Australian Council on Children and the Media

An American Pickle

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Short takes

Not suitable under 12; parental guidance to 13 (violence, themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for An American Pickle
  • a review of An American Pickle completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 28 September 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 12 Not suitable due to violence and themes.
Children aged 12–13 Parental guidance recommended due to violence and themes.
Children over the age of 13 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: An American Pickle
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes, violence and coarse language
Length 89 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

In 1919, Eastern Europe was a grim place for Russian Jews, who were often attacked by Cossacks. So, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) takes his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) and they flee to America. Herschel finds a job in a local pickle factory, where, unfortunately, he falls into a vat of pickled fish. This goes unnoticed and Herschel remains there, preserved in the pickle brine, for 100 years. That is, until two young boys discover Herschel when they follow their drone into the abandoned factory and open the vat.

Herschel wakes up to modern day Brooklyn. He’s taken into hospital where they find his only living relative, his great grandson Ben Greenbaum (Seth Rogen). Ben initially takes Herschel in but they soon fall out as friends due to their opposing views on just about everything. Herschel makes money by doing what he knows, pickling fish and selling them, and he rises in notoriety while Ben struggles to make a living. Ben plots Herschel’s downfall by using social media as a way to expose the outmoded values Herschel still holds. Herschel is eventually driven out of America and escapes to Canada where he and Ben manage to reconcile their differences.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Loss of parents; Religious values and beliefs; Religious intolerance; Hate speech.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Cossacks wielding scimitars rush into a village and burn the village down.
  • Herschel chases rats around the factory with a sledgehammer. He gets splattered in blood when he kills one.
  • Herschel punches a doctor.
  • Herschel threatens a worker with violence when he puts a billboard above Sarah’s grave. He then punches him and this turns into a full on fight between Herschel and the other workers.
  • Herschel and Ben verbally argue and shout at each other.
  • An angry mob protest at Herschel’s rally.
  • Herschel is chased out of the auditorium by an angry audience who throw things at him.
  • Hershel smashes Ben’s window to gain entrance to his apartment.
  • Ben and Herschel run away from border guards. Ben falls down and injures his hand.
  • Herschel tells Ben how Sarah used to chase wolves with sticks and club them to death.
  • Herschel punches Ben.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Early 20th century Europe is quite grim. The marketplace is grey and gloomy. There is much poverty.
  • The pickle factory is also a grim place with colonies of rats everywhere.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Herschel gives Sarah a fish and she bites its head off.
  • Herschel falls into a pickle vat and gets shut in there.
  • When the boys open the vat, Herschel roars out and frightens the boys away.
  • Herschel is seen strapped to a hospital bed with bands around his head and wrists.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • When Herschel and Sarah arrive in America, they are processed by immigration officers who call them filthy Jews.
  • Ben talks about how his parents were killed in a car crash and he is obviously still affected by this. He’s writing an app called Bo Bop, which were his childhood names for his parents. He’s also incapable of moving forward even though he was a high achieving student.
  • Herschel is surprised to see an interracial couple walking hand in hand.
  • Herschel pronounces that sodomites will burn in hell for their crimes. He holds old-fashioned values, which appeals to a group of people who become his followers. He becomes famous for his opinions so Ben encourages him to use Twitter to speak his mind (knowing that this would be his undoing).
  • Herschel is invited to a debate about his views where he says that women are basically inferior and that Jesus Christ’s mother was a prostitute. She invented Christianity to become famous and those who follow Christianity are stupid idiots.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • McDonalds
  • Kombucha
  • Apple iPad
  • Twitter.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Herschel and Sarah kiss at their wedding.
  • Sarah becomes pregnant.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Drinking at bars.
  • Some characters smoke.
  • A billboard for Vodka is shown.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Shit
  • Jack shit
  • Cute A F
  • This kale FUX
  • Big dick energy
  • Oh my God
  • Shithead
  • Name calling such as Stupid; stupider than a Polish person; stupid idiot.

In a nutshell

An American Pickle is a comedy that reflects on the changing values between the early 20th and 21st centuries. Herschel is a character used to speaking his mind and, using hate speech, he attacks a lot of current values such as equality of gender, race and religion. It refers to the use of free speech and the ‘right to offend’. As such, younger viewers could misunderstand a lot of the themes and the movie is therefore not recommended for children under 12. Parental guidance is also recommended for children aged 12 – 13 given some of the extreme comments that are made in the movie.

The main messages from this movie are the importance of family and the need to compromise to achieve success.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Racial stereotypes are fortunately now outdated
  • Putting down others for their beliefs and/or gender is no longer tolerated.
  • Families should work together and support each other.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Why did Herschel hold such hateful beliefs about people who had a different value system to his?
  • Why did Herschel always resort to the use of violence to solve his problems?

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