Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love Movie Poster Image
Poignant, drug-heavy music doc celebrates the power of love.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 102 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Celebrates power of love to inspire creativity and generate great art, music, literature. Importance of nurturing relationships and supporting loved ones. Negative themes include drugs, unfaithfulness, obsession.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cohen is mostly humble, loving, gentle. He demonstrates empathy in his relationships, an inclusiveness in his approach to life. But he also takes lots of drugs, is promiscuous and unfaithful. Ihlen is warm, caring, devoted, but ultimately she is influenced by her obsessive love for Cohen -- to the detriment of her own well-being and that of her son.


Still images of a character holding a gun. Reference to gun use.


No sex scenes, but references to being "lovers," "lovemaking," and "blue movies." Frequent comments regarding sexual promiscuity. Some nudity -- including breasts -- mainly filmed from behind. Character quotes a song lyric "giving me head."


One use of "f--k." Still image of a character giving the middle finger.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent stills or footage of people smoking. Occasional drinking. Frequent references to taking speed, acid, pot. One mention of someone spiking a 13-year-old's drink with acid, and of giving acid to a donkey. References to characters taking the sedative Mandrax for recreational use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love is a music documentary that explores the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his long-term muse and lover Marianne Ihlen. With frequent, casual references to abundant drug-taking and an ongoing theme of free love and open relationships, it is a revealing account of life as a successful musician in the "swinging Sixties." Drugs referenced include speed, acid, and pot. In one scene, there is a mention of a 13-year-old's drink being spiked with acid, and of acid being given to a donkey. Smoking is seen throughout, with some drinking. Though no sex is seen in the documentary, it is referred to frequently, and there is some nudity including footage of skinny dipping. The film showcases Cohen's artistic process and awe-inspiring output, and the impact Ihlen -- and other women -- had on his life. But it also highlights the negative aspects of their relationship such as infidelity and obsession.

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What's the story?

MARIANNE AND LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE is a documentary that looks at Marianne Ihlen's influence on Leonard Cohen. In 1960, Cohen, a struggling writer, and Ihlen, a single mother with a young son, fell in love on the Greek island of Hydra and embraced a bohemian life among artists and hippies. Their relationship lasted -- on and off -- for many years, during which Cohen became extremely successful. This documentary examines their struggles with mental health, his drug use, and numerous sexual relationships, and the intense bond they had, which lasted until their deaths in 2016.

Is it any good?

In many ways, this documentary is a love letter to the Greek island of Hydra, a mesmerizingly beautiful place that in the 1960s was full of artists trying to realize their hopes and dreams. Against the grainy footage of sun-kissed villages, boat trips, and chilled-out hippies, renowned British filmmaker Nick Broomfield tells a tender and vivid story of two vulnerable people -- with very different futures ahead of them. Cohen and Ihlen are both on a spiritual search for love, happiness, and inner peace. But Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love doesn't shy away from the more toxic aspects of their relationship: Cohen's drug taking and infidelity, and Ihlen's growing obsession with her partner.

In the hands of Broomfield, who also had a relationship with Ihlen, this feels like an honest portrayal of an intense relationship as well as a fascinating insight into the professional and private life of the legendary Cohen. There's plenty of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, but there's also an appealing warmth to the two characters, who are open and candid about their experiences with anxiety and depression. And above all this is a love story, made all the more poignant by its heartbreaking ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the portrayal of drug use in Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love. Is it too casual? Does it glamorize drug use? Is it an important element of the story?

  • Talk about the concept of a "muse": a person who inspires an artist to be more creative. Why is a muse traditionally a woman? Has this changed over time?

  • Discuss mental health in the context of both Leonard and Marianne's battles with self-esteem. Why do people who are considered successful sometimes still not feel confident?

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