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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fiddler on the Roof tackles numerous social and political issues within a religious context, including the concepts of interfaith marriages, gender roles, socialism, religious intolerance, and more. Smaller children may be spooked by the movie's portrayal of the violence of the Russian soldiers, and may also be frightened by the film's ending, in which the inhabitants of a small Jewish village are forced out of their homes by soldiers. Expect some celebratory drinking.
What's the story?
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is an epic musical that is both a boisterous, comic look at rural life in a Ukrainian village, and a serious portrait of the sweeping, tragic changes the 1905 Russian Revolution forced on Russian Jews. The film centers on a humble agrarian family: milkman Tevye (Zero Mostel) is a devout Jew desperately attempting to hold onto his faith's traditions in the face of both the rebellious actions of his three marrying-age daughters and the increasingly ominous intimidation of Czarist officials. Fiddler starts off as a joyous trifle, with Tevye questioning his station in life in "If I Were a Rich Man," and his daughters wishing for ideal husbands in "Matchmaker." But the upbeat tone of the musical's first half makes the second half, which delves into the politics of the brewing Russian Revolution and introduces the terrible specter of exile and the Jewish diaspora, all the more disturbing.
Is it any good?
It's the dichotomy of this film that makes it a daring, thought-provoking departure from traditional stage musicals. At the heart of Fiddler on the Roof is, of course, tradition; the title itself refers to the instability of life, against which tradition provides support. But this movie musical marks the ways in which such traditions are eroded, both for good (the viewer is presented with sympathetic portraits of Tevye's daughters and their unconventional choices of husbands), and decidedly bad (the pogrom that sweeps Anatevka's villagers from their homes is hauntingly realistic).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of religious traditions like the ones shown in Fiddler on the Roof: are they stifling to individuality or do they provide a moral framework that imbues everyday life with meaning?
Talk about parental authority. What happens when children flout their parents' wishes? Teens: How do you handle conflicts with your parents?
What are the big messages of this film? How are the movie's messages relevant to today's cultural and political issues?
- In theaters: November 3, 1971
- On DVD or streaming: October 2, 2001
- Cast: Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Norman Crane
- Director: Norman Jewison
- Studio: A&E Home Video
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: History, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 186 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- MPAA explanation: musical
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