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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie isn't appropriate for kids. It includes frequent scenes of violence, including shooting (at targets and people), hazing rituals, fights, explosions, and grueling training exercises. The film shows frequent images of carcasses (burned and broken along the Gulf war's infamous Highway of Death). Characters curse relentlessly, smoke cigarettes, drink, and do drugs. The troops also engage in frank sex talk (including slang for genitals and masturbation) and gestures; the film includes a brief glimpse at the protagonist's parents in a hotel bed, and scenes from a homemade porn movie (the doggy-style sex act is explicit, without penetration).
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Joining the marines, 20-year-old Tony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) seeks sense, maybe a way to fit in. In training camp, he becomes a sniper and learns to dote on his gun. When Swoff and his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) are sent, along with Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), to the Saudi desert, they're instructed to hydrate and train. Days and days and days they wait. They play football, drink, spit prefab answers for the press, and erect a Wall of Shame to their cheating girlfriends back home to survive the monotony, as they also anticipate the worst. Macho and childish at the same time, they can't imagine the horrors they will behold. At last, they're sent to a battleground that's been decimated by the awesome U.S. air war. Traipsing through the desert until they come on what became known as the Highway of Death, they look out on charred vehicles and corpses, the top layer of sand burned black beneath their boots.
Is it any good?
Adapted from Anthony Swofford's 2003 memoir, Jarhead is a frankly intelligent and beautifully bleak war movie with very little conventional "war" in it. It focuses on the ways that authorities rationalize war "scenarios" and train troops to carry out orders that are, on their face, irrational and costly. The movie depicts the "conflict" as an endless series of traumas that will continue to afflict Swoff and his fellows long after they're "home." The problem with war, according to Jarhead, is precisely that it's endless.
In the horrific Highway of Death scene, Swoff is shown sitting near the dead man, so that each appears in foreground and background, as if they are conversing. The effect is more harrowing than any battle sequence, underlining Jarhead's anguished point: war is not heroic or rousing. It is only devastating.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the conventional reasons for war, the ways that young men posture for one another in order to prove their "masculine" identities, and defining "enemies" by their differences. How does Tony's experience in the Saudi desert not meet his expectations -- of glory, mission, and camaraderie? How is Tony, as a precise, ground-based sniper, shown to be outmoded by overwhelming air-war technologies?
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