The Human Stain Movie Poster Image

The Human Stain



Flawed adaptation of Roth's novel isn't for kids.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 107 minutes

What parents need to know


Character deaths. Characters in peril.


Some very explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity.


Some very strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink and smoke.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie has some very strong language and some very explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity. Characters drink and smoke, sometimes to excess. Characters are in peril and there are some tragic (offscreen) deaths. The movie's themes about racism and "sanctimony" are provocatively presented.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

When Professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) calls on two students who aren't present and asks, "Are they spooks?," he's hit with a formal complaint because the two students are African-American, and "spook" is considered a racist epithet. Coleman points out that since he'd never seen the students, he couldn't have meant the word that way. But no one defends him, despite his long-time support for minorities. Coleman has one more rebuttal up his sleeve -- he's a light-skinned African-American who's been "passing" as white for years. Coleman leaves the college and tries unsuccessfully to write about the injustice before asking reclusive novelist Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) to write his story. They become friends, but Zuckerman turns him down. Then Coleman gets involved with the beautiful-but-guarded Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who's stalked by an abusive ex (Ed Harris). Coleman's past is shown in flashbacks, and just as Coleman and Faunia are able to reveal themselves to each other for the first time, volatile forces from the past converge inexorably and terribly.

Is it any good?


THE HUMAN STAIN is a flawed but engrossing story about the way that people try to escape their pasts. It's also about the way that carefully constructed new personas, no matter how scrubbed and burnished, can't erase the stain of the original. Philip Roth's ambitious and literary novel is awkwardly adapted for the screen. The book's almost allegorical structure is supported by Roth's use of language, but on screen, the characters are more plot devices than people. Zuckerman, though well-played by Sinise, is a narrative convention who adds nothing to the drama. And the menace provided by Faunia's Vietnam veteran ex-husband borders on melodrama.

The most affecting part of the story is the flashbacks. Young Coleman (Wentworth Miller), in love for the first time with a beautiful, intelligent, and sympathetic Midwestern girl (Jacinda Barrett), experiments with the feeling of being not black or white but just free of any color. Then he brings her home to meet his mother (Anna Deavere Smith), not letting either one know ahead of time that they're of different races. Nothing that happens in the Hopkins/Kidman segment of the story is anywhere near as compelling.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Coleman's choices. What were the turning points? Would he have chosen differently if he had known that the world was about to change so dramatically?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 30, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:July 19, 2004
Cast:Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinise, Nicole Kidman
Director:Robert Benton
Run time:107 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and sexuality/nudity

This review of The Human Stain was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 13 year old Written bycolten97 October 11, 2012

A Near Perfect Film

I honestly can not think of a single thing wrong with this movie. The actors are top rate actors that consistently turn in exceptional performances. This movie is no exception. The plot is intriguing. The pasts of the main protagonists unfold, making their characters exceptionally deep. We get to see these characters evolve in interesting and compelling ways. There are shades-of-grey in these characters. We don't have the perfect hero. We have gentle people with kind hearts who make mistakes. The direction is perfectly understated. There is a lot of nuance in the way the scenes are filmed and the way in which the actors are framed. The love scenes are filmed without graphic nudity. Note the way in which Anthony Hopkins places his hands on Nicole Kidman's back. It is so loving and tender and intimate. Even the editing is right on. The length of the film, at 106 minutes, is the perfect length. There are no wasted scenes. Some of the material is hard to watch. Note the posture and the facial expression on Anthony Hopkins in the kitchen scene in which Nicole Kidman is giving him a hard time. It is subtle and painful to watch. If you are into light-hearted escapist film, this isn't for you. The subject matter is deep and difficult. I like these kinds of movies and this one is one of the best in class. Kudos to all involved with this film.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing