Into the West

Movie review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Into the West Movie Poster Image
Irish tearjerker with a hint of magic deals with loss.
  • PG
  • 1993
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Facing and dealing with loss instead of hiding from it is the big lesson here. The importance of belonging and family is also expressed.

Positive role models & representations

At first Papa is an alcoholic who drinks his troubles away and ignores his kids, but once he starts to deal with the loss of his wife he makes a significant turnaround. The two brothers skip school for months, try to hitchhike, go on the run, and steal from a movie theater, yet Tito looks out for his younger brother Ossie and puts on a brave face despite the danger they're in.

Violence

A near-drowning of a major character. Ossie finds out that his mother died giving birth to him and both boys talk about the loss often. The white horse jumps over a fire and other obstacles with young boys on his back. He also kicks through an apartment wall when cornered by police who threaten to shoot him and hides from a pack of dogs on a fox hunt. Papa threatens someone teetering over a balcony and bloodies a man's face with a log.

Sex
Language

Pretty frequent use of language like "ass," "hell," "dammit," "bastard," and Irish slang like "bugger." Also phrases like "Holy mother of divine God" and "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph." Tito gives a man the finger. Plus hateful language toward the travelers.

Consumerism

The kids love old Westerns and a few play in the background. They also watch Back to the Future III when they sneak into the movie theater.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Papa is often shown drinking or recovering from a night of drinking while smoking heavily. One boy advises another, "When your dad goes to the welfare office go with him or he'll drink it all." Another boy yells down the street, "Your father is a wino!"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that yes, Into the West is a horse movie featuring two cute Irish boys, making it seem appropriate for younger kids, but there are plenty of mature and heart-wrenching themes grappled with here. The boys lost their mother and discuss it often -- the younger boy discovering that she died giving birth to him; and their heartbroken father is drinking his life away and ignoring his kids. The family does find a way to come together and deal with their loss, but not before one child nearly drowns.

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What's the story?

In INTO THE WEST, Papa (Gabriel Byrne), an alcoholic who's spent years mourning the loss of his wife, thinks he's doing the right thing for his two sons Tito (Ruaidhri Conroy) and Ossie (Ciaran Fitzgerald) when they move into the Dublin slums to get the boys in school. Then the boys' grandpa, a Traveler (Irish gypsy), shows up in his horse-drawn wagon with a white horse in tow that mysteriously followed him there. The boys are so enamored of the horse that they move him into their apartment, getting the police there in a hurry to confiscate him. When Papa goes to pay the fine and get the boys' horse back, he's already been sold to a wealthy horse jumper eager to bribe the police to force them to sign over the horse. Papa gives up on the horse, but of course the boys don't and they plot to steal him back. A chase "into the West" ensues that leads the troubled family closer to their Traveler roots and, thanks to the mysterious and magical horse, closer to finally dealing with the loss of wife and mother.

Is it any good?

This horse movie had a lot of potential -- great cast; a director, Mike Newell, who would go on to Harry Potter greatness; and a unique look at a group of people -- the Travelers -- few ever see. The story is moving, especially if viewers focus on what the boys are going through together; they have a number of touching scenes.

But when Into the West focuses on Papa alone it bogs down with too much reflection. The one-note villains (corrupt police officer, mean rich horse owner) also take away from the magical feel the filmmakers are trying to create: mysterious, beautiful horse leading boys past their mother's grave to the sea, while being chased by random mean rich guy. Still, this is an ambitious little movie with some truly poignant moments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coping with loss. How do the brothers help each other cope in Into the West? What finally forces Papa to deal with the loss of his wife? What other movies deal with loss in a profound way?

  • There are elements of magic in this story. What does the horse represent? How does it relate to Grandpa's story?

  • Viewers also see a lifestyle -- that of the travelers -- not often shown on film. Why do characters say it's in their blood to be travelers? Why is it hard for them to become "settled people"? How can you find out more about this unique group of people?

Movie details

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