The Keeping Room

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Keeping Room Movie Poster Image
Engaging but brutally violent Civil War drama.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This movie explores the ways the horror and ravages of war make bad people even worse and drive good people to desperate acts. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

While the women in this movie display tremendous strength and resilience in the face of tremendous evil and the horrible ravages of war, none can be perceived as a positive role model. 

Violence

A slave woman is shot in the head and killed. A woman is sexually assaulted at gunpoint. Characters are shot and killed with rifles. A woman bites a man's lip until it bleeds. Scenes of casualties on a battlefield. Several dead bodies sprawled around a general store and the street. Pistol whipping. A woman is found dead in a chair from suicide. A slave woman discusses being raped at age 10 and the numerous times she was raped after that.

Sex

A woman removes the upper half of her dress to put out a fire; no nudity. 

Language

Two uses of the "N" word." "F--k" used once.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two Union Civil War soldiers are constantly drunk from whiskey; while drunk they shoot and kill people, sexually assault women, scream, and start fights. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Keeping Room is a 2014 film about three Southern women who are doing everything they can to defend themselves from two dissipated Union soldiers who are killing, raping, and destroying their way through the Deep South countryside in anticipation of General Sherman's March to the Sea. Profanity includes the "N" word and "f--k." Two Union Civil War soldiers are constantly drunk from whiskey. This is an extremely violent movie with a sexual assault at gunpoint, dead bodies, characters shot and killed with rifles, and unrelenting tension and suspense. It also happens to be an excellent film that is unafraid to confront the horrors of war, and the Civil War in particular, and its impact on those who lived it. And unlike so many war movies, the characters in this movie are all broken, damaged, and at the ends of their tethers. For those mature enough to confront the graphic horrors of war, this film should inspire thought and reflection on how war is conveyed in our entertainment as well as the news media. 

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What's the story?

The Civil War is coming to a close. Two dissipated Union soldiers are terrorizing the Southern countryside, destroying everything and everyone in their path. Two sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), and a slave named Mad work their land and struggle to survive while their men are away fighting. When Louise is bitten by a raccoon, Augusta must go into town for medicine. At the general store, the two Union soldiers spot her, and she narrowly escapes their clutches. But the two soldiers and their vicious dog find their way to the house where she lives. It's up to Augusta, Louise, and Mad to defend themselves and their land from these wicked soldiers, even as they slowly begin to realize that even if they do survive the predations of these two, they're merely a taste of what's to come as General Sherman and his men advance on their March to the Sea.

Is it any good?

THE KEEPING ROOM is an extremely violent Civil War tale that is best for mature teens and older. This intense drama forces the viewer to confront some of the horrors of the Civil War and the ways in which most war movies have traditionally conveyed fighting as valorous, glorious, and without blood, unless it's the enemy, of course. It's as gruesome and bleak as it is tense and suspenseful, and what emerges are characters brought to the brink of insanity by the horrors of war and all it has wrought. There are no heroes in this movie; while the women who are trying to defend themselves and their home from two dissipated and just plain nasty Union soldiers are certainly sympathetic characters whom the audience wants to "win," they don't display the typical modes of heroism as conveyed in so many war or action movies so much as being in desperate survival mode, reacting to one traumatic situation after the other. What ultimately emerges is an unforgettable exploration of the theme of resiliency in the human spirit, manifested during one of America's ugliest and most-chronicled chapters in its history. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about war movies. How is war conveyed? Compare and contrast movies in which war is shown to be a valorous and almost glamorously heroic endeavor with movies in which characters die and suffer and the ugliness of war is not hidden. Which type of movie is more realistic?

  • This movie is extremely violent, with a sexual assault, several killings with rifles, dead bodies, and blood. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to make a movie that doesn't shy away from the horrors of the Civil War? 

  • How accurately do you think this movie reflected the realities of the Civil War? How could you find out more?

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