Tommy

  • Review Date: March 9, 2011
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Musical
  • Release Year: 1975
  • Running Time: 111 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Trippy rock opera with drug references and sexual imagery.
  • Review Date: March 9, 2011
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Musical
  • Release Year: 1975
  • Running Time: 111 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

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

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
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
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."

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

Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:March 9, 1975
DVD release date:September 28, 1999
Cast:Ann-Margret, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson, Roger Daltrey
Director:Ken Russell
Studio:Sony Pictures
Genre:Musical
Topics:Music and sing-along
Run time:111 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

This review of Tommy was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 5, 15, 17, and 18 year old Written byindianajoe October 2, 2012
AGE
15
QUALITY
 

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 than it actually is. It is actually... kind of lame. The sex is tame and more implied than actual, the seductive outfits are little worse than you'd find in a James Bond of the same era. The drug use scene is completely over the top and, unlike the public riot, at least half of the interpersonal violence is hidden to the point of being trivialised. The storyline sounds very much like something that my friends and I could have cooked up over a case of cheap beer when we were no older than 22. The philosophy and the message are naive and trite to the point where I would probably not show it to anyone over 18. The comparison with the Wall is inevitable. While the Wall is decidedly solipsistic, Tommy is definitely more concerned with human interactions. Institutions in Tommy are as fluid as they are absolute in The Wall. That, and Pete Townshend may be a bit screwy in the head but he isn't half the emotional trainwreck (complete with baggage car) that Waters is.Before you show your kids both, recognise that Tommy is not an impact movie; The Wall is. Most of the film is, frankly, just silly. You don't need the excessive imagery of the Acid Queen for the drugs are bad, m'kay lecture. But you can definitely discuss the relationship between domestic violence and disability, and you can find a serious talking point concerning religion and cults and the power that they have over the individual, which is a good conversation to have with kids in the throes of pop star fandom.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 12 years old April 5, 2013
AGE
11
QUALITY
 

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 movie is music and there is no dialogue. Only singing. However, Tommy's parents are alcoholics and drink a large amount of whiskey and wine. Also, there is a scene where Tommy is tripping on acid. There is one scene where Tommy is bullied by his Cousin, and one scene with his uncle that gets a bit dirty. They don't show anything, but you can hear the noises. Also in one scene, they show naked pictures on the wall. Other than that, it is a great movie and I highly recommend you check it out.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

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