A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Complex layers of themes about human behavior in terms of violence and war. Some people rationalize cruelty and torture in name of justice; others who practice kindness and caring can become unwitting catalysts for further violence through inaction or naivete.
Positive Role Models
The Magistrate is a genuinely kind, caring, empathetic, intelligent character who's worthy of being considered a role model -- except that his actions are indirectly responsible for violence, and, in the end, he's left with nothing but doom.
Violence & Scariness
A row of prisoners have hands wired to their faces through their cheeks, then connected together by a long wire. They're beaten with wooden staffs. A child is invited to beat them, too; she does. More beating, with broken arm, gurgling blood. Character with top of head sliced off (flies buzz around remains). Character with two broken legs; she describes being tortured (hot fork poked in eyes, partially blinding her). Prisoner hanged by wrists from tree, screaming in pain. General background guns and shooting. Blood-covered prisoners. Dead body, bloody face. Bloody wounds. Icky sore on neck. Threats. Scary sandstorm. Humiliating a prisoner by dressing him in women's things.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two characters seemingly share a bed; sex may or may not be implied. Woman's naked back and partial naked bottom shown. Woman in partially see-through nightgown. Mention of prostitution.
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Two uses of "f--king."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Waiting for the Barbarians is an intense drama based on J.M. Coetzee's novel about a magistrate (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) at a remote, unnamed outpost whose attempts at kindness result in violence. It has scenes of shocking violence and gore: Prisoners' hands are wired to their faces, and a row of them are all wired together. The top half of a man's head is missing, and a woman describes brutal torture done to her (being blinded with a hot fork, her legs broken). There's also beating, screaming, guns and shooting, lots of blood, and dead bodies. A sexual relationship is suggested between two characters, but nothing explicit is shown. Expect glimpses of a woman's naked back and the top of her buttocks, as well as a somewhat see-through nightgown. The word "f--king" is used twice. It's a little uneven and stiff, but the performances, cinematography, and themes make it worth a look for mature viewers. Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson co-star. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Uneven and sometimes a little rigid, this adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's 1980 novel eventually finds its footing through several forceful performances, some gorgeous passages, and its relevant themes. Adapted by Nobel Prize winner Coetzee himself (his first screenplay) and directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra (the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent), Waiting for the Barbarians is told in four chapters, one named for each season. It starts off a little oddly, given that it's set in no particular time or place. Then Colonel Joll arrives wearing strange, otherworldly sunglasses; coupled with the writerly sounding dialogue, it feels as if the movie could almost be science fiction.
Fortunately, the performers find ways to act through the words -- Rylance with his inherent sense of kindness and soft intelligence and Depp amusingly expressing a seething evil, perfectly controlled and inflexible, conveyed through one of the actor's trademark brisk British accents. Bayarsaikhan has a quietly mesmerizing screen presence, and Pattinson lets his steely eyes and jaw project a searing brutality. The dynamic, well-composed outdoor sequences further improve things, even if the last chapter suddenly includes images of violence and horror that some viewers may wish they could unsee. But it's the final image of Waiting for the Barbarians that haunts, leaving off with the realization that we brought this on ourselves.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.