East of the Mountains

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
East of the Mountains Movie Poster Image
Well-acted character drama has suicidal ideation, violence.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 93 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

We are impacted by and have an impact on those around us, no matter how briefly they're in our lives. You matter to your family and to the people you encounter in your life; if you don't want to stick around for you, stick around for them.

Positive Role Models

Ben Givens was once a dedicated surgeon and devoted husband, although perhaps not a great brother. His intentions, although misguided, are meant to save his daughter emotional pain. Meanwhile, his daughter Renee shows a wonderful kind of outreach, love, and support for her father. 

Diverse Representations

Primary cast is White. Supporting roles are mostly people of color, who are depicted as helpful, thoughtful, and kind. 


Actions related to suicidal ideation, including main character holding a gun to his throat. Character and his pet are in a scary and dangerous situation. Vicious dog attack (not fully shown) with graphic wounds. Threats made at gunpoint. Death of a dog to which no emotional connection has been established. Extreme close-ups of surgical stitches. Shooting in the context of hunting, including a child being taught to hunt. Main character has terminal cancer.


Romantic images. Kissing. Subtle implication that passionate kissing turns into undressing and then off-camera sex.


One use of "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking pot. Drinking beer at a bar. Sparkling wine with dinner at a restaurant.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that East of the Mountains is a drama based on David Guterson's same-named novel about a man with terminal cancer who's planning to end his life on his own terms. Main character Ben (Tom Skerritt) comes off as a gruff grandfather, so when he puts a gun to his throat, it's even more disquieting. But the underlying message rings clear: You matter to your family and to the people you encounter in your life; if you don't want to stick around for you, stick around for them. In the context of hunting, guns are used to threaten humans and kill animals. A pet dog is brutally attacked by another dog; the latter animal is shot. Bloody wounds are seen on several occasions, including on a surgeon's table. Flashbacks of a blooming romance include kissing and a sexual situation. There's one humorous use of a swear word ("s--t"), plus drinking (beer, sparkling wine) and smoking pot.

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What's the story?

Based on the same-named novel by David Guterson, EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS follows the journey of Ben Givens (Tom Skerritt), a retired heart surgeon who lost his wife to cancer. Now facing a terminal illness himself, he travels to his childhood hometown in Eastern Washington to end his life. But his plans are interrupted by a series of mishaps, unintended consequences, and wonderful strangers.

Is it any good?

Skerritt rises to the occasion to play a man of few words contending with an internal struggle against the picturesque Washington landscape. It's shocking to realize that Ben Givens is the first leading film role for Skerritt, who's been a cinematic fixture for decades, with memorable roles in everything from M*A*S*H* to Top Gun to A River Runs Through ItLike Tom Hanks in Cast Away or Robert Redford in All Is Lost, in East of the Mountains, he's a man who embarks on a journey with an intended destination, but circumstances arise that circumvent his plans. And, as in any good movie, the point of the trip isn't the destination, it's what you learn about yourself along the way.  

But is East of the Mountains a good movie? Novel adaptations often get mucked up in translating someone's inner dialogue to a cinematic experience that viewers can understand, and that challenge is in play here. Givens is stoic; he doesn't give much away in his words or his expressions. Skerritt makes the most of what he's given, but without much in the way of dialogue, there's a lot that viewers just have to figure out on their own. That subtlety may be appreciated by adults with the life experience to appreciate what Givens is feeling, but full comprehension is going to be challenging for a lot of teens. Many moviegoers will walk away feeling like East of the Mountains is kind of a nothing movie, but it has plenty to say on the issue of death and aging, and that really is something.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Ben's reasons for wanting to end his life and what the film's message is for those who may be feeling hopeless. How can a film about death serve as an affirmation for life?

  • How does the writer play with irony when it comes to Ben's role as a doctor, his hunting, and his plans to end his life? What purpose does the veterinarian serve in the film? 

  • Does the terrain "east of the mountains" serve as a foil for Ben? Does it rise to the level of being a character, like New York in Sex and the City or Tokyo in Lost in Translation

  • Why do you think the director chose to include so many shots of both the dog's wounds and the surgery? What does Rex's injury and recovery symbolize?

Movie details

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