The Secrets We Keep

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Secrets We Keep Movie Poster Image
Mature themes, sexual violence in tense post-WWII thriller.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

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

Positive Messages

No positive messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maja is a Romanian woman who'd done everything she could to move past a traumatic incident to live a full life, but when her past shows up in her community, she makes decisions that are no longer admirable.


Flashbacks to choppy memories of wartime brutality include screaming people being shot dead, dead bodies put in a pile, and a rape (not explicit). Hammer strike to the head, gunshot wounds, physical attacks. A person is kidnapped and kept tied up.


Married couple playfully engage in sex; flash of nudity, including a man's backside.


Strong language includes "bitch" and "c--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke constantly. Alcohol consumption is used as a form of torture.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secrets We Keep is a revenge thriller set in the United States after World War II. Without spoiling the titular secrets, they involve a rape, an ordeal that the victim (Noomi Rapace) replays over and over, trying to recall the events, which are shown to viewers as shadowed flashes. The storyline hinges on questioning how much trust we place in our memories, especially when dealing with trauma. Watching the film creates inner conflict: We know to believe women, but the film creates a situation in which viewers won't be sure they should. We want to see a woman who's been brutalized take back her power, but is violent revenge the right solution? And we've all learned we need to forgive, but does that extend to Nazis? In addition to the sexual assault, violence includes shootings, physical attacks, a kidnapping, a finger being cut off, and a hammer used as a weapon. Expect a couple of instances of strong language ("bitch," "c--t"), alcohol consumption as a form of torture, and constant smoking (typical for the era). Sex is shown positively between a married couple; the man's naked bottom is shown.

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What's the story?

In THE SECRETS WE KEEP, it's been some 15 years since World War II ended, and Maja (Noomi Rapace), who's from Romania, has created a wonderful life in the United States as a loving wife, a doting mother, and a valuable member of her community. When a man (Joel Kinnaman) moves to town who seems all too familiar, Maja believes he's the Nazi soldier who terrorized her during the war -- and decides that the only way to move on is by taking him on. 

Is it any good?

Writer-director Yuval Adler creates a unique way to keep viewers in suspense: Have them fear all outcomes. It's no coincidence that Maja spots the man she believes was her attacker underneath a marquee that advertises North by Northwest: The Secrets We Keep rises to Hitchcock comparisons. That said, while his stories kept you on the edge of your seat, whatever was going on with the characters had nothing to do with you personally. Here, Adler crafts a drama that will likely prompt viewers to have an uncomfortable debate in their own heads, asking questions that fill them with self-doubt. And, as far as what's going on on-screen, that's just as unpredictable. 

Not a hair is out of place in this tidy film. The costumes and set design details are on point, from Maja's red lipstick and chic late-'50s jeans to Lewis' bland medical offices. The performances by Rapace, Kinnaman, and Chris Messina are remarkable: They're all faces we know, but not so much that we get distracted. The script is tight, with information revealed just when we need it and not a moment before. Part of the excellence comes from exploring less covered territory, like memory loss within trauma, survivor's guilt, and how some Romanians were affected by World War II. Most extraordinarily, the film suggests we need to take a closer look at what it really takes for someone to heal. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the filmmakers play with viewers' sense of right and wrong in The Secrets We Keep. Can revenge be justified? Where is the line between justice and revenge?

  • The movie raises a provocative question: Putting appropriate punishment aside, do victims heal through offering forgiveness, or through retribution? Is there anyone or any act that's not worthy of forgiveness, regardless of the perpetrator's remorse (or lack thereof)?

  • How is smoking portrayed in the film? Is it historically accurate? Does that affect its impact on kids?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Themes & Topics

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