Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Silkwood Movie Poster Image
Disturbing tale of corporate greed, nuclear danger, courage.
  • R
  • 1983
  • 131 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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

Positive Messages

Though the outcome is not a happy one, this film proves that one individual speaking out and acting on behalf of a larger group is necessary, admirable, and may require great courage. High on the list of desirable traits portrayed are: taking risks for the safety of others, questioning authority, and providing unconditional love and support for people who are doing the right thing. On the negative side, corporate interests are not to be trusted, depicted as callous, unethical, and perhaps criminal. Additional themes include communication, curiosity, and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Karen Silkwood, though unconventional and flawed, proves to be a newly enlightened woman who battles ignorance, corruption, exploitation of the work force, and the ruthlessness of the powerful. She is able to influence only a very few of her fearful, complacent, or unwilling co-workers, but she refuses to give up even when faced with great bodily harm. Karen is a stellar example of someone who has few resources at hand, but uses her intelligence, tenacity, and sense of justice to shake up an unfair, dangerous system. Union representatives are shown as cautious, patronizing, but finally helpful. Not a single member of the corporate hierarchy displays any positive behavior.


Four separate sequences show women being "decontaminated" by undergoing painful, dehumanizing cleansing treatments: scouring, scrubbing, high pressure hosing. One unanswered punch is thrown. There are two car accidents: in one, a deer is hit and the occupant of the car is slightly injured; in the second, the tragic aftermath is shown briefly.


In several romantic scenes, a man and woman in love engage in kissing, embracing, some foreplay, with one off-camera suggestion of oral sex. A teasing flash of female breast is played as humor. One leading character is involved in a lesbian relationship, but none of the couple's sexual activity is shown.


Occasional language includes: "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "bulls--t," "motherf--ker," "Goddamn," "asshole," "pecker." Slurs used are: "dyke," "gook," and a negative reference to a "colored person."


Coca Cola and Coors beer are frequently consumed to indicate lifestyle choices. Other brands mentioned or seen: ex-lax, Wonder Bread, Lone Star beer, Rice-a-Roni, American Airlines.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Set in the early 1970s multiple characters drink beer in scene after scene and smoke throughout. Three characters share a marijuana cigarette, and availability of pot is discussed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, above all, Silkwood is a very sad and disturbing movie about corporate greed and class difference that tells an inspirational story. There is occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "asshole," "bitch," and more, as well as a few slurs: "dyke," "gook." Sexual scenes are presented as loving expressions of feeling and include kissing, embracing, and, except for one brief flash of breast, no nudity. Smoking and beer drinking are continuous and there is one scene in which characters share a marijuana cigarette.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMichael O. September 22, 2017

Realistic and intriguing

Language 7/10

Violence 1/10

Sex 6/10

Nudity 7/10 - Full female nudity shown during horrifying "decontamination shower"; Streep flashes her bare bre... Continue reading
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bycolten97 October 10, 2012

It is worth the time!

After watching Silkwood, I became fascinated and mesmerized by the true story behind it. I read the book, bought A&E biography video, and the History Ch... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Karen SILKWOOD (Meryl Streep in a remarkable performance), working class and struggling, is exposed to radiation poisoning while employed in a Kerr-McGee plutonium facility in Oklahoma, 1973. As she becomes increasingly aware of the dangers to her life and to the health of her co-workers, supervisors at the plant become suspicious of her involvement with union organizers. Karen's relationships with her lover, Drew (Kurt Russell at his best) and close friend, Dolly (Golden Globe winner Cher) falter as she is forced to fight alone against the sinister corporate powers who own them all.

Is it any good?

For adults and teens who are inspired by such thought-provoking and inspirational stories, this is a welcome and memorable viewing experience, though a disturbing and sad one as well. Never-resolved controversy surrounded the life and death of Karen Silkwood. Mike Nichols, along with a talented creative team, took highly sensitive material, uniformly moving performances, and issues that still resonate with the public, and delivered an outstanding and timeless motion picture.

For adults and teens who are inspired by such thought-provoking and inspirational stories, Silkwood is a welcome and memorable viewing experience, though a disturbing and sad one as well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fact that Silkwood is based on a true story. What resources are available that might help you learn more about Karen Silkwood's life and might verify the facts as they've been presented? 

  • The filmmakers made an effort to show many sides of Karen Silkwood. When a character is portrayed as imperfect, does that heighten his or her believability? Why?

  • Some movies have a definite political point-of-view. Talk about the several issues of concern to the filmmakers in Silkwood. Which of these issues might be relevant today? 

  • How does Karen Silkwood demonstrate curiosity and communication? What about perseverance and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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