A film by Steven Spielberg
Film critic Ernest Rister has written a brilliant review of "Empire of the Sun" where he details the unreality of the movie, how the viewer cannot trust what we are seeing on screen because it is the impressions of a 12 year old child and Spielberg gives us enough hints and allusions and images in the film that with a little bit of work, the viewer should be able to figure this out. Since I had read Mr Rister's review more than a year before I finally saw this movie, I tried to keep that knowledge in mind when I was seeing "Empire of the Sun" for the first time.
"Empire of the Sun" is the story of Jim (Christian Bale), a 12 year old British boy living in China with his parents. The movie is set during World War II when Japan was attacking China. During a raid on the city they are living in, Jim and his parents are trying to escape when they are separated. We don't know what happens to his parents, but Jim ends up in a Japanese internment camp. Jim meets an American named Basie (John Malkovich), whom he befriends and sort of tags along after. "Empire of the Sun" deals with the isolation and loneliness of this one boy who is quickly losing his innocence. That is really the heart of "Empire of the Sun", the loss of Jim's innocence in the midst of World War II.
The one thing that I struggled with was not taking this film at face value, that the events on screen are not truly happening, but rather how Jim is remembering them. They are happening as a twelve year old boy is seeing them, heightened and slightly distorted. I did not catch the clues that Mr. Rister wrote about, but I suspect you have to be studying "Empire of the Sun" to really grasp what Steven Spielberg is putting into the movie. Fortunately, "Empire of the Sun" works on two levels: as a straightforward film, and also on the level that Rister discovered and Spielberg intended.