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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lizzie Borden Took an Ax is about a famous historical murder, which is shown repeatedly onscreen. The grisly murders are shot horror-movie style, with a flashing ax, splattering blood, and scary music. The violence is particularly disturbing because it occurs within a family; this is the stuff of a young child's nightmares. The mutilated bodies of both Andrew and Abby Borden are shown repeatedly during the movie. A large portion of Lizzie Borden is also spent in the courtroom; young viewers would swiftly grow bored watching talky testimony. In short, this one is not for young watchers, but mature teens may find the subject matter compelling -- just hope it doesn't give them any ideas.
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What's the story?
LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AX, goes the old nursery rhyme, and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41. Did she really do it? In this TV movie adaptation of the famous murder mystery, petulant would-be heiress Lizzie Borden (Christina Ricci) most definitely did. The story opens shortly before the murders, when a discontented Lizzie has been stealing money and jewelry from her stepmother, sneaking out of the house to attend parties against her father's wishes, and generally acting like an obnoxious brat, in contrast to her more demure sister, Emma (Clea DuVall). A few scenes later, she discovers the bloody bodies of her parents brutally slain in their home. Victorian society was aghast. Could a woman have committed such a horrible crime? Lizzie is arrested and tried, ably defended by passionate lawyer Andrew Jennings (Billy Campbell), who wins her acquittal. But when her sister asks Lizzie what really happened, she gets an earful -- and viewers get a blood-soaked view of how Lizzie might have really committed the murders.
Is it any good?
With her pointed chin and big, haunted eyes, Ricci makes a compelling and creepy Lizzie. She doesn't look like the real-life Lizzie, who was chunky and fair, but she certainly makes a believable murderess, and she's a lot of fun to watch (if your idea of fun is watching a loving, if strict, mother and father murdered in their own home). Despite being old enough for her father to call a "spinster," in true teen fashion Lizzie resents her parents for not giving her enough money and freedom. That's enough of a reason in her eyes to knock the couple off, though the movie doesn't confirm for the viewer that Lizzie did it until late in the proceedings.
Before that, there's a big hunk of courtroom drama that slows down the story considerably, a dead weight in the middle of the movie. The beginning is fantastic, as we meet and loathe Lizzie and absorb the Victorian milieu. Then the murders happen and we're stuck in a boring brown courtroom. Things liven up considerably by the end, as Lizzie reveals to her sister how she did it, as we watch her flailing with an ax or slipping out of her dress before attacking her father. It's gory, horrible, yet very compelling stuff. Does it make sitting through the courtroom scenes worth it? Maybe -- for those who have an interest in the real-life case. Casual viewers may want to schedule some multi-tasking during that part of the movie, and stick around for the unsettling ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the real-life murder case. Was Lizzie convicted or acquitted? Why? Who do you think really committed the murders? Did Lizzie Borden Took an Ax change your mind?
What character in this movie is the audience supposed to relate to? Lizzie? Andrew? Abby? Emma? Are we supposed to like these characters? Fear them? Judge them? What about the way they are depicted brings you to this conclusion? Consider dialogue, costumes, camera angles, music, and plotting in your answer.
The story of the Borden murders has been told repeatedly in documentaries and other films. Seek out another depiction of the story. How is it like Lizzie Borden Took an Ax? How is it different? Why is this famous murder case so interesting to people more than 100 years after it happened?
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