The Sound and the Fury

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Sound and the Fury Movie Poster Image
James Franco's messy Faulkner adaptation has mature themes.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Each human's struggle is unique to his or her life and background. What appear to be small incidents can have profound consequences. A lack of compassion and communication can lead to emotional disaster.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Parents are cold, self-absorbed, lacking empathy and wisdom. Women are treated as objects with reckless sexual drives to compensate for their status; they cannot earn respect and have no independence or authority. Though the Compsons live in a southern town still rife with racism, an African-American housekeeper is a loving caretaker with far more insight and concern than the parents. She and her family are the only positive role models. 


Pent-up anger permeates the story; characters are quick to explode with that anger. Several fistfights, a few severe and some between siblings. A developmentally disabled man appears to attack a little girl. A confused man threatens an opponent with a gun. A grown teen girl is spanked. Spoiler alert: A young man is castrated (action off camera but implicit), and a man commits suicide by jumping from a bridge.


Some nudity. A naked man and woman are shown in the throes of sexual intercourse; the man is seen from the rear; the woman's breasts are visible. Sexual behavior, including an unmarried young woman's pregnancy, are crucial to the plot. A mother and daughter are both depicted as using sexuality as a form of rebellion. Incestuous desires lie just beneath the surface of some scenes.


Abusive and obscene language in numerous scenes: "damn," "idiot," "Jesus," "whore," "bastard," "asshole," "bitch," "goddamn," the "N" word. One use each of "f--k" and "c--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol is used and abused throughout; the patriarch of the family is portrayed as an alcoholic. A young man is force-fed alcohol at a wedding. Smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sound and the Fury, directed by and starring James Franco, is a movie with mature themes and moments of great tragedy. The film is based on a 1929 novel by Nobel Laureate William Faulkner. It's set in the Deep South in the early years of the 20th century; racism is a way of life, and women are second-class citizens. Family dysfunction is at the heart of the story, resulting in some violent scenes (fistfights and beatings), sexuality (repressed sexual urges as well as a scene in which a naked man and woman are caught in "the act"), alcoholism, harsh and racist language ("whore," "bitch," "f--k," the "N" word), and cruel treatment of a developmentally disabled man. The Faulkner book was unorthodox in terms of style and language of the time, using stream of consciousness to illuminate characters' innermost thoughts. In bringing the book to the screen, Franco has chosen unorthodox cinematic devices as well. The constant extreme close-ups, frequent jumps back and forth in time, scenes in soft focus, and shaky camera movements, which were meant to be true to the original, may instead be intrusive and confusing. Not for kids.

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What's the story?

Mostly set in 1928 in a fictional Mississippi county, with many flashbacks to earlier times, THE SOUND AND THE FURY tells the story of the Compson family, members of the once prosperous and respected Southern aristocracy. The film is divided into three sections, each named for a Compson son -- Benjy (James Franco), severely developmentally disabled, on his 33rd birthday; Quentin (Jacob Loeb), a sensitive, bookish Harvard student on a single day during which tragedy strikes; and Jason (Scott Haze), the eldest, on the day in which his evil character and boundless greed finally defeat him. Driving all the stories is the fourth Compson sibling, Caddie (Ahna O'Reilly), a warm-hearted rebel of a girl, whose conduct and personality deeply affect each brother. Along for the ride is an African-American family, dedicated longtime servants who stand in stark contrast to the Compson's destructive dysfunction. Alcoholism, unwed pregnancy, thievery, castration, suicide, cruelty, and intimations of incest play a part in this metaphor for the post-Civil War decline of Southern values and status. 

Is it any good?

Despite director-star James Franco's sincere efforts, this adaptation is confusing, loses focus, and simply is not very good -- it's even laughable at times. What's meant to be "edgy" is actually overwrought. Acting that's meant to be naturalistic is heavy-handed. The handheld camera movement, constant use of extreme close-ups, and pervasive flashbacks don't clarify or emphasize; they intrude. And the ugliness of the subject matter -- a dysfunctional family, repressed sexuality, mental deficiency, meanness -- is unrelenting. Just as the Faulkner novel's challenging writing and puzzling style met with little acceptance from the general reading public when it was published in 1929, Franco's film adaptation likely will most appeal to a very narrow audience. Not recommended, even for mature teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Compson family may actually represent the American South. Compare the Compson's loss of status, money, and way of life to the losses incurred by Southern society for decades after the Civil War.

  • Benjy is severely developmentally disabled. Did the film's techniques help you understand his thoughts and feelings? In what ways has society changed in its attitudes and treatments of a boy like Benjy? In what ways is it the same?

  • Each brother's relationship with Caddie is distinct. What did you learn about Caddie through each of those relationships? Find out what "catalyst" means. How is Caddie the "catalyst" to events in the story?

  • For teens who have read the book upon which this film is based, how does the movie compare?

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