A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
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