A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dreamy drama -- which depicts a fisherman with a fragile grip on his sobriety who is caring for his ailing child -- features some pretty intense subject matter involving big issues like happiness, love, and redemption that are not tween or young teen territory. An elementary-school-aged child is a central character, and she is wise beyond her years and encounters unfortunate situations. Her mother drinks constantly, and though she clearly cares for her daughter, she doesn’t seem to have any intention of stopping. There are just a few swear words (“s--t” and “f--k”) and a disturbing scene where a gunman takes aim at a character. But the film also has a message of hope and redemption.
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What's the story?
On the wagon for two years and seven months, Irish fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrell) wonders if he’s lost in a dream when, one day, he pulls a woman, Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), from the sea in his fishing net. His daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), who’s suffering from kidney failure, thinks she’s a selkie, a mythical, part-mermaid, part-seal creature that sheds its skin to walk among humans. But is she? She appears to bring Syracuse luck -- when she sings, his pots and nets reel in tons of lobsters and salmon -- even though luck isn’t something he finds often. Soon enough, Syracuse discovers who she really is, and what she’s all about, prompting him to struggle with his own identity and destiny.
Is it any good?
This is a puzzling, interesting though ultimately unsatisfying film by Neil Jordan. “Misery is easy; happiness, you have to work at,” says the priest who ministers to Farrell’s Syracuse; that’s the essential truth that ONDINE, a fable-like drama, attempts to uncork. What’s unequivocal: Jordan’s genius at crafting a mood, painted here with mindful pacing, a haunting Sigur Ros tune, and broody grays and maroons with the help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. For most of the movie, the audience is in a haze: Is Ondine real, or is she, as Syracuse’s precocious daughter, played formidably by Barry, calls “wish fulfillment”? (Farrell and Barry, by the way, demonstrate such a wonderful rapport, enlivening their father-daughter dynamic.)
It’s when the film attempts to answer that question for real that Ondine loses its magic. (Isn’t that often the case with fables?) All of a sudden, it’s all too grounded in grit. While the juxtaposition makes for some interesting dramatic swerves, the earlier, less clarified storyline still intrigues. Like a siren call, it beckons. It’s a pity the filmmakers ignored it for the sake of reality.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fairy tale nature of the film. Why is Ondine’s existence set up like a fairy tale? Why is it important for Annie to think Ondine’s a selkie? What other movies use fairy tales as a basis for their stories?
Talk about fatherhood. What kind of father is Syracuse? Is he similar to or different from other onscreen dads? What are some stereotypes about fathers? And how does the media (movies and TV, especially) contribute to these stereotypes?
What did you think about the drinking in the movie? Did you notice any cultural differences with the way drinking was considered or portrayed by the characters? What does Syracuse's struggle with sobriety tell you about his character?
For kids who love romantic tales
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