Union

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Union Movie Poster Image
Slow, too-long Civil War romance has violence and gore.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 135 minutes

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

Positive Messages

There should be no embarrassment, shame, or fear of punishment when it comes to love. Someone who has the "spirit of a man" and the "spirit of a woman" in the same body has "powerful medicine" that should be honored and respected. Love, family, home are worth fighting and sacrificing for.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Henry and Virginia are good role models for courage and perseverance as they endure hardships of war, try to establish a home together where they can love each other freely. It's not clear whether Henry really thinks of himself as both male and female, or one or the other; he disguises himself as male in front of everyone except Virginia. Strong, positive representation of indigenous people of the area, who look out for Virginia when she's on her own and who revere Henry's "powerful medicine" as someone with both male and female spirits in the same body.

Violence

Battlefield and wartime violence includes some slow-motion close-ups of bullets entering, blood spraying. Close combat with swords or hand-to-hand battle, no gore. One gunshot to the throat is shown close up, bleeding profusely; victim is shot at close range in chest as an act of mercy. A woman is shown hanging from a tree. Bodies strewn about battlefields. A man's leg gets caught in an animal trap; later, the bloody wound is shown. Lots of blood shown on a shirt front from a difficult childbirth with a safe resolution. An attempted rape. Burning homes shown, including soldiers setting fire to a house knowing a child was inside. PTSD-type flashbacks show guns, blood spray, stabbing, and a body hanging. Some scariness from human and animal skulls hanging or posted in the wilderness to frighten people away.

Sex

Bare breasts briefly seen on a surgery table. A shadowy, fully nude woman's body from underwater and lit from behind. A same-sex couple kiss in bed, caress faces, rub legs; one takes off her shirt. No sensitive body parts shown. Several same-sex kisses with one woman sometimes presenting herself as a man; her partner has always known her physical gender. Implied nudity getting into bed to keep a sick person warm; no sensitive parts shown.

Language

"Bitch," "dammit," and "goddamned."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In historical context, adults smoke cigars, chew tobacco, spit, and occasionally drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Union is a Civil War romantic drama with wartime violence and gore. Battles and skirmishes show bullets penetrating and blood spraying. An open gunshot wound to the throat is shown up close and bleeding profusely. There's an attempted rape. Soldiers burn homes, including one with a child inside. Bodies are strewn over battlefields and a woman hanged for disguising herself as a male soldier is shown several times without gore. The central romance is between two women, one of whom disguises herself as a man in public, and they get married. Nonbinary gender is a prominent theme, especially from the indigenous people living nearby. Sex is implied, and there's kissing and caressing, but no sensitive body parts are shown. A woman's bare breasts are shown on a surgery table, and a fully nude woman is seen from underwater and with back lighting so that it's shadowy and indistinct. In historical context, adult men smoke cigars, chew tobacco, and drink alcohol. Strong language is rare and includes "bitch" and "goddammit."

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What's the story?

UNION tells the story of Henry, a woman disguised as her deceased brother and fighting in the Confederate army. When Henry is injured and his female gender is discovered, Henry realizes that all he wants is to get back to the woman he fell for, Virginia, who helped him after he was wounded in an earlier battle. Once back together, he agrees to stay disguised as Henry so that he and Virginia can get married and keep her from an unwanted, arranged marriage. But Henry is haunted by a promise he made to a dying friend to look after the friend's son, Harrison. Harrison was taken by the Union army in the skirmish that killed his mother, Henry's friend. So Henry feels compelled to leave Virginia behind on the farm, risk capture and execution, find Harrison, and bring him back.

Is it any good?

Somewhere in the wreckage of this movie is the nugget of a compelling story that could explore complex issues about love and gender, but unfortunately it falls far short on just about every level. The biggest problem with Union is its pace, which is unbearably slow and makes 2 hours and 15 minutes seem like forever. There are so many unnecessary scenes, and they only further confuse the story. Which brings us to the second-biggest problem: All the jumping around in time and place that makes it hard to figure out what's happening when, or even who many of the people on the screen are.

Apparently, it's a sequel to a 2005 movie called My Brother's War, so it's possible that watching that movie first might clarify some of the characters and timing of events. But it wouldn't help the slow pace or missed opportunity to meaningfully explore gender in the context of war, romance, or comparing indigenous and colonial conventions. It's too bad this movie leaves so much unexplained, poorly explained, or just plain not explored, because it's a fascinating topic that's well worth exploring in a more compelling and historically accurate context.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Union. How much is too much? Is it OK if it's about historical events? Why or why not?

  • Did you know that women fought in both armies during the Civil War? What do you think it was like for them? Look online or go to your library to find out more historically accurate information about the "soldier women."

  • Did you know much about how indigenous people viewed gender before you saw the movie? Do you relate more to their perception of gender, or to a pretty strictly binary view like the colonists had? Why?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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