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Tuesday, May 11, 2004
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Featured Article: The Movie "Thirteen" revisited ? A shocking but realistic glimpse of our culture
Starring Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Jonathan McKee
May 11, 2004
Many of us who work in youth ministry have heard the hype about the 2003 movie "Thirteen,"
now on video and DVD. Newspapers reviewed it as "a wake up call to parents today." The buzz
on the street was that this was the movie for moms and teenage daughters to see together and
discuss. Movie reviews didn't disagree with the hype. USA Today gave it four out of four
stars, the film was highly praised at Sundance where the director Catherine Hardwicke
grabbed a director award, and Holly Hunter was nominated for best supporting actress at the
Some Christian reviewers haven't responded the same. Focus on Family's "Plugged in" argues
"Who needs a film that glamorizes the lifestyle without offering solutions or even
bothering to show the brutal consequences?" Other Christians were appalled at the
onscreen make out sessions, drug use and graphic language.
So is the film worth seeing?
It depends. (Vague enough for ya?)
Okay, for those that want the quick answer ...
Who should see it?
Now, for those who want to go a little deeper than that ...
Someone wanting mere entertainment? No
Parents of teens and preteens? Yes
Youth workers? Yes
Kids at a sleep over? No way
Thirteen year olds? No, with a few exceptions
Seventeen year olds? Maybe with their parents, if followed with discussion
Most people who saw this film were "disturbed" with what they saw. That's understandable,
since that's what the director intended. Before the film was even penned, Director
Catherine Hardwicke was personally "disturbed" when she saw the life of a sweet little 12
year old neighbor girl begin to change before her eyes. This bright, innocent tween started
becoming "angry and rebellious." By age 13 she was a different person. Hardwicke began
spending time with the young rebel, looking for a way to connect with her and channel her
energies toward something positive. They embarked on a project together, a screenplay about
the pressures and changes a 13 year old girl goes through, and the direction her choices
could take her?the screenplay for "Thirteen."
This film is a "tragedy." I don't use the word tragedy to mean "a lame film," but a tragedy
in the literary sense, like Hamlet. It is a story where we see the rise and fall of the
central character. Thirteen could be compared to Ted Demme's 2001 movie, "Blow," with
Johnny Depp. We witness the central character go down a road that seems attractive on the
surface (With "Blow," it was money, getting high, and pretty girls. With "Thirteen," it was
popularity, sex, and drugs.), but it eventually leads to misery. Both films end with the
central character having little hope, sitting at rock bottom.
"Thirteen" was not made for mere entertainment. It is not a family movie, and it's not a
fun date flick. It's a thought provoker.
"Thirteen" will do two things:
1. It will give you a glimpse at youth culture today.
Does "Thirteen" truthfully represent today's culture? Absolutely. Does "Thirteen" give a
realistic glimpse at the pressures that thirteen-year-olds face today? Yes. All thirteen
year olds? No. The film specifically follows one character's path, a thirteen-year-old
girl named Tracy. Tracy lives in a single parent home with a mom that really tries to do a
good job parenting Tracy and her brother. But we quickly learn that there are cards stacked
against Tracy: the split family, financial struggles, an absent father, the mother's live-in
boyfriend straight from rehab, and a mother who, despite her noble efforts, is a recovering
Tracy faces a realistic struggle that thirteen-year-old girls face today- the struggle to
fit in, to be popular, and to be liked by the opposite sex. We also see new pressures that
we won't find in John Hughes' 1985 hit "The Breakfast Club." Thongs stretching out of
low-rise jeans, tongue rings, and the mainstream pressure to dress like a prostitot.
(Click here to look that word up in our teen lingo
dictionary) These are modern day realities. Time magazine reported that last year alone,
girls between the ages of 13 and 17 spent $152 million on thong underwear. Our kids may or
may not give in to these pressures, and our kids may not live in Tracy's environment, but
our kids share the hallways and locker-room with Tracy.
The movie has more of an impact when you find out that the costar of the film, Nikki Reed,
is that little girl who lived next to the director Catherine Hardwicke and co-wrote the
film. Reed, 14, plays Evie, the thirteen-year-old, beautiful, popular troublemaker who
leads Tracy astray. Reed developed the characters of Tracy and Evie from many of her life
experiences as a 12 and 13 year old. It's fascinating to hear her commentary in the DVD as
she shares about her "transformation" from a sweet girl with good grades to a rebellious
thirteen-year-old flunky, influenced by wrong friends like Evie.
2. It will make you think about choices we make as parents.
Holly Hunter brilliantly plays the role of the struggling mom, daily faced with decisions
of, "Should I let her go out with her friends to the mall by themselves?" "How late is too
late?" "Am I smothering her, or giving her too much space?"
The film especially made me think about the friends that my kids choose. Nikki is basically
the "Eddie Haskel" of the new millennium. Take Eddie Haskel, mix him with Madonna's
sexuality and Christina Aguilera's discernment ... and you've got Evie. She knows how to put
on the right mask in every situation to get what she wants.
Throughout the film I found myself sympathizing with Tracy's mother. The girls were slowly
pulling the wool over her eyes, and even though we saw the writing on the wall, she didn't.
And many youth workers are far too wise to dismiss this "blindness" as unrealistic because
we have personally witnessed it too many times with the parents of kids in our own ministry.
The bad side-effects of "Thirteen"
How do you show a realistic, thought-provoking snapshot of the depravity in our society
without glamorizing it? Good question. And the answer isn't as simple as, "film A glamorizes
sex," and "film B doesn't." Those factors vary with perception. Not to mention, most of
these films I call "tragedies" follow the typical outline of: rise to the top ... crash and
burn! I know when I went to see the film "Blow," I leaned over to my buddy 30 minutes into
the film and sarcastically said, "Okay, I'm convinced. I want to deal drugs!" At 30 minutes
into "Blow," life was looking pretty good for the drug dealer. But then we witnessed the
The problem is, youth are watching these films and they don't necessarily get the message.
I remember when the gang film "Menace to Society" came out in the early 90's. I worked with
a rough group of kids, many who were "wanna-be's or kids who had gang-banger friends. I saw
the film when it was released and loved the message. The film showed Caine, a teenaged boy
who flirted with gang life, claiming that he didn't even care if he died. But as he saw the
emptiness around him, he slowly changed his mind, unlike his gun-carrying buddy O-dog. At
the end Caine almost escaped gang life, but was shot in a drive-by. As he's lying on the
ground in the final shot of the film, he says to himself, "I guess in the end it all
catches up with you. My grandpa asked me one time if I care whether I live or die. Yeah, I
do. Now it's too late."
When I saw that film I thought, "What a great message! This is a great anti-gang film, and
kids need to hear this message!" But then I heard kids talking about the film. "O-dog was
so cool! Did you see when he was shooting at those guys?!!" Kids would hold an imaginary
gun sideways to imitate Larenz Tate's character, O-dog, who always held his gun with the
handle side-ways. Now this is a popular gesture among kids. "Did you see that drive by?"
"I had a drive by in my neighborhood once!" Kids would brag about who's neighborhood was
I would ask, "What did you think about Caine's last words- that he wanted to live?" Kids
would just shrug their shoulders and say, "Ya gotta be more careful."
They missed the message.
Thirteen is following suit. Just log onto the official site
(CLICK HERE) and click
on "visit the message boards" to see for yourself. You'll see it straight from the keyboard
of tweens, "This is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I watch it over and over again!
I love Evie!"
If you're a youth worker or parent, I think "Thirteen" is worth seeing. It definitely earns
its "R" rating, so you'll want to visit
www.Screenit.com for the play by play
before you decide to rent it. But the film gives us a realistic glimpse of the Evies and
Tracys roaming the halls on jr. high and high school campuses today. Take it from
"Rangebitch," the screen-name of a teenage girl responding to Rolling Stone's movie review
"When I saw this film, I said 'holy sh**'. I've been an Evie since I was eleven, my
parents were never around so I had to get my attention somehow, you know. God only knows
how many girls I've ruined. The film is raw, everything in it is possible when you're
eleven or twelve. The only thing bad was that they didn't show the truth about Evie:
girls like us always end up alone." -Rangebitch-
New Movie Review Page: Upcoming Reviews?"Raising Helen" and "Saved!"
You've already seen our "VIDEO CLIP IDEAS" page (CLICK HERE),
giving you ideas to kick off discussion in your ministry. But that page doesn't talk much
about whether films are worth watching. Jonathan is now providing another resource at THE
SOURCE. He's now launching the MOVIE REVIEW page (CLICK HERE),
where upcoming movie and video releases will be looked at, from the perspective of a youth
worker and a parent.
Jonathan studied film and video production in College before he went into youth ministry.
Since then, he has used his knowledge of film in his ministry, not only making video shorts,
but staying current with what teens are watching. He loves film and has used it for years
as a tool for understanding and reaching unchurched teenagers.
THE SOURCE's new movie review page will keep us up to date on how films will affect our
culture, and what films have good messages, bad messages, or in many cases, should be
avoided all together.
Raising Helen?COMING TO THEATRES MAY 26th
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Kate Hudson, John Corbett, and Joan Cusack
Saved!?COMING TO THEATRES MAY 28th
Directed by Brian Dannelly
Starring Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, and Jena Malone
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