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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the true story of Loung Ung, an American human rights activist. Adapted from her book, the film tells the story of her childhood, when Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh was invaded in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, a brutal communist regime. All the more powerful because it's based on fact and because the events are seen only through Loung's young eyes, the film has disturbing, sad, and even horrifying moments. Though writer/director Angelina Jolie is judicious in her depiction of the violence, audiences will see beatings; deaths by gunfire, explosions, and fire; armed battles; and, foremost, children in peril and victims of mistreatment. Bodies pile up, loved ones die, and grief is palpable. Made in Cambodia, with English subtitles, this gripping drama is an important reminder that cruelty and extreme ideologies still drive whole cultures from their homes in fear for their lives. But it also has strong themes of courage, empathy, perseverance, and self-control.
What's the story?
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is home to the large, happy Ung family when armed soldiers of the Khmer Rouge move into the city in FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A DAUGHTER OF CAMBODIA REMEMBERS. Given only moments to evacuate their comfortable home, "Pa" (an excellent Phoeung Kompheak) shepherds his loved ones, including Loung (Sareum Srey Moch), a little girl who appears to perceive every nuance in her surroundings, through the crowds leaving the city. It's an exodus that leads to brutality, starvation, and terror. A series of makeshift shelters, camps, and hideouts become temporary homes, as the Ung family prays that Pa's government affiliation won't be uncovered. As the atrocities escalate and some can't be saved, the family is separated. Loung finds herself alone and part of an intensive effort to indoctrinate the children and turn them into soldiers. Only a clear mind, a resilient spirit, and her devotion to her family enable Loung to survive and return to the arms of whatever family she may have left.
Is it any good?
This artful depiction of the brutality visited upon the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge is even more affecting because it's seen only through the eyes and heart of a 7-year-old girl. Filmmaker Angelina Jolie, noted for her personal commitment to children around the globe, has found the perfect vehicle for that commitment, and Sareum Srey Moch is stunning as Loung. Like its predecessors, Empire of the Sun and Beasts of No Nation, the film tells a war story by showing a child's fear, grief, and ultimate resilience. Jolie is careful to keep moments of extreme violence to a minimum. What Loung sees, the audience sees, and it's enough. If bearing witness is a reason for movies to exist, First They Killed My Father has strong purpose. Recommended for mature teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in First They Killed My Father. Is it harder to watch the violence in this film because you know it's a true story? What's the impact of media violence on kids? Do you think that impact is even greater when the story is based on actual facts?
In what ways does this story have relevance today? Are you aware of the places around the globe with such continuing conflict? Why is it important to be aware of such events? What is meant by the movie's statement: "A daughter remembers so that others may never forget."
Did this movie motivate you to learn more about the events in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries during the 1960s and 1970s? How could you find out more?
- In theaters: September 15, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2017
- Cast: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata
- Director: Angelina Jolie
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 29, 2020
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