A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
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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?
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