A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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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.
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