A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that teens may be interested because Natalie Portman stars, but that the film is too intense for tweens and younger teens. It's loosely based on a particularly violent period of history, perceived by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. Images of torture (woman hangs naked from the ceiling by her wrists behind her back: very painful looking), rape, emaciated prisoners, riots in the street, soldiers on horseback assaulting crowds, underclass attacking a wealthy man who tries to escape; occasional talk of hanging, decapitation, prostitution, and torture.
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What's the story?
Spanning the period from the Inquisition through the French Revolution and Napoleon, GOYA'S GHOSTS finds the Spanish Inquisitors upset about the latest etchings by royal court portraitist Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgård), which they believe are heretical and represent everything that's wrong with Spain. Prodded on by Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), the Church takes action through secretive, intrusive, and inhumane tactics. As an observer, Goya is especially moved by the plight of his favorite portrait subject, Inés (Natalie Portman), who is unjustly tortured until she "confesses" to heresy, and is then imprisoned. Inés suffers decades of torment, alleviated only by occasional visits from Lorenzo, which eventually produce a child he denies. Outside, Goya continues to paint it as he sees it, from the beady eyes of Queen María Luisa (Blanca Portillo) to the Inquisition's looming shadows, his resilience speaking to the power of art and the truth of one man's vision. He leaves the Inquisitors to join the Enlightenment in France, and eventually returns to Spain to take part in sentencing his old boss in the Inquisition, Father Gregorio (Michael Lonsdale), to death.
Is it any good?
Structured as an odd, even glib series of plot turns, the films turms Goya into something of a Forrest Gump for his time. Miloš Forman's movie makes an argument that these troubled times resemble our own, as those in power work hard to maintain their position, encouraging fear and conformity among the mostly underclass population.
The excesses of authority were, of course, a favorite subject for Goya. And if the movie doesn't take up his distinctive visual style, it does embrace his broad satire, ferociously targeting religious, state, and financial leaders. When at last Inés is released, Goya helps find her teenage daughter (also played by Portman), who is now a prostitute. By this point, Goya has lost his hearing, and must speak through an interpreter. Here Goya's Ghosts underscores both the need for communication and its elusiveness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways that history is portrayed in fictional movies: How does this movie use Goya's ideas (as well as his paintings and other artwork) to shape its own story of the corruption of the time? You might look at some of Goya's famous "Black Paintings" to see how they compare to images in the film. You can also discuss the idea that art can be used to protest social and political injustice, as Goya tried to use his art. Or you can talk about how the film shows his fight against intolerance.
- In theaters: July 20, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2008
- Cast: Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard
- Director: Milos Forman
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing images, some sexual content and nudity.
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