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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
O Brother, Where Art Thou? Movie Poster Image
Teens might enjoy this offbeat Odyssey adaptation.
  • PG-13
  • 2000
  • 106 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 23 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This film reminds viewers that nostalgia cannot be used to conceal the truth. What appears to be a comic, light-hearted look at the U.S. South almost a century ago in fact uses satire and irony to reveal the deep-seated racism, corruption, and amorality rampant at that time and in that place.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No one is safe from the Coen brothers’ jaded perspective in this movie. People in politics, commerce, the arts, law enforcement, and religion are all painted with broad strokes as unscrupulous, conscienceless, and illiterate. Even the heroes of the story have a very thin moral code.


All action is exaggerated and cartoonish. Characters fall out of a train; get trapped in a burning barn, crash through a wall of fire, engage in fist fights, and are involved in numerous vehicle accidents. The heroes are fired at with an automatic rifle, whacked in the head with a tree branch, whipped, threatened with hanging, and forced to rob a bank. The Ku Klux Klan captures an African-American musician and drags him toward a noose. A villain squashes a toad in his bare hand.


In one scene, mythical sirens dressed in very little clothing beckon the heroes and begin a seduction which concludes off-camera.


Frequent swearing and harsh language throughout. Multiple uses of: "damn," "Goddamnit," "son-of-a-bitch" (also pronounced "sumbitch"), "hell," "whore," "ass," "fornicate," "Jesus." Ethnic slurs are heard often: "colored," "nigra," "darkies," "Jews," "crackers," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character chews a cigar. A flask that may contain alcohol is passed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this comedy with its outlandish characters, infectious musical score, and slapstick action sequences has multiple levels of appeal. As for issues of concern for teens -- there are lots of swear words ("son-of-a-bitch," "hell’s bells," "whore, and "Goddamnit"), many racial slurs ("nigras," "crackers," "darkies"), and a mind-bending Ku Klux Klan musical sequence. Characters (and a few animals) are frequently in jeopardy: trapped in a burning barn, beaten with a tree branch, threatened with hanging, shot at, chased, and more. The racial satire may provoke questions about the United States' history of racism that parents should be prepared to discuss.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 14 year old Written bybeasleysmom March 31, 2010

Good to watch and discuss, I think, but not with kids too young

The sirens are definitely suggestive, but that went over the head of my then 8 year old. Other than that it's a great story. My older child (then around... Continue reading
Adult Written bymoviemadness April 9, 2008

Funny, not much like the Odyssey

Parents should know that there are some not so good scenes in the movie. There is a scene where sirens seduce a group of men. There is also frequent language... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 25, 2012

great movie

you will love this movie and it is funny. specially delmar. oh and the soundtrack is great. or in my opinion.
Teen, 13 years old Written byParamoreFan09 May 7, 2010
This movie is good... kinda weird... I remember my dad and my friend's dad sang the "I'm a man of constant sorrow" song at a karaoke party b... Continue reading

What's the story?

This Coen brothers' venture is based in part on the Odyssey. But this Ulysses is no war hero from ancient Greece. It is America during the Depression, and Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is a prisoner on a Mississippi chain gang. He persuades the two men chained to him, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) to escape so they can get a hidden treasure. They make their way home, meeting up with an assortment of oddball characters, including bank-robbing legend George "Babyface" Nelson. They get some money by singing for a man who records bluegrass. They cross paths with two bitter rivals for the governor's office -- incumbent Governor Menelaus "Pass the Biscuits" Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning) and his cronies all have huge bellies, with pants that reach to their chests to be held by suspenders. Opponent Homer Stokes sells himself as a man of the little people who wants to clean house, and he makes campaign appearances with a midget and a broom to show that he means it. McGill and his friends do their best to evade the sheriff and make their way home, amidst washed-out landscapes.

Is it any good?

This is a lighter story than many of the Coens' previous movies, which makes it easy to forgive the parts that don't work very well. And it gives us the pleasure of hearing the year's finest soundtrack, sheer bluegrass joy.

Like the Odyssey, the Ulysses of O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is trying to get home to his wife before she marries one of her suitors. There are other echoes to that classic saga, from a blind seer who predicts that they will not find the treasure they seek to a one-eyed villain and three singing sirens to distract the travelers from their journey. As always, the Coen brothers present an array of quirky characters with faces closer to gargoyles and caricatures than to Hollywood prettiness. And there is the offbeat dialogue -- when Delmar, just baptized, says he has been saved by Jesus and a black guitar player says he just sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, McGill replies, "Well, I guess I'm the only one who remains unaffiliated."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the story of the Odyssey. How does this movie transform the original story?

  • Talk about the symbolism of fire and water throughout the movie. What do you think it means?

  • What is the United States' history of racism and how have things changed (or not) over time?

Movie details

For kids who love offbeat movies

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