Destination Unknown

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Destination Unknown Movie Poster Image
Harrowing stories of Holocaust survivors.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 81 minutes

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

Positive messages

Amid the accounts of unspeakable horrors perpetrated by the Nazis are stories of incredible real-life heroism in the face of persecution. Values of courage and perseverance are evident.

Positive role models & representations

These are people who survived the Holocaust, so they have an inherent toughness. A resistance fighter is among the interviewees. A few interviewees recall Oskar Schindler's remarkable efforts to save Jewish lives. Courage and perseverance are clear strengths.


Nothing is re-enacted, but horrific crimes against humanity are frankly discussed, and some disturbing images are seen in photographs and footage from the camps. Discussion of suicide.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Destination Unknown is a powerful documentary about 12 Holocaust survivors' wartime experiences. The details of the interviewees' experiences -- including how their families were torn apart, mostly to die in Nazi concentration camps -- may be upsetting for younger viewers. Disturbing images are seen in old photographs and footage taken at the camps. But viewers will also hear stories of courage, perseverance, and miraculous survival.

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What's the story?

DESTINATION UNKNOWN tells the true stories of 12 Holocaust survivors. Several somehow survived the camps, some lived in hiding for years, and one became a resistance fighter. Intimate, often painfully detailed interviews are accompanied by archival photographs and footage captured by the likes of Russian liberating forces. 

Is it any good?

The movie's powerful mix of archival documentation and intimate interviews provides another valuable addition to the historical record of the Holocaust. Some of the survivors return to the scenes of some of the worst crimes against humanity the world has ever known. One takes the camera crew to the spot where he last saw his mother. Some provide nightmarish descriptions of the actual conditions inside the camps, the sights and smells. Others give firsthand accounts of the unspeakable cruelty of monsters like the infamous Amon Göth (unforgettably portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List). And then there are stories of those true heroes who retained their humanity during this time of monsters: families who risked their lives to hide Jews, prisoners who got to know Oskar Schindler himself.

Unfortunately, director Claire Ferguson underscores most of the film with portentous music. There's nothing wrong with the score itself, which is beautifully executed, but it's unnecessary to try to dictate viewers' emotional response during these heartbreaking, gut-wrenching stories. The overuse of the score gives the film's deeply affecting and completely individual accounts a kind of cinematic sameness; it comes between the viewer and the experience. The rare moments without the filmmaker's heavy hand are the ones that work best. Also, the 12 interviewees' stories aren't assembled in a manner that feels cohesive chronologically, thematically, or emotionally. Still, despite these flaws, Destination Unknown remains a welcome, if painful, entry into the recognition of this dark chapter of our history.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Destination Unknown compares to other films and media dealing with the Holocaust. How is it the same? Different?

  • How does the movie show the importance of courage and perseverance?

  • What did you learn from this documentary? How could you find out more if you wanted to?

  • Even though they're not shown, some extremely violent and disturbing incidents are discussed in the film. Do you have to see something horrible happen to be affected by it?

  • What do you think you'd have done during the time of the Holocaust? Would you have been willing to put your own family at risk? Could you have stood by while this was happening?

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