Tommy

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Tommy Movie Poster Image
Trippy rock opera with drug references and sexual imagery.
  • PG
  • 1975
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages
Theme of the folly of following false messiahs, or being a false messiah. Misguided mother's love (perhaps even a little kinky) helps pull off the miracle that allows Tommy to be "normal" again, but it also leads to his torment.
 
Positive Role Models & Representations

While Tommy himself seems a benign, even Christlike figure (stopping a biker-gang war to urge people to follow him in peace and harmony) the religion built around him has authoritarian overtones. Tommy's mother and stepfather are wildly mixed; while they seem to genuinely care and grieve over Tommy's plight they also profit off him, allow him to be abused, subject him to torturous treatments -- and kill his real father

Violence

Scenes of wartime bombardment include a dead child, Tommy's father with a bloody, burned face. Tommy's stepfather and mother are slain, non-explicitly but with some blood. Tommy is roughed up. A girl gets a bloody face in a near-riot to get close to Tommy. A violent biker-gang battle includes gun blasts, kicks, punching and men dragged with motorcycles.

Sex
Sexualized imagery of women, including Tommy's mother, in clingy and plunging-neckline outfits, writhing provocatively in some especially lurid scenes. A bevy of young women in gas-masks, bras, and panties. Tommy is sexually molested (offscreen; the lights literally go out) by his Uncle Ernie. Tommy's stepfather at one point runs a strip club (no women shown though). Tommy's mother Nora is naked (but covered by sheets, or submerged in water) with each of her husbands.
 
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tommy is injected (unrealistically, in a weird Transformer-lookalike device) with psychotropic drugs by the "Acid Queen." He seems to enjoy it, even with bloody/nightmare imagery. Cigarette smoking. Much drinking in Tommy's family, and his mother has a stumbling, drunken musical number. Hard liquor is ritualistically drunk in a parody of Catholic Communion wine. The whole movie might well be described as "trippy."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this famous rock-opera spectacle is full of drug and alcohol references and lots of sexual imagery (though no explicit nudity). Tommy is injected with mind-altering drugs by the "Acid Queen" and he seems to enjoy it, even with associated nightmare imagery. Some females, especially Tommy's mother, cavort in sexy, revealing, and form-fitting costumes. Scenes of wartime include a dead child. Tommy's real father suffers a bloody, burned face. Tommy is sexually molested (offscreen) by a male relative. A violent biker-gang battle includes gun blasts, kicks, punching, and men dragged by motorcycles. Some religious imagery including a statue of Marilyn Monroe standing in for the Virgin Mary could be offensive to some.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 15, 17, and 18+ year old Written byindianajoe October 2, 2012

A gentle trip through 1970s silliness

Well, I watched this when I was 14 and it did me no lasting damage. On the other hand the grown-up factor of the material made me remember it as being better th... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 5, 2013

My Favorite Movie!

This is my favorite movie. The Who is the best band ever, and Tommy is one of the most overlooked movies of all time. It has a very unique story. The whole movi... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTrying to help April 14, 2018

This scared me for life.

I think you should never let children watch this I personally am talking about the seen in which Tommy is abused by his cousin and when he is molested by his un... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on a 1969 album by the rock group The Who, TOMMY is an all-sung allegory that opens with the marriage of Nora (Ann-Margaret) and military aviator Capt. Walker (Robert Powell). Walker's plane is shot down during WWII, leaving Nora a pregnant widow and later a single mother, who marries seedy entrepreneur Frank (Oliver Reed). Tommy witnesses the horrifying scene when his father, alive after all, returns home unannounced and surprises Frank and Nora in bed, only to be killed by Frank. Ordered not to speak of the incident, Tommy lapses into a catatonic state -- blind, deaf, and dumb -- that persists when he is an adult (Roger Daltrey), no matter what treatments (from hard drugs to Catholic-Christian healings) Frank and Nora undertake to cure him. A sudden discovery that Tommy can play pinball like a champion, despite his handicap, makes him a celebrity and brings fabulous wealth to the household. When Tommy suddenly regains all his senses his story becomes the foundation for a new religion -- endorsed by Frank, naturally, as a profit-making enterprise -- but Tommy's reign as a peace-love-and-pinball messiah is short and unsuccessful.

Is it any good?

In an era of quick-cut and computer-generated music-videos, Tommy is still a visual "wow," with its surreal, recurring imagery of circular objects. (Pinballs more obviously, others with a religious-psychological association.) Even watching without the sound, it's an incredible optical journey -- and with the sound it provides a number of energetic tunes, like "I'm Free" and "Pinball Wizard." Seen in full, however, this "rock opera" is more serious stuff than just Guitar Hero licks.

Musician Pete Townsend's real vibe is a morally ambiguous, ultimately disillusioned tale of the rise and fall of a false religious figure (albeit one so innocent he may not be at all aware how he's being used), with provocative and often perverse imagery surrounding his family and disciples, especially sexy mom Nora. Along the way are grotesque and stylized fantasy scenes of violence, drug use, suggested molestation, murder, and religious conformity, and parents should keep that in mind despite the very liberal PG rating.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk aboutthe messages and symbols of the movie. What do you think the filmmakers were trying to express? Was it successful? Did anything in the movie make you uncomfortable -- if so, why?

  • Is Tommy a positive or negative character? Is he a symbol of something?

  • Talk about how men and women are portrayed in this film. What roles do women play and why? How does sexuality figure into the story?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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