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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Anna Karenina is a sensuous, visually sumptuous, beautifully stylized take on Tolstoy's classic novel about doomed love in late 1870s Russia. It's quite intense, focusing on how a woman (played by Keira Knightley) turns her back on her husband to be with her lover, putting her marriage, motherhood, and place in society in jeopardy and tearing her apart. There's little nudity beyond cleavage and men's bare chests, but some scenes definitely imply lovemaking, and there's moaning and passionate kissing. Also expect smoking and vodka drinking, as well as some tragic scenes and death.
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What's the story?
ANNA KARENINA takes us back to the late 1800s, when the members of Russian high society conducted their lives as if onstage, with one another as their audience. No wonder, then, that when Anna (Keira Knightley), the wife of studious politician Karenin (Jude Law), goes off-script by falling in love with a young soldier, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the play, if you will, grinds to a halt. Society shuns Anna as she falls deeply in love with Vronsky, who risks his own professional advancement to stay close to her. Anna, on the other hand, has more on the line; she could lose her son and social standing forever. Is Anna's and Vronsky's love worth the sacrifice, and can it withstand all this scrutiny?
Is it any good?
During the end credits, director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is said to be "inspired by" the classic Leo Tolstoy novel of the same name; "inspired" is a fitting word to use. This isn't your usual costume drama with realistic backdrops and true-to-historical-detail scenery. Instead, while it is set during the late 1870s, it unfolds mostly in a theater, with the main events taking place onstage, under a proscenium arch. The unspoken, the underbelly, the illicit takes place above it, on the crossover and flyspace. The audience in the movie is Russian society, observing the drama as it happens.
It's all brilliant, even if it takes a while to get your bearings. Traditionalists may flinch at this interpretation, which distils Tolstoy's dense novel to its essence, focusing on Anna and Levin's quest for love -- two sides of the same coin. Knightley exhibits a whole host of transformations on her face; though she relies a bit too much on some obvious reactions to transmit emotions, she's an empathetic Anna, willing us to understand why she has done all she has done, in the name of love. Taylor-Johnson is a sensual Vronsky; Anna's attraction to him is understandable, if a folly. And Law is magnificent in the economy and power of his portrayal of the cuckolded Karenin. Bottom line? This adaptation, written by playwright Tom Stoppard, is brave and sometimes claustrophobic but for the most part a success, even if you do wonder about the possibilities that could have been explored had Wright taken a more conventional route.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Anna Karenina's message. What are audiences intended to take away? Are you meant to admire the characters?
Why is Anna shunned? Why isn't she able to divorce her husband? What does her situation say about the role of women at the time?
How is this period drama different from most period dramas? Is it a format that works?
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