The House I Live In

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The House I Live In Movie Poster Image
Powerful film takes aim at the U.S. War on Drugs.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The House I Live In presents some sobering and shocking facts about the United States' war on drugs. Calling attention to these ideas raises hope that we can make changes, and the movie encourages viewers to join the struggle.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though the movie paints a mostly negative picture, many of the participants are activists who believe that change is possible.

Violence

The movie makes reference to the Holocaust and shows the depressing interiors of prisons. Some footage of cops arresting drug "offenders." Very little actual violence is shown, but the overall tone is one of oppression.

Sex
Language

Language is infrequent but includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--holes," "butt," and "genitals."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Though The House I Live In talks heavily about drugs, it isn't actually about drug addiction and only has a few fleeting glimpses of people using drugs (mainly in photographs and archival footage). The movie certainly doesn't encourage using drugs, but it mentions many drugs by name and often shows images of them: pot, cocaine, crack, meth, etc.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The House I Live In is a documentary about the War on Drugs and the enormous toll it's taken on the United States. The film makes the shocking argument that the War on Drugs has turned into a profitable industry -- i.e., building new prisons and hiring guards and police; it also suggests some parallels between the War on Drugs and elements of the Holocaust. It's heavy stuff, but the tone is thoughtful and proactive, and many activists have begun working to turn things around -- and the movie encourages viewers to join the fight. There's some strong language, with a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Hard drugs are discussed at length and shown, though images of people actually using are only seen fleetingly in photographs and archival footage. The movie's content is impactful enough and responsible enough that older teens could handle it -- and in fact, should be encouraged to see it.

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What's the story?

Noted documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (Freakonomics) begins by interviewing his former family housekeeper, Nannie Jeter, and discovering that her family was destroyed by drugs. So he begins investigating the United States' "War on Drugs," learning that it stretches back to Richard Nixon in the early 1970s and has cost some $1 trillion and resulted in 45 million arrests, many of them nonviolent. Interviewing experts and scholars, Jarecki learns that the War on Drugs has turned into a profitable industry, including the building of new prisons and the hiring of guards and police. But perhaps most shockingly, the movie draws comparisons between the racial and class marginalization of the War on Drugs and the Holocaust.

Is it any good?

Eugene Jarecki -- brother of filmmakers Andrew (Capturing the Friedmans) and Nicholas (Arbitrage) -- goes about his bold documentary in just the right way. He begins it with a personal touch. Nannie Jeter's (that's her real name) responses inspire Jarecki to look further into the history of the War on Drugs and its long-term damaging effects on the United States.

From there, driven by a personal impetus, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN turns into taut journalism, building its thesis as new ideas are discovered, and escalating the scale of its storytelling by leaps and bounds. Each new idea comes with a maximum amount of shock and punch, but, happily, the movie's thoughtful approach takes it out of the realm of "outrage docs." It never seems angry; rather, the tone is contemplative, regretful, and proactive. It does lazily rely on a few standard documentary-style choices here and there, but these don't detract from the powerful whole.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The House I Live In's violent and shocking content. How necessary is it for the movie to make its point?

  • Does the movie encourage using or selling drugs in any way? Does it forgive those who do? Is any part of the drug trade glamorized?

  • What can an average person do to help fight against the destructive cycle depicted in the movie?

  • Which of the interviewees in the film best comes across as a positive role model? Why?

Movie details

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