Suzanne Tobias

May 28, 2014

Sharing meaningful movies with teens is on the summer to-do list

The first time I saw “Schindler’s List” in a movie theater with my husband in 1993, I pledged that if we ever had children, they would watch it.

The first time I saw “Schindler’s List” in a movie theater with my husband in 1993, I pledged that if we ever had children, they would watch it.

Not in lieu of “Barney” or “Sesame Street,” of course. But when they were older, more mature.

I remember thinking that the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who becomes an unlikely humanitarian and saves more than 1,000 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, should be required viewing for high school students.

I felt the same way about “Saving Private Ryan,” which opens with an incredible cinematic re-creation of the Allied invasion of Normandy, and “United 93,” a real-time accounting of the hijacking and subsequent crash of United Flight 93 on Sept. 11.

One of the best things about children getting older – besides not having to make all their meals or hound them to go potty – is getting to experience meaningful, life-changing books and films together. Now that mine are both in high school, our summer to-do list includes several movies about or inspired by real-life events.

Not long ago, Jack and I watched “127 Hours,” the story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who became trapped under a boulder while canyoneering near Moab, Utah, and resorted to desperate measures – including amputating his own arm – to survive.

The movie was nerve-wracking, of course. Disturbing. At times grotesque. I understand why some parents would think it isn’t appropriate viewing for a 13-year-old boy.

But as we watched the film together at home – after reading news accounts online and agreeing that either of us could stop the DVD at any time – we both realized the story, while horrific, also was touching, inspiring, triumphant and hopeful.

Days later our family still was talking about lessons learned from the film. Among them: Never give up, use the buddy system, carry a sharp knife and CALL YOUR MOTHER!

Last fall, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, we watched “United 93” and marveled at those passengers’ courage and fortitude. We watched “Apollo 13,” based on the true story of the ill-fated moon mission, and talked about the importance of persistence, grit and creative problem-solving. We watched “The King’s Speech” and discussed how kindness, love and support trump intimidation and bullying.

More recently we watched “A Beautiful Mind,” the Oscar-winning biopic of John Nash Jr., a math prodigy who overcame years of schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize.

Over the next couple of months, in addition to reading, swimming and enjoying whatever brain-candy blockbuster might be in theaters, I look forward to sharing other important films with my teenage children.

Some, like “Schindler’s List,” are rated R because of violence, language or adult subject matter. Some moms and dads might deem them unsuitable for teens, which I understand. As with anything else – roller coasters, water-skiing, haunted houses or eating sushi – parents usually are the best judge of a child’s readiness and maturity level.

Our must-see list this summer includes:

•  “Hotel Rwanda,” the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the general manager of a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, who provides food and shelter and ultimately saves the lives of more than 1,200 refugees.
•  “Erin Brockovich,” about a legal clerk who builds a case against a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.
•  “Milk,” the story of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in the state of California.
• And “All the President’s Men,” a right of passage for journalists’ kids.

I’d love more suggestions as well. Please share – via e-mail or a comment on this column online – the titles of films you think would be good for teens and parents to watch together. I’ll make the popcorn.

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