A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Families are imperfect. Some parents will never love their children as they are, no matter how hard the kids try to please them.
Positive Role Models
Cal has been told all his life that he isn't a good person, and nothing he can do will earn his father's approval.
Violence & Scariness
Men get into a brawl as they fight a neighbor of German origin after hearing reports of German atrocities committed during World War I. A brother punches a brother. A man suffers a debilitating stroke. A woman admits she shot her husband, not fatally, because he was trying to stop her from leaving.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Adults kiss. A woman runs a brothel. Cal runs around with girls who aren't considered "nice" in polite company. A so-called "nice" girl thinks she is "bad" because she wants to have sex with her boyfriend. Much of this is unspoken and will go unnoticed by younger kids.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes and cigars and drink alcohol, in some cases to excess.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that East of Eden is one of the quintessential films about a seemingly modern problem -- disaffected youth. It's based on the John Steinbeck book of the same name. The movie focuses on the need to find one's identity and the struggles some kids experience in the effort to earn parental approval. Drinking to excess figures in some plot developments, but the film is largely notable for presenting James Dean, with 1950s pompadour and Atomic Age anguish, in one of the iconic roles of his brief career, one that mimics the emotional intensity of his senior, Marlon Brando, and that helped fuel a shift in cinematic acting style from static and theatrical to more naturalistic. Men get into a brawl as they fight a neighbor of German origin after hearing reports of German atrocities committed during World War I. A brother punches a brother. A man suffers a debilitating stroke. A woman admits she shot her husband. A woman runs a brothel. Cal runs around with girls who aren't considered "nice" in polite company. A so-called "nice" girl thinks she is "bad" because she wants to have sex with her boyfriend. Much of this is unspoken and will go unnoticed by younger kids. "Damn" is heard. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.