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Common Sense Media
Question of the Day
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.
Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 13 and older.
..(out of five stars)
Running time: 93 minutes
Common Sense review: Bent over his microscope, Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) isn’t a likely action-movie hero. Neither are his cohorts, Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) and her colleague, Ben (Daniel Craig).
Nevertheless, even if the doctors don’t crash cars or shoot villains with panache, they do suggest the thematic shift in this fourth film version of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel. The alien-engineered change that threatens humans is no longer a matter of pods that enclose victims while they sleep, but a “highly resilient” viruslike organism.”
The change suits our times. Following a space shuttle disaster that leaves fiery debris and ominous goo all over the crash site, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares a “flu” epidemic and encourages people to line up for “inoculations.” Carol and company start to suspect that the shots actually are turning people into aliens, and they begin searching for an antidote. Their quest is made more urgent by the fact that Carol’s ex, Tucker (Jeremy Northam) has spit on her. He’s a CDC official who was afflicted with gooey fingers early in the film. If she falls asleep, she will change, too.
Tucker also tries to infect their young son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), insisting that it’s for the boy’s good to be part of “our world,” where everyone feels peaceful and “the same.” As Tucker puts it, this conformity by force isn’t so different from the pills Carol prescribes for her unhappy patients: Everyone just wants to “feel better.”
The hitch is that the new world cannot brook difference, so anyone who’s immune to the transition or otherwise resists it is eliminated — brutally. And so the film undergoes its own change, from sharp, paranoid thriller to noisy action flick. Sadly, all this physical commotion eventually prevails over the film’s more complicated questions about fear, independence and social order.
Common Sense note: Parents need to know this film definitely could scare children despite the fact that much of its violence is implied instead of shown. The movie — which is structured to reflect the main character’s disjointed state of mind — cuts back and forth quickly in time in ways that might confuse younger viewers.
Families can talk about the impact of implied violence in scary movies. Are movies scarier when they show violent acts taking place on-screen or when those acts are left to the imagination? Why? Families also can discuss what message the movie is trying to send, if any. Do you think the aliens’ proposed choice — sameness without fighting versus individualism and selfishness accompanied by war and conflict — is meant to reflect any specific issues in today’s society?
Language alert: Language includes infrequent milder expletives.
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