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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 bring 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 in the blink of an 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 re-creates 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 also loses 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?
- In theaters: March 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: June 25, 2019
- Cast: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke
- Director: James Kent
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Self-control
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images
- Last updated: November 13, 2019
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