When I Find the Ocean

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
When I Find the Ocean Movie Poster Image
Heavy historical drama tackles abuse, racism, runaways.
  • PG
  • 2006
  • 104 minutes

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

Positive Messages

People should not be judged by their skin color. Children should tell their parents when they're being abused.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lily is independent and brave but uncommunicative. Her mother's fiancé was abused as a boy and now beats Lily regularly with his belt.


A man beats his soon-to-be stepdaughter, but we only see the resulting welts after the fact. The girl doesn't tell her family and runs away to escape his abuse. Racist, self-serving white people claim the African-American man who rescued Lily has kidnapped her for sexual purposes, and they beat him. Lily's grandfather punches the man who beat his granddaughter.


An African-American tugboat captain rescues a girl who is caught in a poachers' animal trap, but the white people who illegally laid the trap wrongly suggest the man saved her because of his sexual interest in her. A man and woman kiss passionately with their clothes on. A 12-year-old girl is shown in the bathtub, but only her shoulders and knees are seen.


"Damn," "darn," "idiot," "hell," "son of a bi ... " (the phrase is not completed), "bitch," the "N" word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults chew tobacco and drink beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When I Find the Ocean is a 2006 straight-to-video release that poses a fictional abused runaway girl against a backdrop of racism and the famed Selma, Alabama, segregation protests of 1965. Violence is threatened repeatedly, with KKK sympathizers wielding guns, poachers pointing rifles, and vigilante crowds gunning for an innocent African-American man. A man hits someone who has beaten his granddaughter. Racist, self-serving white people claim the African-American man who rescued Lily has kidnapped her for sexual purposes. A shot is fired to frighten rather than wound. Welt marks are seen on the back of a beaten child. A hungry black panther on the loose is shot with a sedation dart. Expect racist remarks and language, including the "N" word. Many white people are villains, and a Native American man and an African-American man are heroes. "Damn," "hell," and "bitch" are heard.

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What's the story?

WHEN I FIND THE OCEAN follows 12-year-old Lily (Lily Matland Holly), who misses her father, lost at sea a few years before. She hates the man her mother is about to marry, partly because he regularly beats her. Rather than tell her mother, she runs away, searching for the sea that might hold her lost father. The journey takes her into the Alabama woods, where she's caught in an animal trap laid by stereotypically good-ol'-boy poachers. Lily's grandfather (Lee Majors) and his Native American best friend (Graham Greene) have taught her how to survive in the wild, but the trap defies her preparations. An African-American tugboat captain rescues her, but seeing the welts on her back, he is reluctant to return her to the family. KKK sympathizers organize a posse to catch him, assuming he means to rape her. At the same time, a panther has been spotted, striking fear into local hearts, and Martin Luther King's 1965 Selma march against segregation is about to launch.

Is it any good?

This movie's heart is in the right place, promoting tolerance, honesty, and decency, but it does all these things so simplistically that it's difficult to take in all the positive messages. Lily is portrayed with affectless blankness, leaving an emotional hole at the center of the story. Many scenes feel staged and lifeless, drawing attention to directorial ineptitude rather than to the historical legacy of prejudice and the ugliness that rode along with it. To their credit, the filmmakers make little overt attempt to explain social upheaval and the politics behind the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Still, the script is facile to the degree that it sometimes forgets to adhere to internal logic that's been established earlier. Ham-handed metaphors stand in for adroit storytelling. As the story winds down, there is a mad scurry to tie up loose plot threads, and several endings are presented one by one, including a quick cut to the panther, safely back in the woods, perhaps metaphorically suggesting that African-American people are safe now.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Lily's grandmother's remark that even though people look different, they are all the same underneath.

  • Why do you think it was legal in some places in the U.S. to discriminate against African-American people?

  • Although slavery is now illegal in the U.S., do you think the once-legal practice still echoes in attitudes toward minorities today?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

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