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Burn Your Maps

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Burn Your Maps Movie Poster Image
Poignant, quirky family dramedy explores grief.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 102 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Offers a reassuring way of looking at death. When we "lose" someone, we have to be vigilant not to become the ones who are lost. Also, it's important to support others' dreams and interests, to communicate about how you're feeling, even when it's painful/difficult. Teamwork, curiosity, perseverance are clear themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Mongolian people and their culture are portrayed with a great deal of respect. Despite immense pressure to conform, 8-year-old Wes is committed to being true to himself. His parents aren't perfect, but they care about him and are trying.

Violence

Arguing, with raised voices. An angry father demolishes his child's special collection of pictures and articles. An empty sleeping bag is thrown and kicked in frustration.

Sex

Frank sexual talk (including term "blow job") between married couple in counseling. Infidelity is discussed (and theoretically OK'd); an extramarital kiss is shown (and seen by a child). Women ogle a man whose bare back is exposed. One character is actively looking for romance, speaks about his religious conflicts when it comes to fornication. 

Language

Strong language includes "bitches," "blow job," "testicles," "t-t," "s--t," and one use of "f--king." A guy grabs his genital region when commenting about acting like a man.

Consumerism

Ugg boots are a recurring laugh line.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult is an alcoholic and attends AA. A half-empty bottle of wine is disposed of. Other characters (who are not said to be alcoholics) sip vodka.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burn Your Maps is a poignant dramedy from the writer of Big Hero 6. It covers a lot of topics -- childhood obsessions, feeling like you don't fit in, marital difficulties, and the ways in which grief manifests -- all of which center around loss and feeling lost. That makes it sound like a terribly sad movie (and some tears will likely fall), but it's mostly not. In fact, it's an uplifting, rewarding, understated experience with several laugh-out-loud moments. A struggling couple talks bluntly about sex during counseling, including encouraging infidelity, and there's an extramarital kiss (seen by a child). Language is occasionally strong ("blow job," "s--t," "f--k"). Diverse representation includes Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Puerto Rican, and LGBTQ characters, and a retired nun. Travel to Mongolia provides exposure to the Mongolian way of life, with respectful glimpses of villages, sporting events, music, cultural garb, dance, masks, prayer ceremonies, and spiritual beliefs. While the movie is being promoted as a family film, the content will resonate far more with parents than with kids. Vera Farmiga, Marton Csokas, and Jacob Tremblay co-star.

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What's the story?

In BURN YOUR MAPS, while his parents (Vera Farmiga, Marton Csokas) are still navigating the emotional despair of a major loss, 8-year-old Wes (Jacob Tremblay) comes to believe that, in his heart and soul, he's a Mongolian shepherd. With the support of his adult friend Ismail (Suraj Sharma), an Indian immigrant, Wes embraces his newly realized identity despite pressure to conform. 

Is it any good?

Watching this film is a discovery; it's like stumbling on an unusual rock, putting it in your pocket, and, when you pull it out, realizing it's actually a flawless diamond. Burn Your Maps' concept is definitely quirky: A second-grader thinks he's a Mongolian goat herder. (Whaaaaat?) But that unique plot element is just the first domino in an unexpected spilling of wonder (as in, "I wonder where this film is going."). The story is pleasingly unpredictable, the dialogue is snappy, and the writing is tight. Every line gives you a pound of understanding, which you'll need, because the film drops viewers smack into the middle of this family's turmoil. And that's what's all the more miraculous: Writer-director Jordan Roberts doesn't hit you over the head with exposition; rather, it's a slow roll of information that unwinds. For instance, when her parents start bickering, Wes' teen sister emotionlessly utters a warning call, "You guys are about to start fighting" -- and the entire picture of what life has been like in that household is painted.  

Nuances like that are executed by top-shelf acting from the entire cast -- you feel everything. As a mother who's trying to pull herself out of a mountain of grief, Farmiga gets the most opportunity to show her chops, but every player gives a riveting, informative, emotive performance. As a retired, trekking nun, Virginia Madsen pops in for just a couple of scenes and proves that much can be made with little. The cinematography is equally gorgeous, with "golden hour" shots illuminating Mongolia as if it were heaven itself. Will kids or teens find it as enthralling as adults will? Perhaps not. But as the last shot triumphs, grown-up viewers will sit in awe of this little gem.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the characters experienced in the time leading up to what's covered in the movie. What clues are we given to the family dynamic? In what ways did you see that the children were trying to protect their parents? Do you think that is a responsibility they should have to take on? 

  • How is the Mongolian way of life different from the American one? How did Wes' curiosity lead him to be drawn to the Mongolian people? Why do you think Wes felt his true "home" was so far away from where he was born and grew up?

  • What do you think Burn Your Maps' message is? It feels like it's sending a message, but it's also left a little bit ambiguous -- why do you think that is? What do you think the title means?

  • How do Ismail and Wes demonstrate perseverance and teamwork? Is it still teamwork if people are working together but have different goals? On the other hand, Alise and Connor are taking steps to work together with the same goal of saving their marriage, but since they fight and disagree, is that still teamwork? Why or why not?

  • Did this movie make you think differently about "loss"?

Movie details

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