Robinson Crusoe (1997)

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Robinson Crusoe (1997) Movie Poster Image
Adaptation of novel about shipwrecked man has violence.
  • PG-13
  • 1997
  • 91 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Skin color doesn't determine whether a man has decency, intelligence, or loyalty.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Crusoe duels a friend but refuses to kill him when he has the chance. Crusoe starts with all the prejudices of his British world and his class, and immediately tries to enslave Friday, a friendly black man he meets while shipwrecked on an island. Forced to acknowledge the new friend's humanity and worthiness, Crusoe stops trying to impose his own religious views on the man. Eventually he learns that decency, intelligence, and loyalty aren't traits reserved for the British alone. Friday is intelligent, resourceful, brave, and loyal.
 

Violence

Crusoe duels a friend over a woman but refuses to kill his opponent when he has the chance. The man comes after him from behind and fatally impales himself on Crusoe's sword. Later, Crusoe is forced to battle another friend and refuses to kill him when he has the chance. Tribesmen perform human sacrifices and wage war against perceived enemies. Men are stabbed, shot by arrows and bullets, and blown up. A terrible storm destroys a ship and kills all men on board but one.

Sex

Tribesmen wear loincloths that expose their buttocks, and tribeswomen's breasts are seen briefly. A woman drops her robe and she is seen naked from behind briefly. A man and woman kiss.

Language

"Bastard" and "black heathen."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Robinson Crusoe is the 1997 version of the Daniel Defoe classic novel with a backdrop of 18th century white supremacy and imperialism. A white man brings his prejudices against dark-skinned "heathens" with him when he's shipwrecked on a remote island. His encounter and eventual friendship with an island tribe member changes his views, allowing him to love and appreciate the goodness, intelligence, and decency of a black man. A ferocious storm destroys a ship and drowns many men. A man dies by sword, and others are shot, stabbed, and blown up. Human sacrifices are seen. Tribesmen wear loincloths that expose their buttocks, and tribeswomen's breasts are seen briefly. A woman drops her robe and she's seen naked from behind briefly. "Bastard" is heard.

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What's the story?

The title character of Daniel Defoe's 1717 novel, ROBINSON CRUSOE (Pierce Brosnan), is an educated Scot whose fortunes disappear just as he's about to marry his longtime love, Mary (Polly Walker). When she's forcibly betrothed to Crusoe's friend, a duel ensues, and the friend dies, impaled on a sword. Fearing reprisals, Crusoe takes to the sea, promising to return to his waiting Mary in a year. A storm destroys the ship and Crusoe survives, spending the next six years on a remote island. He gathers tools, weapons, and supplies from the hull of his ship and uses ingenuity and his wits to make a life. When he stumbles on a violent tribe making human sacrifices, he fires on the killers and saves a man (William Takaku) from death. He names the man Friday and, shockingly, chains him up. As Crusoe recognizes Friday's intelligence and other gifts, he sees the absurdity of his biased views and the horror of slavery. Although it seems he's learned his lesson about the emptiness of white superiority, he still tries to force Christianity on Friday. Friday's convictions about his own god persuade Crusoe that there may be more than one way to look at the world and to explain the mysteries of life. The violent tribe attacks Crusoe and Friday repeatedly, but together they use their wits and bullets and gun powder to beat the intruders back. Eventually the men are captured and forced by a tribe to fight a duel to the death. Spoiler alert: Crusoe again refuses to kill a friend in a duel, but white slavers, thinking they are rescuing a fellow white man, kill Friday. They enslave the tribe and bring Crusoe back to Europe.

Is it any good?

This movie is highly watchable, owing to performances by the likable Brosnan and Takaku, the latter in the much more difficult role. Takaku manages to convey dignity and morality using the broken English Friday learns from Crusoe. At first it feels shocking that after Crusoe's bitter longing for human company, the minute someone shows up, he puts the man in chains. But the story is redeemed by Crusoe's own redemption, as he admits the absurdity of holding onto preconceived notions that evidence contradicts.

Older kids and teens may be attracted by the exciting premise of Robinson Crusoe, but know there's quite a bit of violence. Families who watch will certainly find much to discuss together.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how remarkable it is that some white people continue to hold the kind of prejudices against those with darker skin that are displayed in Robinson Crusoe. Why do you think these stereotypes and biases persist?

  • Crusoe gives the tribesman an English name, and then introduces himself not by the name Robinson Crusoe, but by the title "master." What does it tell you about Crusoe's understanding of indigenous peoples that he would immediately assume the man was going to be his servant?

  • Defoe's novel was popular in its time and today it lives on as a novel and in several movie versions. Why do you think it still appeals to readers and viewers?

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