This is a soapy saga of love, war, and many, many hairstyles.
The hair signifies the passage of time in the story of a love triangle that lasts through the turbulent decades of Europe in from the roaring 20’s through World War II.
Charlize Theron plays Gilda, a glamorous heiress who lives for pleasure. Guy (Stuart Townsend), a shy and serious Cambridge student, is dazzled by her beauty, honesty, and complete freedom from any conventional notions about how to behave. She is drawn to him, but perhaps because of his seriousness, she does not let herself get too close to him. They have brief, passionate encounters, and then she disappears to wherever the parties are. Sometimes they spar over determinism vs. free will (“You think I was being spontaneous but I was always going to do that, just like I was always going to win this argument!”) and about the meaning of life. She thinks that the misery and injustice all around them is all the more reason to enjoy everything they can, before it catches up with them. He believes that it is his obligation to fight for freedom.
Guy leaves his teaching job in England to live in Paris with Gilda, living a bohemian life as a photographer. She has taken in a Spanish dancer named Mia (Penelope Cruz), who is in Paris to get training as a nurse, so she can return to help fight the fascists. The sweep of passion and the sweep of history bring the three together and separate them, as Guy and Mia go off to fight in the Spanish Civil War and Guy returns to find Gilda living with one of the Nazi officers overseeing the occupation of Paris.
Even with all of that passion and sweep and the star power of its actors, the movie feels as pre-determined as its main character’s fatalistic outlook. The scenes are filled with themes and historical events of great power, and yet they never pulse with life. Gilda is a fantasy madonna/whore figure, and the characters’ petty problems and debates, intended to illuminate what is going on around them, are a distraction instead.
Parents should know that the movie has extremely explicit sexual references and situations, including orgies, promiscuity, sadism, and same-sex relationships. Characters drink, smoke, and use very strong language. The movie has battle and other wartime violence, torture, and sexual violence. Characters are injured and killed.
Families who see this movie should talk about their own views on determinism vs. free will and how we decide when to become involved in others’ fights for freedom.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Charlotte Gray. They should also see some wartime classics like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not.