A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that several of the main characters are killed in this film, mostly by shooting. One character catches on fire. The students of Bunker Hill Academy get into a fistfight with local kids who gay-bait them, calling them "queers," "fag," and "faggot." The film's graphic violence may be too much for sensitive or younger viewers. Brian's father hits him. Brian leads his peers into a siege and battle with adults, doing what he thinks is right, but with fatal consequences.
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What's the story?
Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) is excitedly preparing for his senior year at Bunker Hill Military Academy. He's been appointed the cadet major -- the highest-ranking student at the academy. He should be on top of the world, but the world is changing. People look at the academy and its students as an "anachronism" and insane, explains General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott). "It is insane to cling to honor in a world where honor is held in contempt," he intones. So when the board of trustees decides to sell the school to real estate developers, Brian takes it on himself to lead his peers in the battle to save the school. But can Brian handle the responsibility? Can he carry out Bache's call to save the school? Will adults bargain with a teenager? And can he gain the other soldiers' respect?
Is it any good?
Few films capture what it means to play at war -- and to experience a real battle -- than TAPS, which is a brilliant tragedy. Director Harold Becker and writer Robert Mark Kamen thoroughly explore what war meant in 1981. After all, in 1981, there was no serious war underway in the U.S. War was not an immediate, tangible thing to most Americans. Instead, the war at Bunker Hill is theoretical and ideological. It's an idea borne of the culture wars, where the noblesse of the military contrasts sharply with the crassness of the outside world -- or so it seems.
As the film progresses, it seems to question everything it sets up in the first half, challenging viewers to consider whether this battle is worth fighting to the death, juxtaposing the "playing at war" with the reality of a military battle, with deserters, sanctions, and fatalities.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what this movie is really saying about war. What does Brian, who's only 17 himself, think war is, and how does that compare to its reality? For families with children in the service or a history of military service, this film is a great opportunity to talk about how accurate it is. What's the battle here? Is it worth dying for? What cause would you die for?
- In theaters: September 25, 1981
- On DVD or streaming: September 12, 2006
- Cast: Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise
- Director: Harold Becker
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 126 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: violence, bloodshed, and thematic intensity.
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