White Nights

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
White Nights Movie Poster Image
'80s dance drama has some violence, profanity.
  • PG-13
  • 1985
  • 136 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Free countries have problems. Oppressive countries have even more problems. Although Raymond faced racism in the United States, he felt freer there than in Russia.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Russian colonel repeatedly lies and spouts political rhetoric and doublespeak. Raymond is angry about the way he was treated as a black man in the United States. He is just as angry about the repressive Soviet government. Friends risk their lives and privileged positions in Russia to help Nikolai get back to America. Russian friends who were left behind when Nikolai defected feel betrayed, as his departure subjected them to government pressure.

Violence

A commercial airliner emergency crash lands in Russian territory. As a defector, Nikolai is terrified the authorities will capture him when they land. Nikolai falls as the plane touches down and his head is bloodied. Nikolai jumps from a great height as he executes a daring escape. Russian agents grab Ray's wife and hold her against her will. Two men fight. A choreographed dance routine shows "suicide" by hanging.

Sex

A married couple embraces. Two people kiss briefly. A male dancer performs shirtless. Someone suggests that black men are "studs."

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bastard," "scum," "shut up." Someone raises his middle finger.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke and drink, sometimes to drunkenness. It's implied that the only way to endure Soviet oppression is to consume great amounts of vodka.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that White Nights is a 1985 drama that recalls an era before the Soviet Union collapsed economically and became less of a military threat to the United States in the 1990s. Using a famous dancer as a political pawn, the plot illustrates the flaws in both societies. The Soviet practice of pressuring neighbors and friends to spy on each other is emphasized, and the movie comes out in favor of the relative freedom afforded Americans. Political sparring, actual physical fights, and a daring escape all rev up a high-tension plot. A commercial airliner emergency-crash-lands in Russian territory. Nikolai falls as the plane touches down and his head is bloodied. Profanity includes "s--t," "f--k," "a--hole," and "bastard." It's implied that the only way to endure Soviet oppression is to consume great amounts of vodka. Note that the first dance sequence features a choreographed "suicide" by hanging.

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What's the story?

WHITE NIGHTS describes the long hours of daylight in Russia. Nikolai (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is a ballet star who defected to the United States eight years before. As he heads for a performance in Japan, his plane makes an emergency landing in Russian territory. He is terrified about touching down in Russia as he has been branded a criminal by the Soviet government. But owing to his artistic stature, the Russian authorities try to coax him to dance again for propaganda purposes. If he stays, the Russians will report that Nikolai is happy to be back even though the truth is they are holding him prisoner. His caretaker is Raymond (Gregory Hines), an African-American dancer who defected the other way after experiencing racism and the senseless trauma of fighting for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Ray is bitter about American racism but disappointed in the oppressive Soviet society that sent him to desolate Siberia, a virtual prison camp. Nikolai engineers a dangerous escape plan that takes up the last half hour of the film.

Is it any good?

For kids who knows nothing of the former Soviet Union's brutal practices, this is a well-made, dramatic, if simplistic, introduction to the open repression of Russia and its satellite countries. The representation of citizens being forced to spy on neighbors and friends in order to stay out of trouble with the government is accurate and frightening. Additionally, director Taylor Hackford lovingly features long dance performances by both Baryshnikov and Hines, two powerful screen presences. Again, for young audiences this offers an opportunity to see two masters of the past working near their peaks. Hines, Baryshnikov, and Twyla Tharp did the choreography. Pacing may at times seem slow by today's quick-cut editing standards, but there is plenty to appreciate here.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how some governments oppress their citizens. Why do you think a country would want to keep its people prisoners?

  • What is the difference between communism and democracy? Did the Soviet Union have actual communism? Does America have actual democracy? Do you know why the Soviet Union collapsed?

  • The movie judges America harshly for its racist treatment of black people and judges the Soviet Union harshly for repression of its citizens. Do you think the movie views one country more favorably than the other? Why?

Movie details

For kids who love to dance

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