A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mute is a stylish, engrossing film that is part black comedy, part slasher film, and part dystopian thriller, with pathos thrown into the mix as well. Long the pet project of maverick filmmaker Duncan Jones, the film was made after Netflix provided both the funds and the freedom for the writer-director to pull out all the stops in creating a Berlin as envisioned several decades from now: a melting pot of a city, filled with immigrants, AWOL American military personnel, and all manner of sexual exploitation. The city is as sleazy as it is high-tech. Expect many graphic images. Characters are killed, mutilated, tortured, and operated upon with glee by unhinged surgeons. Blood flows; severe bruising is pervasive, characters die. (Spoiler alert: There are bar fights and a knifing with a very slow bleed-out, and a sympathetic character is suffocated.) Obscenities and swearing is continuous (i.e., "f--k," "s--t," "pr--k," "p---y," "a--hole," "f--got," "bitch"). Sexual situations abound; partial nudity, sexy clothes. (Spoiler alerts: An explicit sex scene involves robots, complete with outrageous penis. A central character is a leering pedophile; a little girl is his target.) Characters drink, and the social centers of the story are a strip club and a house of prostitution. Mature audiences only.
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What's the story?
In MUTE, mid-21st-century Berlin is a city teeming with corruption, untempered sexuality, and violence. Leo (Alexander Skarsgard), a shy bartender at a gaudy strip club, is voiceless because of a childhood accident. He's in love with Naadirah (Seyner Saleh), a cocktail waitress. Their relationship is passionate, warm, and genuine. After a tender night together, during which Naadirah reveals that there are secrets she hasn't yet shared with him, Leo wakes up to find her gone. Distraught, he sets out to find her. Leo's mission takes him into the underbelly of the city. Among those he encounters are two off-the-wall former U.S. army surgeons: Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd), who's desperately trying to get false papers to take his young daughter out of Berlin; and Duck (Justin Theroux), Billl's sidekick with some off-putting proclivities. Leo's presence and persistence begin to upset the status quo, especially an unscrupulous crime lord. After a series of mind-bending twists and turns, Leo's obsession results in his becoming the hunted, culminating in a fierce battle between the forces of good and evil.
Is it any good?
Filmmaker Duncan Jones cleverly manages to put the dystopian setting in the background and focuses his camera on the dark, sadistic characters and behavior that have evolved in that setting. The future Berlin of Jones' imagination is similar to 2019/2049 Los Angeles in Blade Runner. And like that movie, the "tech" is high, but it doesn't move the story. The people do. And what a bizarre "community" it is in Mute: thugs, sexual predators, torturers, AWOL American soldiers on the run from its wars that never ended, and, most bizarre of all, medics. Justin Theroux is almost unrecognizable and Paul Rudd's fans are in for a shock of humongous proportions.
It's a brutally violent movie, bordering on ridiculous during some sequences (e.g. -- spoiler alert -- a dying man takes several scenes to gurgle and bubble as the blood slowly ebbs from his body). The fact that Jones is able to successfully combine laughs, irony, and a very sympathetic hero with gore, pedophilia, and obscenities isn't to be dismissed. Definitely not for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Mute. How did watching so many graphic images make you feel? Which sequences, if any, do you believe were meant to be so over-the-top that they were funny? Why is it important for families to understand the impact of violent movies on kids?
In the context of movies and stories, what is meant by the term "dystopian"? How is Mute an example of a dystopia? On the other hand, what is meant by the term "utopian"? If you have seen Black Panther, how is Wakanda an example of a utopia?
How does the art direction (sets, costumes, props) reflect the director's creative vision in Mute? How does the director use those elements to help illuminate the characters and their behavior, as well as the mood and culture of the city?
If you are a fan of Paul Rudd, how did you feel about his portrayal of Cactus Bill? Did it surprise you? How did his usual comedic persona add to the unexpectedness of this role?
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