A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
This quiet, thoughtful, visually striking adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings covers a year in the life of the Baxter family, post-Civil War settlers in remote Florida. The focus is on Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.), 12, who loves animals and wants a pet. Pa Baxter (Gregory Peck) is warm and understanding. Ma (Jane Wyman) seems harsh and rigid, but only because she has been so devastated by the loss of three children. The only other boy around frail Fodderwing, who Jody loves to visit. Over Ma's objections, Pa lets Jody keep a young deer as a pet, and Jody goes to Fodderwing to ask him to name the deer. Fodderwing has died, but his father tells Jody he once said that if he had a deer, he would name it Flag. Jody does everything he can to keep Flag, even building a fence to keep him out of the corn crop, which is essential to the family's livelihood. But Flag cannot stop eating the crop and has to be destroyed. Ma shoots him, and then Jody has to put him out of his misery. Jody runs away, but returns.
Is it any good?
This poignant drama is a classic story of loss, not just of a beloved pet, but of the innocence and freedom of childhood that Flag symbolizes. Pa says to Jody: "Every man wants life to be a fine thing, and easy. Well, it's fine, son, powerful fine. But it ain't easy. I want life to be easier for you than it was for me....A man's heart aches seeing his young 'uns face the world knowing that they got to have their insides tore out the way his was tore." All parents want to protect their children this way. And yet, all parents realize that having one's "insides tore out" is a necessary part of growing up, that no one ever learns how to make responsible choices without these painful experiences. Pa tells Jody that life is "gettin', losin', gettin', losin'."
In the last moment of the film, as in the book, the boy and the deer run off together in Jody's imagination. In part, this means that Jody's innocence is gone with the deer. But it also means that a precious part of his spirit, the part that loved the deer so deeply, will be with him always, and will be a part of everything that he does.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about who "the yearling" is. What do you think of Pa's strategy for trading his dog for a gun? What did he mean when he later said that his words were straight, but his intentions were crooked? What do Jody's friends Fodderwing and Oliver tell you about him? Why was it hard for Ma to show affection? How can you tell? How was Jody different when he came back home?
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