A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Focuses on importance of ocean conservation and dedication to the cause of preserving deep-sea biodiversity. Character strengths of perseverance and teamwork are promoted.
Positive Role Models
Jacques Cousteau was a pioneering undersea explorer, scientist, filmmaker, conservationist. He's dedicated, brave, hard-working. Later in life he focuses on ocean preservation and environmentalism. But, as he himself admitted, he wasn't a good husband or father: He prioritized one son over the other and cheated on his wife (he had a whole other family with another woman). Simone Cousteau was just as committed to the Calypso and its missions, even though it meant her family didn't have a stable home on land.
Movie is about five-decade career of Jacques Cousteau, a White French sailor, scientist, inventor, and filmmaker, so documentary isn't diverse except for inclusion of one of Cousteau's TV show's Asian American editors. Film does occasionally feature his first wife of 50 years, Simone Cousteau, a pivotal behind-the-scenes part of his expeditions and productions.
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Violence & Scariness
Footage of undersea violence, including people spearing fish. Bloody scene of whale dying after Calypso crashed into it. Disturbing scene showing pieces of a plane that crashed and killed Philippe Cousteau. A member of Cousteau's crew dies during a deep-sea diving experiment; they try to resuscitate him, and it's unclear that he's dead until you see his covered body being carried off the ship.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
References to Cousteau's late-in-life adultery and second family.
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A couple of instances of strong language spoken in French that are shown as "f***" and similar in subtitles.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lots of footage and photos of Cousteau, his wife, the Calypso crew, and other adults smoking cigarettes and drinking wine and liquor.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Becoming Cousteau is director Liz Garbus' documentary about the legendary French naval captain-turned-explorer and undersea filmmaker. The documentary follows Jacques Cousteau's life as a sailor, a naval officer, a diver, and then as an undersea explorer, inventor, and international film and television personality. Through archival footage, narrated letters (Vincent Cassel voices Cousteau's correspondence), and voice-only interviews with Cousteau's family, friends, colleagues, and biographers, Garbus chronicles Cousteau's professional career and personal legacy. There's a lot of footage of Cousteau and his wife and entire crew (basically all French adults) smoking cigarettes and drinking (mostly wine) on camera. Some of the scenes from Cousteau's movies and shows depict undersea violence, including the bloody death of a whale that his ship, the Calypso, crashed into, as well as men spearing fish and occasionally predator fish killing their prey. One scene shows pieces of a plane that crashed (and killed Cousteau's son), and a member of Cousteau's crew dies during a deep-sea diving experiment. Rare, brief strong language is spoken in French and subtitled as "f***" and similar. Families who watch together will have lots to discuss about everything from Cousteau's evolution as an environmentalist to the impact of his work and the messages about work-life balance. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a fascinating, educational documentary about the legacy of a complicated man whose singular focus on the ocean cost him personal relationships but earned him international renown. Cousteau is the living embodiment of the song "Brandy," which is about a man whose life, love, and lady was the sea -- in Cousteau's case, the vessel Calypso. In fact, even his first wife (of nearly 50 years) Simone was so dedicated to the sea (she was the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of sailors) and to Calypso that the couple sent their two sons to boarding school most of their lives so that Mom and Dad could spend their time on the ship.
The documentary deftly weaves in archival video footage as well as audio of various interviews, and Cassel's narration of Cousteau's correspondence is evocative. Garbus doesn't shy away from discussing Cousteau's flaws, whether it's his early collaborations with the oil industry, his and Simone's parental negligence, or how Jacques favored daredevil son Philippe as his heir apparent over the apparently passed-over Jean-Michel. Although Becoming Cousteau isn't a scandalous tell-all, it would have been good to explore more about how Cousteau also had a secret family with his second wife, Francine, while he was still married to Simone. He married Francine just six months after Simone's death -- something that the French may not dwell on or demonize but that will be harder for other viewers to gloss over as a positive "new beginning" when he'd been cheating for more than a decade. Probably the most integral and impactful aspect of the documentary is tracking Cousteau's evolution as an ocean conservation activist -- what he spent his final years passionately advocating for around the world.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.