Steven Spielberg's 1989 film Always represents one of the director's few critical and commercial disappointments. This paper examines the extent to which the film's failures are attributable to its formal, stylistic, and narrative features. The paper offers a defence of Always against specific reproaches. It also pursues more positive aims. Following Warren Buckland, the paper pinpoints organic unity as Spielberg's primary compositional principle; it tracks the development of motifs, tactics of foreshadowing, and other internal norms to demonstrate the formation of a structurally unified text; and it posits contrasts with a pertinent antecedent, A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943), so as to set Spielberg's artistic achievements in relief. The paper goes on to isolate some putatively troublesome manoeuvres at the film's internal level. Certain of these problematic aspects, I argue, force us to recognise that important narrative effects can be yielded by modulated deviations from organic unity. The collective aim of these arguments is to suggest that Always is apt for critical revaluation. Over this hovers a secondary objective. The paper seeks to disclaim two interrelated faults ascribed to Spielberg: a characteristic supplanting of narrative coherence by spectacle; and an indifference to subtlety and sophistication.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 7 (1), 2009, © Informa Plc