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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Dig is a drama based on John Preston's historical novel about the 1939 archeological discovery of Sutton Hoo in England. An air of impending death hangs over the story, both in the sense of England reluctantly joining World War II and in the illness of main character Edith (Carey Mulligan). Viewers understand that her young son will soon be an orphan with potentially no surviving family; it's heartbreaking when he sobs because he believes that it was his responsibility to "look after his mother." The film's messages, though, are more about curiosity, teamwork, and legacy -- the idea that our actions can stand the test of time. The "stiff upper lip" attitude of pre-war-England lends itself to creating emotionally reserved characters. Parents may want to use the opportunity to discuss how characters successfully persuade others by using calm, tactfully delivered words. All of this properness means that some iffy content may go over younger viewers' heads: You have to be able to read between the lines to realize that a married man is feeling attracted to another man -- or realize that his wife is making a sexual overture. Expect brief partial female nudity (the most sensitive areas are covered) and a moment of passion that leads to sex. Scenes of peril include a character being buried alive and a plane crash (off camera); character also smoke both pipes and cigarettes frequently, which is accurate for the era.
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What's the story?
Based on real events (which were dramatized in John Preston's historical novel), THE DIG follows wealthy widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) as she hires amateur archeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate what appear to be ancient burial mounds on her countryside property in Suffolk, England. As the country prepares to enter World War II -- and Pretty's health declines -- they hasten to complete the project.
Is it any good?
Graceful, restrained, and eloquent: The tone, aesthetic, and delivery of this drama match that of its aristocratic main character. Magnificently well-woven, the complexities of the story also resemble the excavation -- it's slow and steady, and we must keep brushing away the dust and pay close attention to slight details to discover the inner lives of the subjects. Intense feelings are bubbling under the surface but never expressed. Even the slights and jabs directed at gender and class are understated.
While little is said in The Dig, much is understood ... and yet it's hard to distinguish exactly what it's trying to say. Gentle whispers that we live on through our actions blow around like dandelion fuzz, contrasting sharply with the abundance of blatant metaphors. For example, a short time after Brown speaks with Edith about potential riches to be found buried in the mound, the dirt collapses on him, and she digs him out -- yep, Mr. Brown is the real treasure here. Less obvious is director Simon Stone's choice to play dialogue over scenes in which the characters are shown not speaking. Once or twice, sure. But used repeatedly, the device becomes disconcerting. Still, The Dig is artful, elegant, and educational. All of this may sound enticing if you're an adult, but expect kids to be a bit confounded by the nuance. Reading between the lines isn't usually the strong suit of the young, and so for them to get the most out of the film, this is a gem that may need to stay undiscovered until they're a tad older.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how we can be comforted by legacy while dealing with loss. Is there a right or a wrong way to grieve?
How do the characters in The Dig demonstrate restraint? Imagine this story being told as a reality show: How would it be different? In comparing the two, how is self-control an important tool in accomplishing a goal?
How is this a team effort? Did the professional crew add value to the excavation? And how did Basil Brown and his team add value once the museum's experienced team came in? Why is teamwork an important life skill?
Young Robert cries because he believes he's failed to "look after his mother." Why do you think well-meaning people say things like this or "you're the man of the house now" to children after parental loss? Can that do more harm than good?
Carey Mulligan, who's in her mid-30s, plays Edith Pretty at 56. And 50-year-old Ben Chaplin plays Stuart Piggott at 29. Female actors often say that fewer parts become available to them as they age, while male actors tend to work more as they age. Do you consider this movie's casting ageist or age blind?
- In theaters: January 15, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: January 29, 2021
- Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James
- Director: Simon Stone
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Teamwork
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief sensuality and partial nudity
- Last updated: February 4, 2021
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