A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Game is a 1997 psychological thriller starring Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker whose ne'er-do-well brother gives him a strange gift for his 48th birthday: a live-action "game" that seems more dangerous and destructive than anything else. Suicide is a recurring theme; there's a grainy image of the lead character's father committing suicide by jumping off a roof, and the character himself attempts suicide. There's frequent profanity, including "f--k" and "s--t." An explicitly sexual movie plays in a hotel room in which there's also cocaine on a mirror and dozens of sexually suggestive Polaroids. There is frequent peril: The main character is driven off a dock into a bay by a cab driver, is pursued by machine-gun-wielding mercenaries, and has no idea what's really happening to him and why until the very end.
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What's the story?
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who is also an emotionally vacant loner trying to ignore his 48th birthday -- he's now the same age his father was when he committed suicide. His brother Conrad (Sean Penn) -- a dissipating drug addict in and out of rehab -- gives him an unusual birthday present: an invitation to experience an unusual "game" offered by a shadowy company called Consumer Recreation Services, or CRS. Eventually, Van Orton's curiosity outweighs his skepticism, and he meets with CRS, where he takes an exhaustive body of physical and psychological tests. This meeting precipitates a seemingly endless succession of horrible events, events that muddy the line between fact and fiction, as Van Orton tries to figure out who CRS really is as his life begins to unravel. Van Orton must find out who is behind this "game" and why they're after him.
Is it any good?
While the movie's excesses at times feel ludicrous, no one can deny that The Game is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining movie with many unexpected twists and turns. Once "the game" gets started, the action is unrelenting, delirious, and frenzied, and within the world of this movie, the lines between reality and fiction become so blurred, nothing seems quite real, and yet nothing seems impossible either.
While some of the satire on society, as well as the self-satisfied message about the meaning of life, hasn't aged well, the action of the story itself is as much an exercise of the brain as it is a release of adrenaline. In fact, questioning how the different scenarios might have possibly been pulled off by the shadowy organization that is putting Van Orton through the proverbial wringer is as much a "game" as the game played in the movie itself. For this reason alone, it's a movie that's just as easy for some to hate as it is for others to love, but no matter the opinion, The Game is an unforgettable experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about psychological thrillers. What were the expected plot twists to this movie, and where did it go in directions you didn't anticipate?
What does "suspension of disbelief" mean, and how does that idea play into the overall story of this movie?
How were sex and violence used in this movie? Were the instances necessary to the story? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: September 12, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: August 27, 2002
- Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger
- Director: David Fincher
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: For language, and for some violence and sexuality.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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