Kingdom of Us

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Kingdom of Us Movie Poster Image
Raw, intense docu on family's life after father's suicide.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 108 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Documentary shows a family of seven children and their mother as they grow up and work through the grief of their father's suicide several years prior. A testament to resiliency and perseverance. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A large family's struggles to understand and confront the emotions they've been feeling or suppressing in the years since their father took his own life due to mental illness reveal the many ways in which people face grief and loss. Shows those experiencing similar profound grief and sadness that it's possible to persevere, even as they struggle with mental illnesses of their own. 

Violence

Seven children and their mother speak of the suicide of the father of the family, with excerpts from his suicide note read on-screen; mention of how there is blood on the note. Talk of how the father's mental illness led him to plan in great detail the murder of his kids and his wife before taking his own life. When discussing the immediate aftermath of their father's suicide, one of the kids talks of how fellow classmates made wrist-slitting gestures when they gossiped about what happened. 

Sex

Brief talk between a teen son and mother about sex, in the context of maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend. 

Language

"F--k" used on frequent occasions by teen and tween kids. "S--t," "crap," "bitch," "hell." An older teen talks of how her father called her a "crack whore" for wearing makeup to go out for the night. 

Consumerism

Teen boy wears a Jim Beam T-shirt in one scene. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

College-age young adults drink beer at a house party. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kingdom of Us is a 2017 documentary about a large family in England struggling to recover from their father's suicide years after it took place. Families in the early stages of grieving will find this family's struggle to be emotionally intense; sensitive viewers in general might find this difficult to watch. The suicide is discussed in detail, and portions of the man's suicide note are read on camera. The family members each struggle in their own ways with the loss, and some family members are shown struggling with eating disorders, depression, and hoarding issues. There's profanity, including teens and tweens using "f--k." College-age students drink beer at a house party. For those who have struggled with mental illness or have lost loved ones to suicide and are at a point where they're attempting to work through their own feelings and struggles, this movie should prove inspiring, a testament to hard-fought perseverance.

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What's the story?

In 2007, Paul Shanks committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and seven children, five of whom are on the autism spectrum. Combining as-it-happens filmed footage with the vast amounts of video Paul made of himself and his family in the years leading up to his death, KINGDOM OF US chronicles the years after his death as Vikie Shanks tries to remain strong for her kids. Through interviews and the video footage, Paul is shown to be, initially, a loving, creative, and dedicated father who starts to succumb to depression and obsessive behavior -- so much so that as his condition deteriorates, he plans in intricate detail the murders of his wife and kids before taking his own life. As the years pass, the family begins to go through Paul's vast collection of home videos, diaries, and even his suicide note as the perspective gained from the passage of time and the love for each other begins to provide, if not closure, a way forward through the pain. 

Is it any good?

This documentary pulls no punches in showing a family trying to maintain and move forward in the years following their father's suicide. The home videos of the past show a loving, creative, and playful father who is slowly succumbing to depression, whose obsessions with detail and documentation -- once applied toward creating a perfect family environment for him, his wife, and their seven children (five of whom are on the autism spectrum) -- grows increasingly dark as his erratic behavior grows worse. While a necessary documentary in the sense that the best documentaries reveal truths and universal experience, it's also, obviously, extremely depressing. Those who are in the earliest stages of the grieving process will find the emotional rawness too much to take, but for those further along, Kingdom of Us reveals the ways in which people cope or try to cope in the aftermath of suicide. 

As Hollywood continues to churn out half-baked "high concepts" and inferior remakes of classic movies, it's refreshing -- if emotionally difficult -- to see a film trying for something beyond the demands of commerce and shallow escapism and spectacle. Kingdom of Us is certainly not entertainment by any stretch, and it's sometimes easy to forget that film is capable of so much more than safe formulas and done-to-death story structures. Like any art form, film can reveal the highs and lows of the human experience in a way that helps us to understand the world as much as ourselves, and Kingdom of Us does just that. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about documentary films. How do documentaries communicate underlying themes, values, and arguments? How does Kingdom of Us reveal the issues the filmmakers want to illuminate? 

  • How did the use of home movies and home audio recordings help to reveal the kind of person the family's father was and his struggles with mental illness?

  • How do documentaries like this reveal the ways in which movies can be much more than entertainment or escape? 

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