A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this drama concerns stressful relations among a young widowed mother, her angry father-in-law, and her 11-year-old daughter: this means that the film includes frequent scenes of family tension. This strain begins with an accidental death of the girl's father, not shown on screen but repeatedly discussed. That said, these scenes are not explosive, but taut and delicately handled. Characters argue, curse, smoke, and drink briefly. One male character abuses his girlfriend, in images that are occasionally abrupt and disturbing, and he is eventually beaten for his transgressions. A character bears scars from a bear attack (and discusses their appearance with the 12-year-old girl), and later in the film, a bear attacks the grandfather, frightening the granddaughter, who reacts and saves him.
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What's the story?
AN UNFINISHED LIFE centers on stoic, stubborn, and stuck in his ways Einar Gilkyson, a Wyoming rancher who spends his days milking cows, tinkering with his ancient pickup, or porch-sitting with his best friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Einar's grief and anguish stems from the death of his son in a car accident some 12 years ago. He's never forgiven his son's wife, Jean (Jennifer Lopez), who was at the wheel. Shortly after the accident, she left town and never looked back. But when Jean decides to leave her abusive boyfriend, she lands on Einar's porch-step with Griff (Becca Gardner), her daughter with Einar's dead son. Griff quickly wins Einar over. In Griff, Mitch recognizes the chance at new life for Einar. Mitch works to bring them together as a family, even though Einar and Jean resist reconciliation.
Is it any good?
Although this movie is sentimental with heavy-handed symbolism, it features a fine performance by Robert Redford. As he did in his wonderful movie My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallström pays special attention to the experiences of a child.
The film's literally looming metaphor for forgiveness is the grizzly that Mitch calls "my bear." Wise, kind, and crusty-cozy, Mitch is the sort of role for which Freeman is best known and rewarded (in affect and inflection, he's related to Freeman's character in Million Dollar Baby).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the theme of forgiveness. The characters are split between those who feel guilty, angry, and unforgiving (Jean and Einar, her father-in-law), and those more open to forgiveness (the girl, Griff and Mitch, the bear's victim): how do all the characters come to appreciate the difficulties endured by the others, and so begin to understand their responses? How does the bear figure as a metaphor for "accidents" and for forgiveness? How might Einar or Jean have found other ways to express their grief and sense of guilt?
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