O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • Review Date: May 7, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2000
  • Running Time: 106 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Teens might enjoy this offbeat Odyssey adaptation.
  • Review Date: May 7, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2000
  • Running Time: 106 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

This film reminds viewers that nostalgia cannot be used to conceal the truth. What appears to be a comic, light-hearted look at the U.S. South almost a century ago in fact uses satire and irony to reveal the deep-seated racism, corruption, and amorality rampant at that time and in that place.

Positive role models

No one is safe from the Coen brothers’ jaded perspective in this movie. People in politics, commerce, the arts, law enforcement, and religion are all painted with broad strokes as unscrupulous, conscienceless, and illiterate. Even the heroes of the story have a very thin moral code.


All action is exaggerated and cartoonish. Characters fall out of a train; get trapped in a burning barn, crash through a wall of fire, engage in fist fights, and are involved in numerous vehicle accidents. The heroes are fired at with an automatic rifle, whacked in the head with a tree branch, whipped, threatened with hanging, and forced to rob a bank. The Ku Klux Klan captures an African-American musician and drags him toward a noose. A villain squashes a toad in his bare hand.


In one scene, mythical sirens dressed in very little clothing beckon the heroes and begin a seduction which concludes off-camera.


Frequent swearing and harsh language throughout. Multiple uses of: "damn," "Goddamnit," "son-of-a-bitch" (also pronounced "sumbitch"), "hell," "whore," "ass," "fornicate," "Jesus." Ethnic slurs are heard often: "colored," "nigra," "darkies," "Jews," "crackers," etc.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One character chews a cigar. A flask that may contain alcohol is passed.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this comedy with its outlandish characters, infectious musical score, and slapstick action sequences has multiple levels of appeal. As for issues of concern for teens -- there are lots of swear words ("son-of-a-bitch," "hell’s bells," "whore, and "Goddamnit"), many racial slurs ("nigras," "crackers," "darkies"), and a mind-bending Ku Klux Klan musical sequence. Characters (and a few animals) are frequently in jeopardy: trapped in a burning barn, beaten with a tree branch, threatened with hanging, shot at, chased, and more. The racial satire may provoke questions about the United States' history of racism that parents should be prepared to discuss.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

This Coen brothers' venture is based in part on the Odyssey. But this Ulysses is no war hero from ancient Greece. It is America during the Depression, and Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is a prisoner on a Mississippi chain gang. He persuades the two men chained to him, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) to escape so they can get a hidden treasure. They make their way home, meeting up with an assortment of oddball characters, including bank-robbing legend George "Babyface" Nelson. They get some money by singing for a man who records bluegrass. They cross paths with two bitter rivals for the governor's office -- incumbent Governor Menelaus "Pass the Biscuits" Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning) and his cronies all have huge bellies, with pants that reach to their chests to be held by suspenders. Opponent Homer Stokes sells himself as a man of the little people who wants to clean house, and he makes campaign appearances with a midget and a broom to show that he means it. McGill and his friends do their best to evade the sheriff and make their way home, amidst washed-out landscapes.

Is it any good?


Like the Odyssey, the Ulysses of O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is trying to get home to his wife before she marries one of her suitors. There are other echoes to that classic saga, from a blind seer who predicts that they will not find the treasure they seek to a one-eyed villain and three singing sirens to distract the travelers from their journey. As always, the Coen brothers present an array of quirky characters with faces closer to gargoyles and caricatures than to Hollywood prettiness. And there is the offbeat dialogue -- when Delmar, just baptized, says he has been saved by Jesus and a black guitar player says he just sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, McGill replies, "Well, I guess I'm the only one who remains unaffiliated."

This is a lighter story than many of the Coens' previous movies, which makes it easy to forgive the parts that don't work very well, especially when we have the pleasure of the year's finest soundtrack, sheer bluegrass joy.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the story of the Odyssey. How does this movie transform the original story?

  • Talk about the symbolism of fire and water throughout the movie. What do you think it means?

  • What is the United States' history of racism and how have things changed (or not) over time?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 22, 2000
DVD release date:June 12, 2001
Cast:George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson
Directors:Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Studio:Touchstone Pictures
Run time:106 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some language and violence

This review of O Brother, Where Art Thou? was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written byParamoreFan09 May 7, 2010
This movie is good... kinda weird... I remember my dad and my friend's dad sang the "I'm a man of constant sorrow" song at a karaoke party before I knew this movie and put on fake beards and my and my friend ran away screaming... it was so embarrassing! I probably would have enjoyed their little soggy bottom boys nod more if I knew the movie... I watched it for the first time last night and i thought it was weird but there was some funny stuff. I love George Clooney and Holly Hunter, and I knew those stars from Raising Arizona, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Incredibles, so it was fun. The KKK scene is creepy....... and for violence, kids can have their parents tell them when to shut their eyes. :) Very entertaining!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old March 25, 2010

Mixed Reviews: What to look out for, and what to looks forward too.

I personally love the movie, but I do think that there are a few concerns: It can be a little rough for children under the age of 10, the violence may be too much for them. Sexual behavior, when they stop the car to find the sirens may not be very suitable for children. Language, there are several words to watch out for during the movie. Role models, they aren't great role models as Goerge Clooney escaped from prison and lied to his friends. I presonally LOVe the movie, but wouldn't show it ages under 10 or 11. Great music and actors
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written bykostas January 7, 2009


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Common Sense Kids Action