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 award-winning drama depicts a mentally ill lead character who, as his dementia descends, behaves inappropriately with the opposite sex (groping womens' breasts impulsively) and sometimes goes out partially naked in public. In a discreetly shot scene he deliberately fouls a bathtub with human waste (inspring the script's lone swear word: "s--t"). There is frequent smoking and some drinking (and a glimpse of nearly nude go-go dancers in a London nite club).
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What's the story?
We first see the adult David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) as a rumpled schizophrenic, living semi-assisted in a boardinghouse in modern Australia, compulsively mumbling in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Flashbacks show he's the music-prodigy son Peter Helfgott (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a Polish Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust, left coldly possessive and distrustful regarding his star son. Peter can be a nice dad to his other, less talented children, but to young David (Noah Taylor) he's a demanding tyrant, driving the boy to win high-profile piano competitions and master a notoriously difficult Rachmaninoff concerto. David disobeys his father to accept a music scholarship in faraway London, getting himself forever banished from the Helfgott household. Even away from his father David's social isolation and instability worsens, and he suffers a mental breakdown. Returning to Australia, David is in and out of mental institutions, but when he proves his virtuoso piano-playing prowess in a bar one night he gets a gig as a saloon entertainer. Marrying a warm-hearted astrologer (Lynn Redgrave), David ultimately returns to the concert stage.
Is it any good?
Shine is anchored by terrific performances, especially the award-winning star turn by Rush. This is not just a clinical lab-coat study of a true case of mental illness, therapy, and treatments; it's also a positive affirmation that even "crazy street people" possess humanity, emotions, and intricate family histories beyond the surface pathologies. Even a certain lack of third-act complications -- David seems to ease from the margins back into the mainstream with the incredibly patient assistance of nurturing ladies, restaurateurs, and social workers -- doesn't detract from the uplifting message that such disadvantaged people can still have value. The real-life piano playing of Helfgott is heard on the soundtrack, and the musician has since issued recordings of the Rachmaninoff music key to the plot.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mental illness. Did Shine change any opinions? How does the movie explain Davis' illness? Does the explanation ring true to you?
Is Peter Helgott just a terrible stage dad, or does his mania for controlling and restricting David have other motivations besides showbiz fame? Talk about other dysfunctional parental figures in the media.
How have movies generally depicted and/or stigmatized madness?
Look into the story of the real-life David Helfgott. Did the movie exaggerate, exploit, or whitewash?
- In theaters: November 20, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: July 16, 1997
- Cast: Geoffrey Rush, John Gielgud, Lynn Redgrave
- Director: Scott Hicks
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: nudity/sensuality and intense thematic elements
- Last updated: January 10, 2011
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