says
“The dead, coming back to life? I think you’re in danger.”
“I have no choice,” he tells her
“You have a choice. We all do. John, I never asked you to stop, never ask you to give up, walk away, but I’m asking you now. For me. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. I need to know this is not the last time I’m going to see you. I just love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” the stunned reporter says.
This passage reflects the remarkable diversity of wounded and obsessed characters that make up the external film, from the Alice’s guilt-ridden father, who because he got drunk one day could not go to work at the steel mill, and was replaced by the Deputy’s wife, who died in a tragic accident. The Deputy’s son, Joe, clings to her locket as if expecting his mother to return from the dead. The Deputy cannot forgive the drunk, and even casts him out of his house when the drunk comes to ask forgiveness.
Each of these characters, the father, the deputy, and their children are living Zombie-like lives, clinging to something in the past they can’t let go of, and need some dramatic force to save them.
A moment after this scene, that miracle occurs as yet another obsessed character, the teacher from the middle school, drives his pick up truck onto the tracks in front of rushing military train to save the alien who is being held captive. In freeing that creature, the teacher begins a chain of reaction that allows each of the main characters to free themselves from their own personal pasts, and to let go and choose to live.
“Bad things happen,” Joe later tells the aliens. “But you can go on living.”
Joe, by this time, is completely in love with Alice – against his father’s wishes. The deputy held the drunk responsible for the death of his wife, right up until both father’s risked losing their children to the new threat, and it becomes clear that they have to work together to save what they still have. This, of course, gives the drunk an opportunity to express is sorrow to the deputy, who in the closing minutes of the film, forgives him.
The drunk, of course, was still wounded because his wife left him – something the Deputy’s wife seemed to understand before her death, but it took a train crash and escaped alien for the deputy to understand.
As in other classic Spielberg films, we are getting a lesson in fatherhood, what it means and how to “step up,” and become one – something the deputy had not yet learned. In some ways, this is a similar lesson we get in War of the Worlds, where the main character has to come close to losing his children in order to learn his own role as dad.
We get similar scenes in this film as we do in War of the Worlds.
The father in War of the Worlds seeks to feed his daughter a peanut butter sandwich, unaware that she is allergic to peanut butter. The deputy in Super 8 puts aside two slices of pizza to feed is kid, unaware that his police buddy ate them. This concept of feeding and protecting children is central to most Spielberg films.
In this film we have two fathers working towards resolution of the same issues, and by the end of the film, Joe can let go of his mother – by releasing the locket with her photo – because he has a parent again.
People need to make choices, what is valuable and what is not.