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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Though strong-willed and independent, Antoine is neither a "good" nor a "bad" boy, and definitely does things that are not to be imitated, like stealing and running away from home. While he seldom intentionally hurts people, he seems to be missing a sense of right and wrong in pursuit of his own goals -- when Antoine copies a paper in his homework to get a much-desired good grade, he does it so flagrantly that you wonder if he even has any awareness that he's cheating. Mothers, fathers, teachers, and authority figures are generally shown as impatient, distracted, and ill-equipped for guidance. Only other boys in the peer-group seem to exhibit loyalty and true friendship with each other.
Violence & Scariness
Antoine is slapped once.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A husband playfully grabs his wife's (fully clothed) breasts. The boy hero is asked by a psychologist if he's had sex (he replies frankly no, but some friends of his have). Mention of out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
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"S--t" and "a--hole" appear in some subtitled translations.
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Products & Purchases
References made to mid-century French films, books, and diversions, likely to be lost on modern audiences.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Much smoking in young Antoine's family, and the boy himself surreptitiously rolls his own handmade cigarettes. Underage drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the 12-year-old boy at the center of this French-language drama is a budding juvenile delinquent who lies, steals, smokes, swears (in subtitles), and repeatedly runs away from home. The plain, unsentimental filmmaking style neither condemns nor glorifies his misdeeds, and there are no easy solutions offered, with an especially big question mark at the end. The parents in the film are depicted as ineffective, and Antoine's mother in particular is an adulterous, immature type. A psychological interrogation briefly brings up topics of sex and abortion. Viewers dying to know what happens to Antoine after the final scene can track the same character's young adulthood in several subsequent Francois Truffaut movies. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This movie's excellent, though a bit heavy for younger kids. In his memoir The Film Club, writer David Gilmour tells how he tried to make his own teen son sit through The 400 Blows; the boy would only do it if he got to watch the softcore "erotic thriller" Basic Instinct as a reward -- practically an Antoine Doinel moment right there. The Francois Truffaut classic (the illustrious filmmaker's first feature, drawing upon events from his own early life) is revered by older critics like Gilmour even though its virtues might be harder to appreciate for 21st-century kids, who have seen their alienation, school violence, and family dysfunction dramatized much more graphically than did audiences of 1959 (Truffaut doesn't even use that easy symbol of rebellion, rock-and-roll music).
Still, there is quiet power in the stoic way Antoine confronts life's challenges and never sheds a tear despite his seemingly disastrous choices. While not self-pitying, Antoine seems sensitized to the idea that he's all on his own -- that lot of inexperienced parents have kids when they shouldn't, and he is one of the casualties. Returning to collaborate with actor Jean-Pierre Leaud over the years, Truffaut made series of movies, both short subjects and features, following Doinel through manhood and his own bittersweet, failed marriage. These are also on DVD, though not as easy to find as The 400 Blows.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.