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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that October Sky is a moving drama based on a true story centers on a very difficult, tense father-son relationship. Ultimately, the movie is about following your dreams, no matter how unachievable they might feel. In one scene, a drunken stepfather beats up one of the main character's friends; there's also some surprisingly strong language for a PG-rated movie (including "s--t") and a few mild sexual references.
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What's the story?
OCTOBER SKY is set in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made orbiting satellite. Thanks to their teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern), Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his high school friends peer up into the clear sky over their tiny West Virginia coal mining town to see its tiny spark drift across the stars. Homer dreams of being a rocket scientist. His father, John (Chris Cooper), the mine supervisor, does not understand Homer's longing for a wider horizons. But others do. Miss Riley roots for "the unlucky ones." Homer's mother who covers the kitchen wall with a mural of the seascape she longs to see. Homer's friends are glad to be a part of something new and important, and the community is proud to have a hero.
Is it any good?
This true story of a boy from a small town who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist is one the best films of the past year and one of the best family movies ever made. We know from the beginning where the story is going, just as we knew with Rocky. The triumph of the underdog is one of literature's most enduring themes. As long as it is done well, audiences are happy to go along. It is never done better than it is here in October Sky. The script, the production design, and the acting are all superb.
Gyllenhaal's expressive eyes show his simultaneous longing for the stars and for his father's approval. Cooper makes a role that could have been a one-dimensional tyrant multi-layered and complex, even sympathetic. Plot twists that might seem heavy-handed or melodramatic work because we know they really happened, and because these characters make us believe. We care so deeply about them that when we see real home movie footage of the real-life Homer's experiments we feel as though they are a part of our family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how in October Sky, Homer, not a great student and not especially strong in math, becomes so inspired by an idea that he begins to think in new ways. Has that ever happened to you?
Why it was hard for John to support Homer's ambitions? Why did his mother see it differently? Do you think Homer made the right choice in going to work in the mine -- and in leaving it?
How does the movie portray the way that "nerds" are treated in school? Do you think people are evaluated differently in school from how they are once they get out?
- In theaters: February 21, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: July 27, 1999
- Cast: Chris Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern
- Director: Joe Johnston
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: STEM, History, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: language, brief teen sensuality and alcohol use, and for some thematic elements
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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