A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Am David is a 2003 drama in which a young boy escapes from a Bulgarian prison camp in the 1950s on a quest to deliver a letter to Denmark. This movie is intense but family-friendly. Sensitive and younger kids might be disturbed by beatings and a shooting at the labor camp, including flashbacks in which a man is shot and killed because he's believed to have stolen a bar of soap, and a mother yelling for her son as guards separate her from her family. A clash between Italian communists and police is shown; some beatings and blood. Based on a novel of the same title by Anne Holm. While hiding as a stowaway, a sailor accuses David of looking at the magazines of attractive women that the sailor keeps hidden; no nudity.
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What's the story?
Adapted from Ann Holm's book, I AM DAVID follows the story of the titular David, who grows up in a Bulgarian labor camp in the 1950s. He doesn't know why he's there or what happened to his family, of whom he has only flashes of memory. At the age of 12 an escape is arranged for him (by whom and for what reasons are only revealed near the end of the movie), and he's told to make his way alone across the frontier with Greece, south to Salonika, stow away in a boat headed for Italy, and then head north to Denmark. David travels alone through a world he has never experienced, following the only advice he was given: "Trust no one." Along the way, as he evades capture, meets people, and begins to understand how the world works, his past is revealed in rapid flashbacks of memory, centering on a pivotal event in the camp, more and more details of which are revealed as the movie progresses.
Is it any good?
This is a lovely movie, beautifully filmed by Paul Feig in locations throughout Europe. The real problem faced by anyone trying to adapt this book is finding a boy who can carry it off, and newcomer Ben Tibber portrays David with a heartbreakingly bleak and lonely nobility. He actually has few lines, so he accomplishes this primarily through posture and a remarkably readable face. Jim Caviezel does sterling work as Johannes, the only friend David has ever had; and Joan Plowright is warmly touching as Sophie, an elderly artist David meets along the way. Feig, who also wrote the script, partially solves a central flaw in the book (where the plot turns on a huge and unlikely Dickensian coincidence) by turning it into a smaller, but still unlikely, coincidence.
But the movie is not without its own flaws, chief among them its too-short length (90 minutes), which leaves too much unexplained or missing entirely. The DVD contains many deleted scenes that should have been left in. Nevertheless, this is a thoughtful, intellectually and emotionally rich, and gently beautiful movie that, while aimed at kids, doesn't for one moment condescend to them. It's a solid and moving attempt at filming a wonderful but almost unfilmable classic children's book.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about theCommunist Bloc in the '50s, forced labor camps in eastern Europe after WWII, the plight of refugees, and following David's route on a map. The DVD provides helpful extras, including a map of David's route and information about real-life modern child refugees. Families can also talk about the DVD's extras, including a map of David's route and information about real-life modern child refugees.
This movie was based on a novel. What would be the challenges in adapting a novel such as this one into a movie?
How does this compare to other "travel movies," movies in which lead characters go on a journey from Point A to Point B, encounter a wide array of people, and have experiences that fundamentally change their worldview?
- In theaters: April 5, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: April 5, 2005
- Cast: Ben Tibber, James Caviezel, Joan Plowright
- Director: Paul Feig
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, History
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and violent content
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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