Fanny and Alexander

  • Review Date: July 17, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1983
  • Running Time: 188 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Bergman's epic, mature masterpiece about childhood.
  • Review Date: July 17, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1983
  • Running Time: 188 minutes




Academy Award

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Family, as well as life itself, is mysterious, complicated, and filled with both joy and sorrow; accepting that will help even the young make their way in the world. Trust is fragile and easily abused.

Positive role models

A multi-faceted look at the many roles adults play in their children's lives from the compassionate, loving, and understanding to the strict, unmercifully rigid, and terrifying. A broad picture of childhood resilience as well as vulnerability.


Numerous frightening and intense scenes. A young boy is severely beaten by his step-father; while the actual blows from the cane are not shown, the bloody aftermath on the child's bare bottom is seen. When Fanny's and Alexander's father dies, the children witness their mother's uncontrollable grief in a lengthy sequence. In dark, suspense-filled fantasy scenes puppets come to life, scary masks and faces fill the screen, the ghosts of dead loved ones appear, and a strange household becomes a mysterious maze. A diseased woman (shown in closeup) catches fire, runs through a house and sets it and another occupant ablaze.


There are several scenes with explicit sexual activity between adults with partial nudity (fondling of bare breasts, undressing). A constantly lecherous man playfully makes love to his wife, and seduces a young servant, carrying on an open affair with her with his wife's knowledge; all live in the same household. Some of the classical artwork displayed in the family home includes nudity. Alexander is seen from behind as he urinates.


In two scenes the enraged 10-year-old Alexander utters strings of profanities in Swedish (subtitled in English), including: "s--t," "c--k," "f--k," "p---y," "c--t," "crap," "butt," "piss." Other words heard occasionally: "fart," "damn," "hell," "bastard." A raucous family game shows an inebriated uncle playing chase with the assembled children and lighting his own farts.  There is one outpouring of anti-Semitic rhetoric from the movie's darkest villain. 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Alcoholic beverages, including wine, cognac, and beer are consumed by adults often at family celebrations, dinners, social get-togethers, and in moments of stress. Inebriated uncles provide comic relief in a number of scenes, including one in which a servant is seduced. Members of the family smoke pipes and cigars.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that while this subtitled Swedish film is about two children, ages 10 and 8, its themes and events are weighty and sophisticated, appropriate only for adults and mature teens. The movie contains several disturbing, intense sequences in which the young brother and sister are front and center in the aftermath of their father's death, or being treated cruelly by a villainous step-father. Both children are threatened and Alexander is emotionally tormented by the man, then beaten with a cane until his backside is bloody. In addition, there are fantasy sequences in which one or both children see ghosts, imagine the deaths of their step-father's first wife and his two daughters, and get lost in an exotic, maze-like household in which puppets and other inanimate objects come to life. During fits of anger, Alexander uses harsh profanity, including "f--k," "c--k," "piss," and more. Milder swearing occurs intermittently, and there are some anti-Semitic slurs. Characters drink alcohol frequently, become drunk, and smoke cigars and pipes.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

It's 1907, Sweden. Following the unexpected death of their beloved father, FANNY AND ALEXANDER, ages 8 and 10, are taken from their richly artistic, boisterous, and loving family to live with their new step-father, a terrifying perfectionist whose values and expectations differ markedly from what the children know and understand. Alexander, protective of both his naive mother and defenseless sister, wages a war against the powerful man, a war it seems he cannot win. Fantasy and reality merge as Alexander and other family members use all the resources at hand in an attempt to save the children and their mother, who has also become the villain's unwilling victim.

Is it any good?


The final work from the iconic Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is a heart-wrenching, in-depth portrait of childhood. Exploring the inner life and struggles of one 10-year-old boy and, peripherally, his 8-year-old sister, this multiple award-winning film pays homage to complex relationships and characters as flawed or bizarre as they are grand. His subject is nothing less than the connections, loyalties, and betrayals of Family (with a capital "F") and the essence of humanity that a family represents.

Outstanding performances, stunning visuals, and a dark, but universal story of loss and love combine to make this movie made in 1982 a timeless experience. It is highly recommended, however, because of the adult nature of the thematic material and some frightening and intense scenes, it's for grownups and very mature teens.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Alexander's imagination and day dreams help him cope with his real life. How does the movie distinguish between the real and the fantasy? Are there ever occasions in which you or someone you know uses a fantasy life in this way?

  • Talk about how kids are portrayed in this film. Are there any role models in this movie? How are the kids in this movie portrayed differently than in some more current movies?

  • Bergman shows two distinct types of family life. How do the places in which they live reflect the people who live there? Whose job is it to choose the design and arrangement of the sets in movies? What do these designers have to keep in mind when doing their work?

  • What makes this movie so special? Why has it stood the test of time? Teens: Do you find it difficult to watch movies with subtitles? Why or why not?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 17, 1983
DVD release date:November 16, 2004
Cast:Bertil Guve, Ewa Froling, Pernilla Allwin
Director:Ingmar Bergman
Studio:Criterion Collection
Run time:188 minutes
MPAA rating:R
Award:Academy Award

This review of Fanny and Alexander was written by

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Parent Written byBARBBF December 19, 2011


too much sexual activity and nudity..
Teen, 15 years old Written bySecondSider October 31, 2013

Ingmar Bergman never disappointed me

From the start, Ingmar Bergman has never left me underwhelmed, even his failures are amazing, and this is what I call his masterpiece.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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