Children of a Lesser God

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Children of a Lesser God Movie Poster Image
'80s love story has some strong language, sex.
  • R
  • 1986
  • 119 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Some challenges can't be overcome, but they can be accepted and appreciated.


Positive Role Models & Representations

A dedicated teacher tries to bring humor, music, and dancing to help his deaf students learn to express themselves. A young woman who is deaf from birth strives to overcome hurt and rejection by family members. She struggles to achieve independence and to allow love to be part of her life.



An angry woman throws things.



A man and woman kiss and strip in a swimming pool. No body parts are shown. A deaf woman speaks of having had sex with a string of teenaged boys her hearing sister had introduced her to. Deaf boys talk about learning to speak well in order to pick up hearing girls. A woman swims nude and is seen from behind in the water. Adults have sex but no nudity is shown


"F--k," "s--t," "ass," "schmuck," "damn," and "d--k."


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Children of a Lesser God is a 1986 drama featuring a relationship between a hearing teacher at a school for the deaf and a deaf woman who works there. The film is based on a successful Broadway play by Mark Medoff that looks the difficulties of people from different worlds trying to share their lives. The secondary drama opens a window on views within the deaf community regarding the need to learn to vocalize to adopt to the hearing world as opposed to using sign language alone. A woman swims nude and is seen from behind. Adults have sex but no nudity is shown. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "d--k." Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written by3hinkles April 27, 2021

Deep, heartbreaking and beautiful.

First, this is an 80’s movie, so keep that in mind when considering content (ratings and viewpoints were different 40 yrs ago).

The movie is so touching and we... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, James (William Hurt) brings fun, humor, singing, and dancing to his 11th grade class at a deaf academy. Sarah (Marlee Matlin) is a surly housekeeper at the school, having graduated years before as one of its brightest students. Her anger is frequently on display, understandable as she was born deaf and first diagnosed as "retarded." Her father, unable to cope, left the family, and her estranged mom (Piper Laurie) resented Sarah for destroying the marriage. James tries to break through Sarah's pain, offering to help her learn to speak, which she resists. They fall in love and struggle as they each try to enter the other's world. 

Is it any good?

Director Randa Haines lyrically tells a compelling story, nudging us to both understand the gift of hearing and also to consider the "gift" of deafness. The lively intelligence of the students at the deaf academy and the joy many seem to experience may not capture what life is like for those who can't afford the luxury of such an education, but Children of a Lesser God isn't a treatise on issues in the deaf world. The focus, however impractical, is on love and poetry and how people from different worlds can meet each other halfway if they try. Critics have viewed the film as an example of the wrong way to view deafness, as a disability to be "cured," and for omitting the views of a cohort of deaf people who don't want to be "mainstreamed." When Sarah does well at a gathering of hearing people, everyone praises James for how well she's doing, as if Sarah is a poodle only a hearing person could have trained so well.

William Hurt is magnetic here, pouring on the charm and winsomeness. He does so despite the fact that his job is also to keep us in the drama as he often speaks both halves of a dialogue, translating sign language to the audience. First-time screen actor Marlee Matlin is all the more impressive for standing up to Hurt's powerful performance. At 21 she is a riveting and fierce presence and exudes a sense of what it is to survive a painful past. Without words she gives us a picture of someone's inner life poignantly and vividly. That effort was rewarded with a Best Actress Oscar. The performances alone are worth the price of admission.    

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how you might feel about Children of a Lesser God if you were deaf. Does this portray the deaf community truthfully? In a positive light? Explain your answer.


  • The school's principal makes a distinction among those hard-of-hearing, those completely deaf, and those born deaf. How do you think those differences might affect how students learn to communicate?


  • Why do you think Sarah and James come into conflict? Do you think a romantic relationship can survive differences between the deaf and hearing worlds? Why or why not?

  • Critics have viewed the film as an example of the wrong way to view deafness, as a disability to be "cured," and for omitting the views of a cohort of deaf people who don't want to be "mainstreamed." How could you learn more about deaf culture?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romantic movies

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate