Since we have been studying the American Revolution in our homeschool, I got a couple of movies set in that time for the kids to watch. One of them, which I have already reviewed, was The Crossing, a made for TV movie starring Jeff Daniels. The other, which we just watched today, is the American Girl movie Felicity. As I think over these two, I find myself wanting to recommend one of them and to warn you to steer clear of the other. And the odd thing is (or perhaps not so odd) that it is the American Girl movie which was made for and marketed to kids that is the one I really didn’t like. The reasons why have a lot to do with what makes one movie (or book) bothersome to me and another not.
The Crossing, as I said in my earlier post on it, has some violence and bad langauge. Hessians get killed, some by the sword up close and some tossed around by cannon fire. Now by modern movie theater standards, this movie is not shockingly violent (it is made for TV, after all). The killings by sword are shown pretty clearly and they are not pretty, but overall it is not what I would call gory. When it comes to langauge, this movie is again not one of those with swear words thrown around left and right, but there is mention of fornication, the word “balls” is used a couple of times and not to refer to round rubber playthings, and the word “ass” is used. In fact George Washington himself is made the utterer of these words in one scene. Compare this to Felicity in which the only violence whatsoever is against a horse and even that is not shown clearly and there is absolutely no objectionable langauge at all.
And yet I liked The Crossing a lot better than I liked Felicity despite the violence and langauge issues. The langauge in The Crossing could have been left out, in my opinion, though I am sure in real life there must have been some bad langauge among a company of freezing, starving soldiers. The violence was definitely part of the story; it is a war after all. Nonetheless, The Crossing has a good story to tell and a good message to convey. As I said in that earlier review, it gives a very good picture of the complexities of the rebels’ situation. It does not gloss over their injustices even while they fight what they see as the King’s unfairness to his colonies. It does not make war pretty or depict the Americans as pristine heroes with no blemish upon them and yet at the same time there are heroes in this story. George Washington above all comes off well, and even some of his aides look pretty good. They show courage, fortitude, and a willingness to pursue the course they deem right despite incredible odds and lots of naysayers. They show loyalty too, even at the risk of their own lives. I came out of this movie liking the people involved and respecting them.
And then there is Felicity. This movie tries to show both sides of the issue; there are loyalists ands patriots in the town. Felicity and her friend both feel torn between them, and yet the final message seems to be that it doesn’t matter what one believes. I think the filmmakers were going for “we can all be friends even though our beliefs differ” but really what it comes off as is “one’s firmly held beliefs really don’t really matter.”
I wish Felicity had been trying to say something about disobedience to authority. It could have been a great vehicle for it. It is after all set during the Revolution when the colonies rebelled again their parent country and the main character, the girl Felicity, is quite disobedient to her parents. But the connections were not clearly drawn and Felicity’s disobedience always works out well for her. She gets what she wants, never gets punished, and the downsides are not shown. There was potential here, but they just did not make anything of it and in the end Felicity, despite all her disobedience and sneaking around, is portrayed as the heroine and her faults are never really addressed. The take away message seems to be “kids know best so it’s fine to ignore your parents’ instructions and wishes.”
Lastly, there is the theology of the movie. Though Felicity lived in a time when most people would have professed faith in Christ (no matter what the state of their hearts may have been), God is largely left out of this movie. Once Felicity says she prayed and that prayer is answered (though this seems again to reward her disobedience) and once we see her praying and that prayer is again answered, but the family as a whole shows no signs of faith. When the grandfather dies, her mom tells Felicity that he is not gone because love doesn’t end. But there is no mention of him having gone to heaven. It is hard to believe a family at the time would not have had a belief in the afterlife. And then the final message of the movie seems to be that there is good in all of us. Even the mean character in the story is shown not be really mean. Felicity says that despite all outward appearances that is not who he really is and that he (and everyone else presumably) is good deep down inside. This I find a lot more insidious and dangerous for kids to see than the message of The Crossing.
When asked about books and movies, we parents tend to want to know is it violent? Are bad words used? Are there “adult scenes”? And I am not saying that these are not important considerations, but the spirit of a movie is far more important. I would rather my kids see a movie like The Crossing which portrays war and people’s natures realistically but also shows the greatness of the human character, albeit mixed as it is in real life with more coarse threads, than one like Felicity which tries to make everything sweetness and light and ignores both the truth of our human nature and the importance of adherence to principles. I worry a lot more about the subtle messages of a movie like Felicity which seems to family-friendly on the surface than about the violence and language in one like The Crossing.