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 Immigrant is a fascinating 1920s-set historical drama that deals with some heavy topics -- prostitution, for example -- that are too mature for younger viewers. Some scenes reveal the brutality inherent in trying to survive, especially during the hard-scrabble times depicted here. Expect some violence (a fatal stabbing, for instance), nudity (mostly breasts), swearing (infrequent use of words like "s--t" and "f--k"), drinking, frank talk of prostitution, and characters who are tortured and troubled. On the upside, there are positive messages about loyalty and hope.
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What's the story?
In 1921, Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) arrives in New York City from Poland with her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), sure that wonderful lives are in store for them in this new country. Their uncle and aunt await, and opportunity is everywhere. But at Ellis Island, they hit the first of many hurdles: Magda has tuberculosis, and she has to stay there and get better or she'll be sent back. What's more, their relatives haven't shown up, and Ewa gets branded a woman of questionable morals and is in danger of being deported. In steps Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a "fixer" of sorts who also runs a brothel out of a theater (the actresses are a stable of prostitutes). Bruno is quickly enamored of Ewa, who agrees to participate because she has to pay for her sister's medical care -- and because Bruno is connected to Ellis Island authorities, who can be bought with bribes. When Bruno's cousin, the magician Orlando (Jeremy Renner), also grows smitten with Ewa, trouble overwhelms everything and everyone.
Is it any good?
THE IMMIGRANT is a complex tale that's beautifully shot in gritty, dreary hues; Cotillard's face -- and the strength she communicates with the smallest of gestures -- are the brightest spots. She's perfect as Ewa, who has to build a hard shell around her as she navigates a world she neither sought nor understands. With her, the film's dense plot makes sense. Still, it's brutal in the way it coats each character with a specific misery. Humanity, too. The bad guys aren't necessarily all bad, and the good aren't necessarily so innocent.
Though it's ultimately a satisfying film, The Immigrant is loses its narrative focus in the end. It sputters to its conclusion as if on the last drop of fuel. A betrayal doesn't feel hard-won; in fact, it's expected, detracting a little bit from the movie's triumph as a deeply felt story. Even so, while you watch, you feel specially chosen to have been invited on Ewa's journey, as difficult and wrenching it may be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Immigrant portrays sex and relationships. Are they presented positively? Negatively? A mix? Do you think the movie's depiction of prostitution is historically accurate?
Does this film show a different side to the immigrant experience? Can you imagine what it would be like to arrive in a new country and not know whether you and your entire family could stay? And that you might be separated because of rules you're not aware of?
Are the characters role models? Which ones are intended to be "bad" and which "good"? How can you tell?