White Oleander

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
White Oleander Movie Poster Image
Upsetting and dark, for older than PG-13.
  • PG-13
  • 2002
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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


Intense and painful family situations, murder, shooting, drug use, suicide.


Sexual references and situations, including predatory sex with foster parent.


Some strong language for a PG-13.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol and drug use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie includes brutality of a modern-era Dickensian quality. Astrid is seduced by one foster parent and shot by another. A third commits suicide. Astrid is subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Ingrid murders her lover. There are non-explicit sexual situations and references. Characters drink, smoke, and use drugs. Characters use strong language and mock religious faith.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byBanana B. November 23, 2020

Beautiful movie about hardship and endurance

Set in 1986, Astrid Magnussen (Alison Lohman) is a shy, artistic fourteen-year-old girl who idolizes her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a beautiful, free-s... Continue reading
Adult Written bywonder dove March 11, 2009

Astounding performances!

Performed beautifully by Pfeiffer and Lohman, this movie is exquisite. It deals with very mature themes and is not recommended for children of any age. I think... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bySACYUC June 14, 2010

One of the best films i have ever seen.

I love this movie, it`s beautiful. One of the best films i have ever seen.
Teen, 15 years old Written byOceanGirl April 9, 2008

A good movie, but for older teens.

I saw this movie, and there are many issues in it that younger teens may find disturbing or not understand. This includes drugs, drinking, sex, a suicide, sexua... Continue reading

What's the story?

When strong willed artist Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) murders her lover, she is sent to prison, leaving her daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman) to a series of foster homes. First, Astrid lives with Starr (Robin Wright Penn), a situation that starts out fine until Astrid gets involved with Starr's live-in boyfriend. Astrid's other foster homes include Claire (Renée Zellweger), a weepy actress with a distant husband, and Rena (Svetlana Efremova), a money-hungry Russian who rules a ragtag group of orphans. In between, she stays at an institution, where she is beat up by tough girls but befriended by sensitive Paul (Patrick Fugit). Each setting provides Astrid with a new identity to try and a new opportunity to be hurt. Through it all, she visits her mother in prison, and it becomes clear that the woman who killed the man who tried to leave her would also do anything -- and destroy anyone -- to hold on to her daughter. Whenever Astrid seems happy, Ingrid finds a way to ruin it, leaving Astrid confused and self-destructive. Finally, though, she learns that she is reacting to Ingrid, and that to be fully her own person she must find her own way to intimacy and expression.

Is it any good?

Even Michelle Pfeiffer's exquisite performance and the powerhouse appearances by Robin Wright Penn and newcomer Alison Lohman can't keep the endless series of tragedies from melodrama. WHITE OLEANDER is adapted from a book with language both vivid and lyrical that made the terrible events more epic than sordid. The movie tries to achieve the same standard, going for prestige drama over soap opera.

A Jungian analysis might suggest that the story is a metaphor for the inevitable separation in all mother-daughter relations. All of the mother figures -- Ingrid, the foster moms, and the social worker -- are like one mother splintered into many extreme versions, as though reflected through a prism. All children find their mother to be many things, from the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving figure of their earliest memories to the extremely demanding and ultimately rejecting caricature she can appear to a teenager struggling to know herself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Astrid changes her appearance and manner to reflect each of her "homes," while Ingrid seems almost untouched by her surroundings.

Movie details

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