Steven Spielberg might be best known for depicting fantastical adventures and fast-paced action sequences, but the arguably most-Spielbergian motif is a lot more mundane. At crucial moments, the dinner table appears, marking the transitions and choices that drive his films. In a new visual essay called “Steven Spielberg: Setting the Table,” De Filmkrant, the largest independent film magazine in the Netherlands, presents a survey of the dinner table in important Spielberg films. The four-minute video offers a series of interesting analyses as well as showcases some unforgettable filmic moments.
"Setting the Table" argues that important dinner scenes generally happen one-third of the way into Spielberg’s films and act as a bridge between the calm opening and the ‘frenzied adventures’ which typically follow. For the medium-dysfunctional families, light bickering and occasional chaos frequent mealtime, but for more dysfunctional characters, the absence of dinner tends to mark ‘failed lives.’
Family dinner scenes, De Filmkrant argues, are often pivotal moments for protagonists—“scenes where the everyman becomes the hero.” Chief Brody’s famous line in Jaws, for example—“Why don’t we have one more drink and cut that shark open?” happens around the dinner table. The actual consumption of food (or, here, drink) is the final act before heroism. The dinner table, however ordinary, is an essential motif for family life and in Spielberg films it serves to bridge the ordinary with the extraordinary. See for yourself in “Steven Spielberg: Setting the Table,” below: