Common Sense Note
Parents need to know that this romantic drama based on Sara Gruen's best-selling novel features some disturbing scenes of domestic abuse, animal cruelty, and other violence. The romance includes a few kisses and one love scene between stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, but it's dimly lit and shows very little skin. Violence includes an animal being put down, another animal bloody and lethargic after a beating with a hook, a woman nearly being strangled to death, and the then-common practice of "redlighting" -- throwing circus workers off a moving train. Two "redlighted" characters are shown dead and sprawled among rocks, and the main character's dead parents are briefly shown in the morgue. With its mature themes and the central abusive relationship, this movie isn't always easy to watch, but it does encourage women to leave abusers before it's too late.
Marlena and August embrace and kiss in front of other people. Jacob and Marlena flirt with each other, dance, and eventually make love, but the scene isn't explicit. In one scene, August forces Jacob and Marlena to dance with each other and stare into each other's eyes, as if to prove they have feelings for each other. Scenes of burlesque dancers stripping, though only bare backs are shown. A couple scenes of heavy flirting and verbal innuendo between a stripper and Jacob, as well as euphemistic references to him not being able to perform sexually due to drunkenness.
A circus boss is incredibly cruel and abusive to his wife, employees, and animals. In a couple of particularly upsetting scenes, August hurts an elephant so much that you see him and the elephant covered in blood. A man almost strangles his wife to death. Jacob is beaten badly -- with fists and kicks -- more than once. In one scene, Jacob comes close to killing August in his sleep with a knife. In another scene, a man is violently killed, and viewers see a close up of his face with blood dripping down his face. The practice of "redlighting" -- when the circus boss' heavies toss circus hands off a moving train, without caring whether they survive the fall or not -- is mentioned again and again. The number of workers redlighted is discussed several times; at one point, Jacob is nearly thrown off. Toward the end of the film, two characters are shown dead and bloody on the rocks, having failed to survive their redlighting. Brief scene of two dead people (the main character's parents) in a morgue.
Language includes a couple of "s--t"s, plus "goddamned," "hell," "damn," "balls," "coochie girls," and "ass."
Some of the movie's positive messages include being kind to animals, empathetic to other human beings, and getting out of abusive relationships. The relationship message is particularly important, because it shows young women that no matter how much they think they "owe" their significant others, they should never stay in an unhealthy relationship.
Drugs / Tobacco /
Lots of alcohol consumption -- both by adults who drink to excess and by animals, who are given liquor to soothe their nerves and usher them to sleep. In one scene, the main characters get very drunk, stumbling and passing out; Jacob wakes up hungover and laughing, dressed as a clown. Adults are also shown smoking era-accurate cigars and cigarettes.