Three Christs

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Three Christs Movie Poster Image
Mature, touching psychiatric drama shows power of empathy.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 117 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Treat people who have mental illness with humanity and compassion. An original idea is powerful, but achieving it will stir up problems. If you know who you are, then others can't hurt you by words or actions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the characters have suffered significant trauma; those who've survived it intact are trying to help those struggling. A psychologist seeks to overturn inhumane practices of mental asylums in the late 1950s by introducing humane psychiatric techniques and ultimately succeeds. Film is about treating those who have mental illness with dignity and understanding.


Death by suicide is shown on camera. A couple of physical fights. A psychiatric patient harms himself with a blade while in a delusion. Patient receives shock therapy. Brief mentions of rape that show how it affects the victim.


A married couple is shown in the throes of sex. Suggestive language that's formal yet crude. A man showers frequently and is shown naked from the back, including his rear end.


"S--t" and a single use of "f--k." Sexual language includes "d--k," "hard-on," and "penis." Also "idiot" and "shut up." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character takes LSD under psychiatrist's supervision. A character drinks too much one night. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Three Christs is an empathy-centric drama about a real-life psychiatric experiment that started a movement for change. Richard Gere stars as Dr. Alan Stone, a fictional character who stands in for Dr. Milton Rokeach, the true author of the experiment involving three paranoid schizophrenic patients at Michigan's Ypsilanti State Hospital in 1959. At the time, mental institutions were treating patients with electric shock, tranquilizers, LSD usage, and forced restraints -- all of which are seen here. One patient self-harms by slashing his wrists, and a suicide occurs on screen. Crude language (including "d--k," "s--t," and one "f--k") is spoken in a formal, proper fashion, and there are brief references to rape, abortion, and alcoholism. A married couple has sex, and a patient's backside is exposed.

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What's the story?

Based on the actual account of a 1959 psychiatric study, THREE CHRISTS is about (fictional) psychiatrist Dr. Alan Stone (Richard Gere), who believes that the traditional methods of institutional care are inhumane. After he discovers that there are three patients in Michigan mental health facilities who have paranoid schizophrenia and believe that they're Jesus Christ, Stone brings them together to test whether treating them with empathy and understanding will break their delusion.

Is it any good?

Using the detailed notes and verbatim dialogue from the actual experiment this film is based on, writer-director Jon Avnet creates a drama about psychology that's more interesting than entertaining. His attention to detail is admirable, but it's too much. Side events and backstories pop up throughout, with bomb-dropping character reveals that are never mentioned again or seen to carry any relevance.

Dead ends aside, Three Christs is a touching drama that presents a fascinating exploration of psychology, medical ethics, and identity. For families looking for thoughtful conversation, you could go all day finding pockets of conversation starters embedded in the film. The most meaningful may be how people without mental illness interact with those who are going through something that feels unknown and/or frightening. Much like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Three Christs successfully depicts the powerlessness of mid-century patients with mental illness in state facilities. However, Avnet falls short of sufficiently relaying one of the film's core truths: the loneliness that accompanies living in your own world. Three Christs leaves darts all over the target, but it hits the bull's-eye by giving audiences a moving story about how, when we feel empathy, we become better people.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mental illness and how those with psychiatric problems should be treated. What's different in the way we treat mental illness now compared to the era shown in Three Christs? To find out more, check the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  • How does Dr. Stone treat the "three Christs" with empathy and humanity? How does he demonstrate compassion? What's the difference between the two?

  • A recurring theme in the movie is respecting and pushing boundaries. What did you see or hear in the film that you thought was over the line? What wouldn't be acceptable today?

  • How is Dr. Stone driven by curiosity and perseverance? Why are those traits crucial for research? 

  • How accurate do you think the movie is to the events that actually took place? Why might filmmakers change the facts in a film that's based on real life?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about those dealing with mental illness

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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