Powder

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Powder Movie Poster Image
'90s sci-fi fantasy has violence, cursing.
  • PG-13
  • 1995
  • 111 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

We can learn from people who are different from us if we take the time to look past the differences. We are all connected to each other and to everything.

 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jeremy is an orphan whose mother died after being struck by lightning while she was pregnant with him.

Violence

A pregnant woman and a man both get hit by lightning. Jeremy attracts electrical impulses. TVs explode when he is around. Bullies threaten Jeremy, rip his clothes off, and push him around. A boy is threatened by someone with a rifle. A deer is shot to death. A woman dies of a long illness.

Sex

A girl kisses a boy. A boy watches a shirtless boy pour water over his head and chest.

Language

"S--t," "hell," frickin'," "f--got," "ass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Powder is a 1995 sci-fi spiritual drama about a magical albino teenager hidden from the world until the death of his guardians brings him to the state's attention. What starts as a heartfelt story about a person with obvious differences turns into a supernatural tale about someone with extrasensory gifts, a freakishly high IQ, electromagnetic powers that allow him to move things without touching them, and the ability to help people communicate nonverbally. Parallels to the Christ story, including sacrifice in the face of pain and betrayal, are obvious. Bullies attack the pacifist boy, while townspeople shun him. People are struck by lightning and threatened with guns. A deer is shot. A woman dies after a long illness. Two teenagers kiss. Language includes "s--t," "hell," "f--got," "ass," and "frickin'."  

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What's the story?

POWDER is the nickname of Jeremy (Sean Patrick Flanery), a light-sensitive, white-skinned, hairless recluse who has reached his teen years without ever going to school or having any friends. The grandparents who raised him were afraid to touch him because electricity tends to run through him in deadly amounts. Totally isolated, he reads and memorizes thousands of books, invents mechanical gizmos, and thinks deep thoughts. When his grandfather dies of natural causes, the police discover the guy neighbors have called a "phantom" because of Jeremy's habit of staying out of the daylight. A well-meaning psychologist (Mary Steenburgen) who works at the local state-run boys' school takes him to live at the school, where he's immediately bullied. He stands up to threats by saying nothing and performing frightening tricks: making silverware move and absorbing lethal amounts of electricity. He discovers how brutal people are as he watches a man shoot down an innocent deer for the sheer pleasure of it. He punishes the shooter by touching the deer at the same time as grabbing the man's arm, a process that forces the man to feel the death pains of the deer and leads the man to give up shooting for good. He helps an uncommunicative dying woman tell her husband that she can only die if he promises to reconcile with their estranged son. And he gives hope to a science teacher (Jeff Goldblum), who offers Jeremy his friendship.

Is it any good?

While the good performances are often affecting and absorbing, this movie can't really decide whether it wants to be sci-fi or drama, allegorical or realistic. Heartfelt explorations of universal feelings often outweigh some of Powder's weaknesses. The movie boils down to a familiar formula: A stranger in a strange land or a space alien lost on Earth struggles to find his way. Think of Starman or Brother from Another Planet. Whether this is meant to be sci-fi, an allegory for a Christ-like figure who is simply too good and too decent to live, or a realistic narrative about how cruel people can be to those of us who are different, performances by Henriksen, Flanery, and Goldblum are deeply moving enough to reach down into viewers' hearts.

Sometimes the movie gets all the emotions absolutely right and audiences will be deeply touched. Other times, self-seriousness gets the better of the script to the degree that the mood is nearly ruined. The most unintentionally funny line of the movie is uttered by someone from the state education bureaucracy when confronted by test scores that are off the charts: "You have the most advanced intellect in the history of humankind," the actor says to a guy wearing white body paint and eyeliner. Most of the time Flanery, however appealing as the title character, looks more like a street mime than a genetically challenged boy. Plus, if he is hairless, how come he has eyelashes? Just asking.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why so many of us are afraid of anyone who looks or acts differently. Why do you think differences threaten people?

  • The main character rarely fights back when bullies threaten him, in a sense "turning the other cheek," as Christian doctrine advises. What other parallels in Powder make the movie seem like a Christ allegory?

  • What would you do to help someone as isolated and sad as the main character here?

Movie details

For kids who love fantasy

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