Prayer Focus
Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for drug use, self-destructive violence, language and sexuality—all involving young teens

Reviewed by: David Linhardt

Very Offensive
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1 hr. 40 min.
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
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Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures

SELF-MUTILATION—Help for Cutters (and others who self-injure in some way)

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Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Nikki Reed, Brady Corbet, Jeremy Sisto | Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke | Produced by: Jeff Levy-Hinte, Michael London, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte | Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Tagline: It’s happening so fast.

Imagine the consequences of a total absence of a father were played out fully in the life of a young girl—like others I’ve seen in America and Romania, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a girl with a void in her heart. Her absent, “So, what’s her problem?” father never tries to delight in or cherish her, and like others I’ve seen, Tracy looks to other things and young men to give her what her heart desperately needs.

Enter Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the film with director Catherine Hardwicke). Evie seems to have everything together—she has no qualms about… well, anything. She does what she wants when she wants, and can manipulate almost everyone. She is the alpha female, and she takes Tracy under her dark wing. Tracy goes from innocent to indecent and far beyond in a self-destructive spiral toward oblivion.

“Thirteen” isn’t spectacularly violent, and it breaks no barriers in terms of nudity or language. The barriers it does break are those of innocence: how many thirteen-year-olds have you seen snorting crack and inhaling aerosol? Tracy and Evie dress like prostitutes, and Evie teaches Tracy how to be sexy and seduce the boys—and while sex is only referenced or shown before too much skin comes into play, the shock of young teens petting and making out gives “Thirteen” its R rating. Tracy and Evie use the F-word repeatedly, steal, lie abundantly, and basically try every avenue possible for numbing the pain of their lives.

Only because I’ve taught girls like Tracy and Evie would I begin to imagine that I understand the depth of heart-wrenching self-hatred and search for pleasure and numbness that these girls search for. They long to be accepted, loved, and cherished—they long for godly fathers. Though Ms. Hardwicke was in no way trying to exemplify a young heart without its God or a father, the pain of Tracy’s heart and the self-destruction of Evie fairly shout for love and redemption. The true nature of self-mutilation (dealt with, as other sensitive subjects are in the film, a brutal, pain-filled frankness) is this: the blood and scars on Tracy’s arms are simply her body conforming to the state of her heart.

I’m not sure I could have believed this movie without having seen it in reality with my friends at home and my high school students in Romania. Young people desperately need mature, grace-filled love—they need most of all for their parents, fathers especially, to believe in them. To see them as Christ does.

“Thirteen” is like other similarly brutal and frank films about the human heart and our need for God (“Magnolia” and “Schindler’s List” are similar). Some truths are horrible—and “Thirteen” isn’t a family favorite to view over and over again. For some mature audiences, but especially for parents and those who work with youth, “Thirteen” works like a laser to cut to the heart needs of every teen. It is cruel and tender at the same time—watch what Tracy’s mother does with Tracy’s scars at the end of the film.

Like the horrific lives of the characters of “Magnolia” or the ruthless reality of the Holocaust in “Schindler’s List,” some parts of life need to be seen to show us who we really are. And to show us Whose likeness God will transform us toward. “Thirteen” rips the cover off the bleeding, scarred soul of the postmodern teen.

Violence: Moderate | Profanity: Heavy | Sex/Nudity: Heavy

Year of Release—2003 / August 20, 2003 (limited)

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Offensive, yes. A must see for those who work with today’s thirteen-year-olds, absolutely. Based on a true story, it’s one of the best insights into the world of many of the middle schoolers that we work with. While inappropriate for middle or high schoolers, for those who interact with this fragile age, it will open your eyes.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
— Scott E., age 25
Positive—In spite of its “R” rating and offensive language, this film can always serve as an example of what teenage girls should not get into. Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is perfectly content, getting good grades in school, obedient to her mother. That is, until she yields to the temptation of “popularity at any cost” courtesy of Evee and her precocious friends.

“Thirteen” is a typical story of a good girl gone bad because of outside influences—commonly known as peer pressure. Something every Christian teenage boy and girl and parents should look out for and guard against.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Edwin Hopkins, age 45
Positive—I have to say that this film disturbed me. Every parent needs to see this film. I would recommend it for ages 16 and up, also. I don’t agree with the Plugged In review on This film does indeed show the consequences of the actions that are shown to us. It shows us how this one girl’s turn from innocence tears a family apart. Yes, it does show us the consequences, in graphic detail. Once again, everyone needs to see this powerful film.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
—Adam, age 21
Neutral—As a youth pastor in this current generation, this movie was indicative of the issues that this generation is dealing with… They say that any one of these issues can affect 20% of all adolescents. Parents should view this film, but take the issues with a grain of sand. Your teen may not be dealing with any of these issues, but they may have friends that are. With the growing number of single parent households, and the growing number of 2 working parents the role of good parenting has never been so important…

This film teaches that the most important thing a parent can do is spend time with their children… There is nothing that will replace love (as expressed by the lack of a father figure in the child’s life)… Continue to pray, and talk to your youth pastor about what is going on in the teens.

There is nothing you can buy, nowhere you can take your child that will make up for your time and love… This can happen to any teen… even yours.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/4]
—Chris Orlowski, age 20’s
Negative—The film begins with these 2 thirteen year olds sniffing aerosol cans and punching each other in the face. It rewinds to one of the girl’s life (Tracy) to before she embraced a very wild and immoral lifestyle. The film shows how neglect from her parents which are divorced and how her mother who is also very wild and immoral does not know how to deal with the changes her daughter is going through.

The daughter cries for love and cries for help is seen throughout the movie even though she is extremely rebellious and disrespectful to her mother and father.

In the end there is a some resolution but not what we as believers would want to see. It is a very dark movie and it does seem to glorify teenage rebellion at times. There is very strong language.

I do not recommend that parents watch this movie with their teens for it does show some very graphic images of sex and nudity. It also show graphic scenes of mutilation and some lesbian undertones between Tracy and her friend.

I came away from the movie very down in my spirit. It was very heavy after watching this. In the society we live in this could be happening in any home in America so that is the reason we must stay on our knees for our families and our country.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/4]
—Donna Caswell, age 42
Comments from young people
Positive—I’m a 17 year old female and I repeatedly heard reviews for this movie stating that thirteen year olds would not take part in those activities. Well, I’m going to tell you, don’t be so naive. When I was thirteen I just moved to a new place and desperately wanted to be popular, so I ended up becoming friends with the popular girls in school and then the drugs, drinking, and sex came in to play. We did everything in this movie. I think this is the most realistic teen movie made. On a biblical, Christian worldview, I’m not sure if it would meet your standards, but if you can look past your morals for an hour, watch this movie
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—anonymous, age 17
Positive—…Those who say that “no thirteen year old would ever perform acts like those shown here” are displaying a distressing naivete that is as worrying as the state of current adolescence seems to be. I AM an adolescent, and, although it gives me no pleasure to say so, from 13 onwards I have done all those things in the movie, and more. This is a powerful, revealing movie, and parents should use it not as a warning, since it is very likely that a teenager will experience these things anyway, but as a way of understanding what we as a generation go through from day to day.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive]
—Philip Elstob, age 16
Movie Critics
…Body piercing, self-mutilation, petty crimes, casual sex and drug abuse are these girls’ rights of passage as they careen towards the goal of being ultra-popular and totally hip…
—Paul Clinton, CNN Entertainment
…Although it borders on exploitation in several places, ‘Thirteen’ packs an emotional wallop… a cautionary tale for parents…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
…There are moments when you want to cringe at the danger these girls are in. …Who is this movie for? Not for most 13-year-olds, that’s for sure. The R rating is richly deserved…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…With realistic filmmaking, realistic dialogue and realistic performances, the film’s so… well, real… that it could be frightening for parents in the crowd…
—E! Online
…a single word, this film is unsettling… She pursues the hottest girl in school, Evie, as a shopping buddy and gets a partner-in-crime, in every way possible.
—Heather Clisby, Movie Magazine International
…who needs a film that glamorizes the lifestyle without offering solutions or even bothering to show the brutal consequences?…
—Bob Waliszewski, Plugged In