Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Anesthesia Movie Poster Image
People seek escape through self-medication in somber drama.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Everyone craves human contact, and its absence can lead to sadness, depression, and even despair. Numbing yourself through some kind of substance/problematic behavior is a major theme of the movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters are trying to mask their sadness and lack of connection by seeking solace in a variety of numbing substances. Some of them are better able to face reality sober, and others choose to sink deeper into isolation. 


A man is attacked and left badly wounded and bleeding on the sidewalk. 


A teen couple kisses and discusses whether it's time for them to have sex. They're later shown having sex (the first time for them both), but there's no graphic nudity. Teen siblings discuss their sexual accomplishments. A married man is shown spending a lot of time with his mistress while his wife stays home, unhappy.


Frequent strong profanity includes "s--t," "a--hole," various permutations of "f--k," "bitch," "c--t," and more. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Most of the characters use some kind of substance to numb themselves -- including pot, alcohol, heroin, infidelity, and even self-inflicted pain. Many scenes show all of these activities. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Anesthesia follows a diverse group of New Yorkers (played by the likes of Kristen Stewart, Glenn CloseSam Waterston, and many more) who are all seeking to escape some kind of personal torment via drugs, alcohol, and other forms of self-medication. Several different storylines intersect, with their common theme being loneliness and isolation. Many scenes show people drinking, smoking pot, shooting heroin and more, and there's also a lot of swearing, including "f--k," "c--t," and more. Teens talk about having -- and then have -- sex, though there's no graphic nudity; other scenes include sexual talk/references as well. A man is attacked and left bleeding on the sidewalk.

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What's the story?

Teens who smoke pot. An unhappy suburban housewife who drinks every night. A college-educated junkie. A college student who tries to drown the pain of her loneliness with self-inflicted wounds. Almost everyone in ANESTHESIA is seeking some kind of escape, as shown in several loosely connected storylines set in and around New York. The center of the film is Sam Waterston, as an about-to-retire college professor whose lectures about the nature of life serve as a framing device; they show that everyone has very different life experiences, but we all have similar feelings. The film co-stars Tim Blake Nelson (who also directed), Kristen Stewart, Glenn Close, Gretchen Mol, and Corey Stoll

Is it any good?

This is a thought-provoking, if imperfect, ensemble drama that examines what tethers us to each other, no matter how different we are. The film holds viewers on its performances alone, with the always-excellent Waterston serving as the movie's heart and center. The dialogue is compelling -- except, perhaps, in scenes where two siblings sound more like the idea of sophisticated, swagger-filled New York teens than real ones -- and so are (most of) the setups and even the ending.

Still, it all feels a little diffuse, our attentions divided by too many storylines, too many characters. Cutting some of the storylines could have done away with some of the weaker plot points.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the various characters in Anesthesia are seeking to escape. Which ones sink deeper into isolation, and which ones decide to stop running from their pain? What prompts people to attempt to make a switch? Do they succeed?

  • How does the movie portray drinking and drug use? Are they glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why do you think people turn to substances when they're in pain?

  • The film has many stories that intersect briefly, a structure that's more common in comedies and romance films. Does that format work as well for this more serious film? How does it compare to others that use the same framing device?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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