Madame Bovary

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Madame Bovary Movie Poster Image
Classic tale about unhappy wife has tragic themes.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

For some people, a simple life isn't satisfying enough, which can lead to unwise decisions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Madame Bovary always seems to want more -- more passion, more fancy dresses, more trips to the opera, etc. She's unable to be content with what she has, and it eventually ruins her.

Violence

A husband and wife bicker; he sometimes yells in anger. A group of riders on horseback hunts a deer; the animal is dispatched with a large knife -- it happens off-screen, but viewers do see the bloody, severed head.

Sex

Several love scenes feature couples in various states of undress, including vigorous motions and enthusiastic sounds. Brief glimpses of a woman's breast.

Language
Consumerism

Much of the plot revolves around the title character's insatiable need for expensive, luxury goods, bought on credit, which eventually is her undoing

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine with meals.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Madame Bovary is a retelling of Gustave Flaubert's classic novel about a woman who isn't satisfied with her simple life in the country. She has affairs and spends far too much on fancy dresses and expensive furnishings (much acquired on credit) and soon finds herself in over her head. There's no swearing in this period film and only occasional drinking, though there are several sex scenes with enthusiastic noises/motions, as well as brief glimpses of a woman's breasts.

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What's the story?

MADAME BOVARY (Mia Wasikowska) marries a country doctor and quickly discovers that life in the country doesn't really satisfy her. She yearns for culture, fine dresses, and a luxurious home -- as well as for passion in her marriage, none of which her stoic husband can provide. To fill this emotional gap, she pursues a series of affairs with men who eventually leave her disappointed and fills her home with expensive furnishings purchased on credit. Eventually, she finds herself rejected by her lovers, over her head in debt, and falling into deep despair.

Is it any good?

The film's emotional encounters are built up better than the financial subplot, which leaves Emma and her husband neck-deep in debt. While this is the part of the story that leads to Emma's tragic end, the details and fiscal entanglements feel secondary to her romantic life, diluting their potency. Even at two hours, the film feels like things had to be cut out of the original story, with parts of the plot seemingly arising out of nowhere. That's the main reason Madame Bovary doesn't work very well: It simultaneously has too much (of Emma's caddish lovers) and not enough (of the usurious merchant who drives her into debt).

Emma Bovary begins married life full of enthusiasm and optimism, but she quickly realizes she's signed on for a life that isn't what she was expecting. We can see where this is leading -- a string of passionate extramarital encounters -- long before she realizes it herself; her excitement at finally finding romance is infectious and deeply felt ... as is her crushing despair when her lovers abandon her. In this period film set in a 19th-century French village, it's clear that, as a married woman, Emma has few options.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Emma is dissatisfied. How does she try to pursue happiness? Is her situation relatable today?

  • What do you think Emma might want if she was a contemporary character? What influences what we want in terms of products/things?

  • How is sex portrayed in the movie? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • If you've read the original novel, how does this version compare to it? To other film adaptations?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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