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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Quiet Passion is a drama based on the life of Emily Dickinson. Cynthia Nixon plays the acclaimed 19th-century poet, showcasing her sharp wit, perseverance, and fierce independence, as well as the choices that led to a life of solitary introspection. The story, which is beautifully filmed, examines Dickinson's day-to-day life and her struggle to establish herself as a literary voice at a time when women were mostly silenced. There's almost no drinking, swearing, or sex (aside from a reference to a wife doing "her duty"), though characters do long for others romantically. Characters argue, and some die, leading to intense mourning. The language may seem stiff and overly formal to a modern audience. Younger viewers may learn something about the social conditions that made it difficult for Dickinson to wed, as well as how her resulting loneliness helped inspire her writing.
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What's the story?
As a young woman, Emily Dickinson's sharp wit sometimes landed her in trouble with her teachers, but it also helped the budding poet win the respect and support of her family -- which she needed to become one of the most acclaimed poets of her era. In A QUIET PASSION, we see Dickinson struggle against the 19th-century social standards that made it so unusual for a woman to be recognized for her writing. Directed by Terence Davies and starring Cynthia Nixon, the movie also reveals Dickinson's fierce determination to express herself on the page, as well as the price she paid for her independence, ending up as a lonely recluse who yearned to connect with others, even as her well-crafted verbal repartee drove suitors -- and friends -- away.
Is it any good?
Spare but not spartan in filmmaking (there's no music or special effects to pump viewers' emotional well), this thought-provoking film will appeal to fans of Dickinson and poetry in general. With little to distract from the actual biographical story, A Quiet Passion allows Dickinson's words to take center stage, aided by Nixon, who strips her portrayal of the complicated and sometimes miserable writer of any artifice and distils it to its wonderful essence.
Nonetheless, A Quiet Passion could be a challenging watch for younger viewers, with its sober, somber quality. And despite of Nixon's best efforts, Dickinson's source of despair and intractability still feels hard to put a real finger on, making it difficult to identify with her pain, even if we do feel compassion for her.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Dickinson and her poetry. Why was it so unusual for her to want to write and publish her work? Was her family supportive of her choice? Was society? What does A Quiet Passion tell us about gender roles and how they've changed over time?
Why do you think Dickinson never married? How did she feel about being unmarried? How did her personality impact her personal relationships?
In her later years, Dickinson became somewhat reclusive. How does the film portray this part of her life? Why do you think she chose to live like that?
- In theaters: April 14, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: July 11, 2017
- Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine
- Director: Terence Davies
- Studio: Music Box Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 126 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material
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