A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ways to Live Forever is an emotional adaptation of author Sally Nicholls' 2008 children's novel about a 12-year-old English boy dying from leukemia. The story follows how a teacher encourages Sam and his friend Felix (who also has cancer) to write because words are a way "to live forever." There are a few British swears and insults like "bloody" and "daft," and a couple of sweet first kisses for Sam, but otherwise there's not much iffy stuff in the movie in terms of specific content. But the heavy themes and focus on dying makes it a better fit for older tweens and teens who will be able to handle the sadness of Sam's inevitable death.
What's the story?
Based on British author Sally Nicholls' 2008 children's novel, WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER follows the life of 12-year-old Sam McQueen (Robbie Kay), who has terminal leukemia. He and his best friend, Felix Stranger (Alex Etel), are tutored privately by an inspiring teacher (Greta Scacchi) who encourages them to write a journal, because literature -- like all art -- provides a way for someone to "live forever." The boys decide to make a wish list, and Sam fills his journal with not only his wishes, but also tough life-and-death questions. He even leaves a multiple choice survey for his parents to fill in after he dies. As the end of his life nears, Sam continues to search for answers, love his family, and experience new things.
Is it any good?
Spanish director Gustavo Ron captures the vulnerability of a sick tween beautifully. Sam isn't old enough to do anything too wild and crazy, but he is old enough to want a first kiss, to understand the inevitability of death, and to want to make sure he leaves his mark on the world. Young Robbie Kay (who was 14 when he filmed the role) is surprisingly good at conveying both the curiosity of a boy ("what will it feel like when you die?") and the anger and confusion or an adolescent (not to mention the excitement of finding his one and only girlfriend).
Books and movies about people with terminal illnesses are nothing new, but when the dying character is a kid, it can be nearly unbearable to witness. Although Ways to Live Forever is at times a tough movie to watch (and kids may understandably feel saddened by the subject matter), it's not violent or melodramatic. Only in the final third of the story, after Felix dies, does the tone turn heavy. Sam knows that all of the things that he and Felix wished for (to have a girlfriend, fly in an airship, try a drink, take a drag on a cigarette, become a scientist) are only a fraction of what they could have accomplished with more time. But time isn't on their side, and Sam knows it -- as do his parents, his sister, and of course, the audience. When the end does finally, inevitably arrive, it's not as devastating as you imagine, because the humor and curiosity and love that Sam had to share make it bearable after all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Ways to Live Forever portrays children with cancer. Is it more upsetting to see movies about children facing death than adults? Do you think kids can handle movies about kids who are dying?
Talk about what Sam and Felix put on their respective bucket lists. What do you think you'd want to do if you knew you only had a limited time to live?
This movie is based on a book; does the movie make you want to read the novel? What more about Sam (and Felix) would you want to read about?
- In theaters: July 19, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: January 6, 2015
- Cast: Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Greta Scacchi, Robbie Kay
- Director: Gustavo Ron
- Studio: World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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