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Parents' Guide to

East of Eden

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Book-based classic has violence, drinking, mature themes.

Movie PG 1955 118 minutes
East of Eden Poster Image

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This adaptation packs a wallop as it examines sibling rivalry, as well as the nature of good and evil and whether we truly know what they are. Based on John Steinbeck's 600-plus-page 1952 novel of the same name (referring to a Bible passage that means "outside the presence of God"), East of Eden condemns high-mindedness for its own sake, showing how easy it is for someone to be right but also inhumane and cruel. Here a madam running a brothel, supposedly a moral outlier, can embody many virtues, while a religious upright citizen can be harsh and unloving in the name of goodness and decency. When we learn that Cal's mother, now a successful businesswoman, left her two young sons because her husband's righteousness stifled her, the movie makes as much of a statement about women's rights and personal freedom as it does about a rigid ideological father who needs to control his family members more than he needed to love them.

For teens who may also be struggling with identity issues, there is much to relate to in James Dean's portrayal of the confused, alienated Cal as he seeks a disapproving father's love. But although director Elia Kazan was remarkable for tackling difficult issues, he's still prone to presenting unnecessary speechifying in a 1950s Hollywood style that will seem too obvious, too slow, and far too overstated to suit the taste of today's average filmgoer. A tendency to over-explain rather than trusting the audience to feel what the story and characters beautifully convey on their own will probably turn many viewers away who might otherwise find much to appreciate here. Those who love the book will be disappointed as the film narrowly focuses on only one small conflict from the novel's multigenerational sweep. Note that the first three minutes are taken up with an "overture" -- anxious, tense string and orchestral music setting up conflict to come, which some younger viewers may have no patience for at all.

Movie Details

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