The Seagull

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
The Seagull Movie Poster Image
Insightful, mildly sensual adaptation deals with suicide.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Strong family bonds. But, generally speaking, this isn't a feel-good story with clear morals. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some characters are smart and accomplished, but all -- both men and women -- fall victim to their own foibles. The doctor is probably the smartest and most level-headed person present. 

Violence

Suicide is a theme, and there are two attempts in the film. Neither is shown explicitly; one involving a shotgun is mostly shown on-screen, and there's a resulting blood splatter on a wall. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy ends tragically.

Sex

Sex is in the air and discussed but not explicitly. A woman in bed with her lover rises in a sheer nightgown. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink vodka. Celebratory drinking. One character is an alcoholic and is often seen drinking. Use of snuff.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this insightful, wise adaptation of Anton Chekhov's classic play The Seagull has themes of suicide and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy ending tragically. There are two attempted suicides. While neither is exceptionally graphic, one involves a shotgun and is mostly shown on-screen, with a resulting blood splatter on the wall. Sex/sensuality is in the air but is discussed non-explicitly. A woman is in bed with her lover and gets up, wearing a sheer nightgown. And while there's no swearing to note, characters do drink (particularly vodka) and use snuff; one character is an alcoholic. Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, and Elisabeth Moss co-star.

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What's the story?

In THE SEAGULL, it's the end of the 19th century, and celebrated actress Irina (Annette Bening) summers at her brother Sorin's (Brian Dennehy) country estate outside Moscow. Her aspiring avant-garde playwright son, Konstantin (Billy Howle), lives there, resenting his mostly absent mother and treasuring his love, the neighbor girl Nina (Saoirse Ronan). Meanwhile, always black-clad Masha (Elisabeth Moss), the estate manager's daughter, pines for Konstantin. One summer, Irina brings along her beau, successful writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll). His presence triggers events fueled by long-held desires that will change their lives forever. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer directs this adaptation of Anton Chekhov's cornerstone of modern theater.

Is it any good?

Mayer's sensitive touch guides a superb cast to a fully realized take on Anton Chekhov's classic play. Subtext is everything in Chekhov, and every moment feels full here. Each character is alive in his or her skin -- feeling the weather, enduring the same old boring stories, flattering as necessary, painfully pining away. There are a handful of grand gestures, but the experience isn't about plot. The Seagull is called a "comedy" because it generates laughs of recognition, rather than moments of hilarity or "jokes." These are the kinds of laughs that sometimes hurt. We see our own thwarted desires in these 1890s Russians. Their foolishness, bad behavior, and sometimes unbearable suffering are all familiar to us. And Mayer and his actors fully embrace the desperate collisions under the story's often polite surfaces. 

Stoll and Moss, particularly, achieve a lot with wordless looks -- though Masha, of course, gets some of the more familiar lines (e.g., "I'm in mourning for my life"). Stoll's portrayal of Trigorin could be said to have more depth than the actual character of Trigorin has himself. Chekhov's infamously feckless charmer seems entirely real here. His needs seem powerful enough in the moment to at least help us understand why he does what he does. Bening is appropriately exhausting as the narcissistic Irina, desperately grasping at her youth, white knuckled. Mayer reserves a moment of insight into her in the slightly revised conclusion. As her passionate son, Konstantin, Howle is likewise appropriately exhausting. He's a wrecking ball in these otherwise genteel environs. Jon Tenney disappears into Dorn, the doctor with an artistic soul. And Ronan manages to be sympathetic as another character ruled by her passions: Nina is a young girl desperate to rise above her difficult situation. As in the play, each character, even the minor ones, has a moment, a place in this ecosystem. Smaller supporting roles are handled by the likes of Dennehy and Mare Winningham; no lightweights here. Mayer brings them all together in a believable world. By making the experience immediate and the pain palpable, they've made a century-plus-old play relevant to new audiences. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the problems in adapting classic works for the screen. What kinds of changes do filmmakers use to make things more "cinematic" in The Seagull? Does that bother you?

  • How does the movie address suicide? How does it compare to other movies and TV shows you may have seen that deal with that difficult subject?

  • Are there villains and/or heroes in this story? If so, who, and why would you describe them that way? Do you consider any of the characters role models?

  • What is The Seagull really about? Is it a social statement about the older generation destroying the younger? Or is it a kind of comedy of recognition, with ambition being thwarted among so many characters? 

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