A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Hologram for the King, which is based on Dave Eggers' same-named novel, chronicles the life of a depressed salesman (Tom Hanks) who's trying to stay upbeat enough to make a killing on a sales trip to Saudi Arabia. Alcohol is officially forbidden there, but many overindulge in black-market drinks -- and the salesman pays the price with hangovers. He has one alcohol-fueled sexual encounter (no nudity) but is ultimately unable to perform; in another scene he has sex with another woman who swims topless. Expect to hear the words "s--t" and "a--hole"; one scene implies cocaine use, and there's a bloody beating.
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What's the story?
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING (based on Dave Eggers' same-named novel) is set just after the 2008 American housing collapse. Salesman Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) has suffered an acrimonious divorce, business reversals, and lots of accompanying anxiety. To add insult to injury, he finds himself in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, head of a team attempting to sell the Saudi king a jazzy 3-D communications system that features life-size human holograms. In other words, he's selling illusions. An engaging cab driver chauffeurs Clay through both the actual and metaphorical desert, suggesting that Clay's life could be far worse. The situation is part Kafka, part Monty Python, as none of the government representatives Clay is set to meet show up when they're supposed to, and no reasonable explanation is given. His team is placed in a large tent without air conditioning, food, or the wifi connection necessary to give their sales presentation, and he's stymied by polite but obstructive functionaries every step of the way. Clay does his best to maintain his equanimity in these less than ideal circumstances through liberal use of alcohol (which is risky, as it's prohibited). Then an unlikely romance sparks, which may lead to real change.
Is it any good?
This Death of a Modern Salesman redux is mystifyingly devoid of a dramatic arc -- but, on the other hand, Hanks' enduring likability and skill make it all easier to swallow. Throughout the film, Clay asks questions but gets no real responses. Business connections are promised, but the Saudis rarely fulfill them. Over and over we're shown that Clay is trapped in both a cultural gap that's blocking his business deal and a personal gap that's blocking his life. It's as if the movie has decided not be a storytelling vehicle but rather a virtual experience simulator that recreates in us Alan's discomfort, depression, and desire to drown the pain in booze.
It's no surprise that you can't help feeling the same yen for oblivion while watching. Just when it seems like a point is about to be made, there is no point. Through an error, the driver takes Clay through Mecca -- even though it's strictly forbidden to bring non-Muslims into the holy city -- but the episode has no consequences and no discernible meaning. Then, the movie actually gets interesting when Clay takes a chance on love but, to reiterate the theme of stoppage, the movie abruptly ends about 12 minutes later. This is particularly odd in that the action begins with the promise of quirky, otherworldly insight, as Hanks sings the words to The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" while, as the lyrics dictate, his house and wife go poofing away into thin air. Around 90 minutes later, the credits roll, leaving the plot poofing away into thin air, too.
Talk to your kids about ...
What are some of the ways the movie tells viewers about the situations that have led to the main character's troubles? Do you sympathize with him?
Are any of the characters intended to be role models? Why or why not?
- In theaters: April 22, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 9, 2016
- Cast: Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury, Alexander Black, Ben Whishaw
- Director: Tom Tykwer
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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