A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Colonia starts out as a romance set against the impending overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in 1973 Chile and becomes the intense, lurid story of the main characters' imprisonment in a brutal religious cult. Based on the actual existence of Colonia Dignidad, a powerful fascist settlement in Chile that also served as a prison and torture chamber, the film loses its political perspective early on. Instead, it focuses on the characters' harsh fate at the merciless hands of a real-life ex-Nazi psychopath and his accomplices, who maintain order using violence (graphically depicted beatings and terrorizing), sexual humiliation, and cruelty. The violence is enhanced by name-calling and obscenities ("f--k," "slut," "c--t," "harlot," "s--t," and more) Killings and death are frequent; pedophilia is strongly alluded to.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
It's 1973, and Lena (Emma Watson), an English airline attendant, has a stopover in Chile, where she's hoping to spend time with the man she loves, Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), a German artist who's lending his talent to progressive Chilean leader Salvador Allende's allies in the politically chaotic climate. After two days of bliss, Lena and Daniel are caught up in the chaos when the Allende government is violently overthrown. Augusto Pinochet's military coup overtakes the city, killing some of the Allende supporters and arresting others. Daniel is taken; he disappears. Lena refuses to leave the city, setting out to find him amid the horrors on the streets. She learns that Daniel has been taken to Colonia Dignidad ("The Colony of Dignity"), a religious encampment commanded by Paul Schaefer (Michael Nyqvist), a sadistic torturer and sexual predator. Lena makes her way to Colonia and, pretending to be in search of God, willingly joins the cult. She finds that Daniel is there, but he's been tortured almost beyond recognition -- and, to save himself, he has adopted the demeanor of a severely mentally handicapped man. What follows is a dangerous game, played out against a series of catastrophically diabolical events as Lena attempts to find Daniel and escape with him. (Note: The infamous Colonia Dignidad did exist, and the real-life Schaefer was later caught and imprisoned.)
Is it any good?
Any intention the filmmakers might have had to make modern audiences aware of a particularly barbaric South American regime and its excesses are lost in this story of atrocity and madness. It must have been tempting for Harry Potter franchise co-star Watson to want to carry a movie on her own, and she does so as well as she can.
But the movie's exploitative nature, with its emphasis on brutality and graphic scenes of torture and torment -- as well as sloppy plotting in which so much depends upon lucky circumstance and coincidence -- doesn't help the cause. Nor does Nyqvist's over-the-top performance as the embodiment of evil. Watson may be terrific in her role, but her shift to plot-driving leading lady will have to wait for something better (as will the movie's admittedly important subject matter).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what "based on a true story" means. Which parts of this story are true, and which are made up? Why might filmmakers change the facts of what happened? Is it important to you to know what is true and what isn't?
Why do the villains rely on torture? Does it get them what they want? How does the impact of this kind of violence compare to what you might see in an action movie?
What reasons does Colonia give for the obedience and consent of the cult's captive members? On a smaller scale, can you see similarities to bullies and those who go along with them? What risks are involved in standing up to those who do wrong?
- In theaters: April 15, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2016
- Cast: Emma Watson, Daniel Bruhl, Michael Nyqvist
- Director: Florian Gaffenberger
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some violence/torture
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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