The Scarlet Letter

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Scarlet Letter Movie Poster Image
Slaughter, sin, and sex in classic-turned-movie misfire.
  • R
  • 1995
  • 135 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

General criticism of repressive religious patriarchies that restrict/punish free thought, especially as it relates to love and sensuality. The idea that a couple's love can be stronger than social conventions and rules.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hester Prynne and some of her more rebellious fellow Puritan women are the heroes, near to modern feminists in their outlooks on love, marriage, and spirituality. Puritan women who behave otherwise are depicted negatively. The Rev. Dimmesdale is a much-liked and admired priest, although he breaks the laws of his society.


Bloody violence emphasizes throat slashings, arrows in the neck ,and spurting, severed arteries (and scalpings) in Indian attacks. The white militia slays Indians with guns. A gruesomely mutilated corpse. A near-rape. One character's eye gouged. Roger Prynne messes with a gory, gutted deer. Death by hanging. Dimmesdale self-mutilates (gripping a gallows until blood runs from his hands).


Full male nudity shown in a skinny-dipping context. Hester is briefly completely naked from the side as she bathes. Topless Indian women. A non-explicit sex scene between Hester and Arthur.


"Slut." Puritans discuss sex in euphemistic fashion ("poking," "private parts").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this historical melodrama has bloody violence -- throat slashings, scalpings, shootings -- plus attempted rape. Brief male and female nudity are shown in a non-sexual context and several sex scenes are non-explicit. Students who watch this movie as a shortcut for reading the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel should wear the scarlet "S" (for slacker), and know that it deviates from the the book a lot.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 16 years old Written byCatholicamSoror33 September 8, 2012

Great Movie

I love Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. It is a beautiful love story. Although the movie is not like the book, I thought it was great.
Teen, 13 years old Written bySeminolefreak April 18, 2011

The book is better! And that's hard to say!

My MPAA Rating, R: Strong sexual content, including full frontal male nudity, strong bloody violence, including graphic slaughter and thematic material

What's the story?

Demi Moore was at the height of her movie queendom when she starred in this ill-fated historical drama "freely inspired" by the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel about sin and hypocrisy in early New England. In a Puritan colony in Massachusetts of 1666, Hester Prynne (Moore) arrives in advance of her much older husband Roger (Robert Duvall). Beautiful, free-thinking Hester raises eyebrows amidst the strict, conservative-Christian townsfolk by securing a house by herself and proving well read and opinionated. She attracts the young, popular pastor of the town, Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) and vice-versa. When news arrives that Roger Prynne was slain in an Indian attack, Hester -- who doesn't grieve at all -- consummates her affair with Dimmesdale and is soon pregnant. Refusing to name her secret lover, Hester is publicly condemned, imprisoned until she gives birth, and forced to wear an "A" for "adulterer." Worse, Roger turns out to be alive, returning to town under an assumed name and psychotic. He stirs up a phony witchcraft scare and a murder plot as part of his revenge.

Is it any good?

Frankly, dears, it's hard to give a damn about this Scarlet. Maybe time and critics would have been a little kinder to THE SCARLET LETTER if only Tinseltown had changed the title and character names and distanced it from the stern English-class-assignment novel by moralistic author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rewriting the source material with a proverbial post-1960s Hollywood spin, this goes off-topic into Indian-settler problems, witchcraft hysteria, slavery, and the general idea of colonials acting destructive. The tragic affair between Hester and Dimmesdale mutates into an upbeat, defiant, and happy love match, more like a kitschy romance paperback. Much as Moore's monotonously noble performance in the lead role was widely panned, the script doesn't do many favors either to actors such as Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall (though they do get to yell a lot).

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hester Prynne's choices. Are she and Dimmesdale truly "sinners"? How do the movie characters compare to those in the Hawthorne book?

  • What do you know about the actual Puritans of New England, their relations with Indians, and their opinions on women, love, and marriage? How does this movie portray history -- accurately or innaccurately? Do you think the media has a responsibility to portray history a certain way?

  • Talk about the violence in the movie. How did you react to it? Did it matter who was perpetrating it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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