In A Quiet Passion, Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) returns to her family home after a difficult period away at school where she was persecuted for her rebellious spirit and outspoken nature. Writing poetry is her solace, her way of dealing with the pain and difficult experiences that life throws at her. She shares her poems with her parents (Joanna Bacon and Keith Carradine), her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle), her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) and later her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May). Eventually a few of the poems are published in a small newspaper.
Emily’s poems go largely unnoticed because it’s widely believed that women ‘cannot create permanent treasures of literature’. Emily is left to wonder whether she’ll ever amount to anything or do something worthwhile with her life. She watches both her parents die, sees friends leave her small community and farewells dearly loved ministers. As Emily ages, her health deteriorates and she withdraws to her room at the top of the stairs. As the years go by, she becomes more and more reclusive and gradually more embittered by a world that refuses to embrace her poetry or to see her for who she could be. Sadly it takes Emily’s death for the world to realise what it has lost.
There is some violence in A Quiet Passion including graphic images of civil war battlefields. These scenes include very realistic images of fallen soldiers and close-up shots of dead bodies.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, A Quiet Passion has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example, Emily suffers a series of painful seizures. She writhes on the ground or shakes uncontrollably on her bed. The final seizure is extremely graphic. She gasps for breath, her face is distorted and unnatural, her eyes bulge, her whole body is stiff and her hands keep violently reaching out as if grasping for help that never comes.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example, Emily’s mother suffers a stroke while alone in her room. She suffers silently and painfully and then dies in the arms of her daughters, both of whom are devastated.
Younger children in this age group might be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
Nothing of concern
A Quiet Passion has some sexual references. For example:
- Emily asks Susan if ‘that part’ of married life is really so terrible. Susan replies, ‘I do my duty’ and says that her husband ‘is tender and yielding to my reservations’.
- Vinnie tells Emily about a rumour that a certain man has a venereal disease.
- Emily and Austin have several heated arguments about Austin’s infidelity.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
A Quiet Passion shows some use of substances. For example:
- An aunt sips a glass of currant wine for ‘medicinal purposes’.
- A doctor gives Emily chloroform on her deathbed to calm her down.
Nudity and sexual activity
A Quiet Passion has some partial nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- During a dance, women wear dresses that show a fair bit of cleavage. This is the style of the day.
- Emily follows what appear to be the sounds of two people making love and walks in on Austin. He’s on a couch on top of another woman and kissing her passionately.
No product placement
Noting of concern
Ideas to discuss with your children
A Quiet Passion is a period drama about the sad story of a talented woman who was largely unrecognised in her lifetime. It features beautiful sets and fine details. The acting is superb. Younger audiences might not be able to follow much of the movie’s dialogue or storyline, but mature audiences will appreciate it. It isn’t recommended for children under 13 years, we recommend parental guidance for children aged 13-15 years.
The main messages from this movie are to be true to yourself and to follow your passion regardless of what other people think.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include kindness, loyalty, humour and perseverance.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about gender equality and how much things have changed – or haven’t – over time. The notion that women can’t do or create anything worthwhile and that they’re merely decorative rather than useful runs throughout the movie. You and your children could discuss whether contemporary society still has work to do in eliminating this notion.