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The Aftermath

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Aftermath Movie Poster Image
Lingerie and tears shed in morally complex historical drama.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 109 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Compassion and self-control are key to the story. Clear message that, even when there's a victory, no one wins in war. On the other hand, implies that infidelity is a method of moving forward out of emotional pain.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters aren't clearly/all good or bad; they're very complex. Col. Morgan is a war hero, a British officer who helped bring an end to World War II and who demonstrates compassion to the German people as he helps rebuild their lives. But he's haunted by the terrible wartime actions he participated in, even though he believes they were necessary.

Violence

Close-ups of men being shot, their wounds graphic and gushing in blood. Bloodied, dead bodies lie on the ground, sometimes in burned skeletal form. A chaotic protest shows rough shoving; one character receives a head wound. Images of concentration victims during WWII, both alive and emaciated and lying dead in heaps. Conversations about acts of violence during the war. A gun is pointed at a Nazi perpetrator. 

Sex

Several intense, passionate sex scenes with nudity (both from afar and close up) between a couple, one of whom is married to someone else. A woman frequently wears negligees. A married couple flirts and makes plans to have sex. A teen girl is aroused when she sees a teen boy shirtless; later, they kiss, and it's implied they've had sex.

Language

One use of "f--k."

Consumerism

A Steinway piano is depicted as aspirational/the best brand of piano.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of smoking; one character says her doctor advised her to start to help calm her nerves. A teen begins smoking to make a romantic connection with a boy. A cigarette case is a plot point. Drinking among adults is consistent but not excessive; it's used to socialize, to celebrate, and to anesthetize.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Aftermath is a historical drama based on a novel by Rhidian Brook about a time shortly after World War II when British troops moved into Hamburg to rebuild it after bombing it into total destruction. Whether you consider the story a romance depends on your perspective, but it's definitely provocative, both in generating moral questions and in displaying lots of sexuality. At times, the sex and sensual nudity feel particularly in your face, as does some of the film's violence (often involving former Nazis) in moments that are designed to be shocking. There are close-ups of men being shot, bloody wounds, concentration camp images, and more. Drinking and historically accurate smoking are a constant in the background. Have your hankies ready: All of the central characters are grieving over the loss of loved ones due to the war. Characters aren't clearly/all good or bad; they're very complex, and the film is an example of the truly catastrophic effects of war -- as well as of the importance of compassion and self-control. Kiera Knightley, Jason Clarke, and Alexander Skarsgård star.

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What's the story?

THE AFTERMATH takes place five months after the end of World War II, as Rachael Morgan (Kiera Knightley) arrives in Hamburg to be reunited with her husband, British Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), who's leading the city's reconstruction efforts. Rather than displacing the German father (Alexander Skarsgård) and daughter (Flora Thiemann) whose estate they're taking over, Col. Morgan allows them to stay -- over Rachael's objections. Unsure whether they're living with friends or with enemies, tensions rise among the unlikely housemates.

Is it any good?

Heart-wrenching performances punctuate this sophisticated, literary film about the messy aftermath of war. The film's title is a broad blanket that addresses the toll a war exacts on a city, a people, and families. Based on the novel by Rhidian Brook, it's a subtle emotional journey played to perfection by a cast who brings their A-game to complicated characters. Clarke's Col. Morgan is a stiff-upper lip war hero who compartmentalizes the horrors he's seen and the loss he's experienced -- but can rip someone's heart out with a flicker of the eye. Knightley is devastating as a woman who's struggling with her grief and loneliness so acutely that you might wish you could give her a hug (and an acting award). The script plays out like a psychology textbook in its most captivating form: Given human need and nature, it seems there was no other way for the dominoes to fall. 

With impressive production design, director James Kent recreates 1945 Hamburg and a situation few have likely considered: What was it like following the end of World War II, when the very people who razed a city to the ground had to live among the survivors to give them aid? Which of course, isn't the same thing as comfort -- and that's part of the complexity the viewer is forced to contemplate. What was the right thing to do? Could someone trust their former enemy? Is an entire nation responsible for the actions of its government? Can a person be complicit to evil and still be "good"? While parents may want to steer younger teens away from the film because of its mature visuals, The Aftermath concretely portrays the idea that, no matter which side claims victory, there's no winner in war.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Aftermath's message that there are no winners in war. How is that demonstrated? Did the film show you something you didn't already know?

  • Lubert wasn't a Nazi sympathizer, but he didn't stand up to them either, instead focusing on his own family. That costs him his home, his career, and his daughter's respect. Do you think being complicit in not resisting evil makes someone evil as well?

  • Rachael has to confront the idea of living with people she sees as the enemy. Is that prejudice? What helps her to see Lubert and Freda as people? Why do you think Lewis is able to be kind and compassionate to the German people he's been fighting against for years?

  • Lewis, Rachael, and Lubert exert quite a bit of self-control, but each of them also lose control at different times. Discuss the reasons why it was necessary to keep their actions and emotions in check and the episodes that triggered them to show their true feelings. Why is self-control an important character trait? 

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