Death of a Salesman



A classic American tragedy.
  • Review Date: July 21, 2005
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1986
  • Running Time: 150 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Willy treats his wife terribly, but she continues to revere him. It also depicts the themes of suicide, adultery, career failure, kleptomania, and family tensions

Positive role models

Wiley is a confused, lost man who watches his life (and consequently the American dream) crumble around him.

Not applicable

The two sons talk about their "first time" and other dalliances; we see the two sons heading out for an evening with prostitutes.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drinking, smoking, philandering.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film adaptation of the award-winning play depicts a man's life falling apart and is terribly sad. It also depicts the themes of suicide, adultery, career failure, kleptomania, and family tensions. Younger children and some teens may have a hard time identifying with and sympathizing with Willy Loman.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Willy Loman (Dustin Hoffman) is getting old and he's no longer able to keep up his New England sales route. But with the return of prodigal son Biff (John Malkovich), Loman's beloved boys are together again. As Biff struggles to work out his tangled relationship with his dad, Willy relives crucial moments from that past that reveal his formative influences, the great aspirations he has for himself and his sons, and his many personal failures. Things take a turn for the worse when Biff fails at a business interview and Willie is fired from his job. In one flashback, Biff is crushed when he discovers his father's philandering. Eventually, he confronts his father over the lies the family has lived with through the years.

Is it any good?


Dustin Hoffman leads an accomplished cast in this faithful rendering of Arthur Miller's play about a mediocre man whose life is unraveling around him. Shot on studio sets, the production looks stark and some may find it hard to follow, but the fine performances make it captivating. Hoffman gives a quiet but mesmerizing performance, never succumbing to the easy choice of making Willy just angry or confused. Instead, he works hard to restore dignity to the character. Hoffman's scenes with the equally brilliant John Malkovich are the strongest feature of the movie.


Teens and adults will become lost in this American tragedy. However, Loman is a remnant of another age, and it may take some effort for kids to identify with him. Still, this is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the 1984 Broadway version, and teens who have any interest in theater -- or need to read the play for school -- will greatly enjoy it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the hopes and dreams they have and how they would cope if they didn't achieve them all.

  • How does Willy cope with regret? What role does his family play in supporting him?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 1, 1986
DVD release date:February 17, 1998
Cast:Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich, Kate Reid
Director:Volker Schlondorff
Studio:Bioskop Film
Topics:Book characters
Run time:150 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic intensity

This review of Death of a Salesman was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byTeacher in Michigan November 18, 2010
This is an amazing and powerful rendering of one of the greatest 20th century American plays. I am shocked at the shallow review that mentions the "misguided morals" of the characters. That misses the point entirely. The play and movie offer important questions about the materialistic values of our society. What does success mean to most people? what should it mean? If this family is devoid of moral values, what is the root of that? What is the meaning of Willy's struggle? Linda's fidelity despite Willy's failure? Biff and Hp's failure to take responsibility for themselves? This film offers great fodder for a thinking family's thoughtful discussion--especially as teens strive to make important decisions about their futures. What does success mean to ME? What do I need to do to be successful? What happens if my dreams don't come true exactly as I had planned?


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