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City of Ember a.k.a. “Cidade de Ember,” “La Cité de l’ombre,” “Cidade das Sombras”

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for mild peril and some thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Dymphna Meeds

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids Family
Family Adventure Fantasy
1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 10, 2008 (wide—2,000 theaters)
Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden Copyright, Fox-Walden
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Fox-Walden

Darkness and light in the Bible


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Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Bill Murray—“Lost in Translation,” “Groundhog Day,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Tim Robbins—“The Shawshank Redemption,” “Mystic River,” “War of the Worlds

Saoirse Ronan—“Atonement,” “I Could Never Be Your Woman

Martin Landau—“Hollywood Homicide,” “The Majestic,” “Ed Wood”

Toby Jones, See all »
Director: Gil Kenan—“Monster House,” “Poltergeist” (2015)
Producer: Playtone, Walden Media, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, John D. Schofield, Michael Zaltstein
Distributor: Fox-Walden

“Escape is the only option.”

“Imagine a town completely surrounded by darkness… the only light and heat coming from an aging power plant driven by a massive underground river.”

This is how Fox-Walden describes their movie based on the award-winning book by Jeanne DuPrau. And indeed Ember is dark and growing more so every day. Ever since humans left the Earth’s surface, due to something huge, and retreated to Ember, things have gotten worse. Power outages happen every day and are growing longer each time. Although many refuse to believe, it seems that Ember’s generator is dying. At least that is what Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) assume. When their worst fears are confirmed, Doon, Lina, and her younger sister Poppy (Amy Quinn and Catherine Quinn) embark on the greatest adventure of their lives!

From an enjoyment point of view: This is an engaging movie. Although it moved rather fast, especially in the beginning, it provides adventurous moments, beautiful scenery and camera work, endearing characters, and perfect musical underscore! I thoroughly enjoyed the transformation from dark to light in this movie! It was inspiring and very sweet! I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole show, without being one bit frightened.


This whole movie is a transformation from dark to light in two different ways. First of all is the obvious plot line of Lina and Doon’s journey for the light of the sun of our Earth and out of the darkness of Ember. The audience and two heroes, along with a few others, know the danger the city is in and feel their pain. Like Lina and Doon, we, too, live in a world full of darkness where we must fight towards the light—the light of God. And, although our trials might be less visible to others, we battle just as great, if not greater, forces of evil in our lives that we must overcome with God’s grace.

The second transformation is from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) is unwilling to believe that his glorious city might ever be destroyed. He has convinced the people that nothing can hurt them. As Doon’s manager Sul (Martin Landau) says “I don’t know. It’s not my job.” is what most of the citizens of Ember are living out in their lives. And to ensure that no one ever comes close to leaving Ember, the Mayor sets up strict rules. On the other hand, Doon’s father Lorris Harrow (Tim Robbins) tells his son to “pay attention to everything and notice everything; then you’ll know things no one else knows.” Doon follows his advice and searches for the truth. We should stretch our minds and fill them with knowledge and wisdom.

As mentioned above, Lina and Doon search for the truth. They won’t compromise their beliefs, just to follow the crowd. They are willing to risk their lives, well-being and freedom to find the truth and do the right thing.

And speaking of risking things, every good character in this movie risks immensely for others. Although Doon sometimes goes a bit far by putting himself in grave danger and stealing things, he always returns the things, and his intentions are good; he is trying to save the human race. They are also fighting against a corrupt government, so many of the things that they do should have been legal, but were too restricted.

Doon saves Lina from a giant mole moments before it eats her. Lina, on her part, works just as hard and tries to get help from Barton Snode (Toby Jones), the mayor’s top man, when she finds out that his boss is corrupt. She also cares a lot for Poppy. And Poppy does her part by helping them solve some problems and by being sweet and cheerful. It is also very sweet to see the two older children carrying her throughout the movie.

The grownups also play an important part in sacrificing themselves. The builders, for one, left clues for everyone and cared enough for humanity to help them. *SPOILER* When Lina, Doon and Poppy get to the room where the builders started, they see many signs about how to care for others (e.g. “Carry the babies”, “For the good of all mankind,” “No pushing,” etc.). *SPOILER OVER* Granny (Liz Smith) helps the girls get started with the box left by the builders. Farmer Clary (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) protects both children from the police, even though she knows she will be punished. Lina’s father dies trying to find a way out. *SPOILERS* Lorris, at first, tries to discourage his son from finding a way out of Ember. However, we learn later it is because he tried to find a way before, with Lina’s father, and doesn’t want Doon to suffer the same death. Finally, he is willing to allow his son to work for the good of all and pretends to be deaf, giving Doon time to escape. He also launches himself against the policemen to protect his son. Sul also changes and is willing to put his life danger. He also stays behind, instead of insisting on coming to Earth right away. In the very end, Doon ties the directions on how to leave Ember onto a rock and throws it back down. *SPOILERS OVER*

Job assignments are drawn out of a hat when children reach a certain age. Although there is small chance of getting what one wants, everyone works hard. Every job is shown as important. Lina proudly carries messages, and Doon makes the best of working in the pipes. As Loris says, “It’s not what you get; it’s what you do with what you get.” Family life is shown in a very positive light. We see how much Poppy, Granny, and Lina love each other. Also we see how much the girls miss their parents; every night Lina plays her sister their answering machine with their parent’s voices recorded.

The Mayor’s selfishness and greed is shown for what it is. It doesn’t try to make it look good in anyway.

Doon helps a hurt moth.

Resourcefulness is rewarded. And hope lives on in the end. ***SPOILER*** When the three first step out onto the Earth, it is night, and so they think everything is dark. However, they wake up to see the sun rising and a blue sky. We also see how Loris picks up the rock with the directions on how to get out. ***END SPOILER***

Possible Negatives

This movie is rather suspenseful and dark. Part of this is the setting, but some of it is the plot and characters. However, most of it wasn’t frightening.

The scariest part of the movie is when a giant mole chases Lina and Doon. It almost eats both of them, but they escape. However, we see it about to eat someone else later on; we see them scream and then the mole’s teeth.

Although not scary or unexpected, it is rather disturbing when Lina and Poppy find their dead grandmother.

Some other rather scary things are lights shattering and falling, power going down, talk about Lina’s father drowning, Looper (Mackenzie Crook) grabbing Doon and throwing him out into the street, Doon and Lina are almost caught sneaking several times, Lina stops a girl by grabbing her scarf, Barton Snode grabs Lina and pulls her into a room, police chase Lina and Doon—and in the process tear apart buildings and threaten people, a man is carried to jail, lots of loud noises, some things break from pressure, Doon almost falls into water, a boat is smashed, and a boat with kids almost smashes, and the children go on a crazy water ride in the boat involving several waterfalls.

The first message that Lina has to deliver is “If this is a potato, I’m 16 and sexy.” A girl also says she has a boyfriend.

As mentioned before, sometimes the characters go a bit far taking risks and put themselves in danger—or steal things.

Doon is told to “Get lost.” and “What can you do to change things?”. The Mayor laughs at Lina’s name. A clerk talks back to her costumer.

One reference is made to fate. Poppy chews on some paper—something you might not want your kids to emulate. A group of singers are rather… cheerful—to the point of stupidity and don’t seem to care for other’s well-being.

However, overall, this is a fun and engaging movie! A bit like “Wall-E” in some of it’s plot, this movie is very clean and family-friendly. Something worth discussing is the journey from dark to light in our lives. In my mind, this movie is really an allegory abaout our lives as Christians!

Violence: Mild / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—“City of Ember” is an allegory of this world. While people live their lives each day, only some realizes that the world is falling apart—that the End is near! While the government (The Ruler of this World) is trying to say that “it’s OK” to live here and be happy, deep inside we sense that something is wrong.

Some believes that the mythic “builders” will eventually come to help delivering them. They didn’t know that the help has already come. The plan for deliverance was already there at the creation of the city, but it was waiting for the right time to show up. The builders has already given the instruction on how to be “freed” from this world (As Christians, we know that it is believing in Jesus Christ). We only need to follow it, and we should also spread this Good News to everybody else.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Varoot Phasuthadol, age 26
Positive—I liked this movie. I see parallels between man-made religious traditions and the rules made to keep the people under control in the City of Ember. Just as the builders left behind instructions regarding how to escape the city before it became unliiveable, so God, our builder, has provided us with instructions to escape eternal destruction through Jesus Christ in the Bible. But we must boldly follow His instructions contained in the Bible, not the religious traditions of men who, like the mayor in this movie, want to keep people in ignorance so that they can maintain their power, position and wealth.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Rusty, age 51 (USA)
Positive—I don’t think this movie has a direct Christian allegory. It is an allegory for societies, more specifically, our own. They had a set of founders who designed the best society they knew and even provided a document for escaping what would happen. This directly correlates to the society of the US (and also the world now) in that our founders gave us a blueprint for the same type of freedom (the Constitution), but under different circumstances. We have tucked this document in a box, just like in the movie, and have ignored it. Our founders meant the best and tried to think of everything—they failed, because of how humans always work, in all historical times. The characters in the movie did not fail though, because of how storytelling in cinema works. Our very real current characters face a much darker fate, Christian or not.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
Bert, age 38 (USA)
Neutral—I viewed City of Ember tonight and have been stumped by it. I know the movie as a whole is an allegory for some larger point, but what that point is exactly is uncertain.

I thought at first that maybe the city was symbolic of escaping God’s judgment, which Christians know is impossible. I further thought that if the end of days had come, in which Christ returns, how would Ember have been built? The Bible says that no man or angel knows the day in which Christ will return and time will end. How would they builders have been prepared? The case was looking bad against it.

However, my counterpart, who watched the movie with me, suggested that it was instead an allegory arguing in the case of God—without God, everything falls apart. The selfish characters in the movie are justly rewarded, and those with an “ember” of faith are also rewarded.

In addition, the author of the book series is a fan of the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis, a known Christian writer. Perhaps she took a hint from Lewis in the Christian allegory department? I’m not sure.

There are several mentions of “the darkness” outside, and Ember being the last remaining ash of the “light.” No mention of religion is made, which makes the underlying theme even more vague.

There is no profanity, no sensual references, and no extremely intense moments. So a child could watch this movie and not be scared and parents would not be offended by anything like that. However, the mature ideological themes are present throughout… and what exactly they are is still lost to me.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Amber, age 19
Negative—The action is exciting, and the movie is well made. The message is not very uplifting, however. People might want to see all sorts of parallels to the Word of God. I saw other things. For example: the human race might mess up the planet, we will also survive because of our ingenuity and nothing else. After all, the builders are very clearly portrayed as human only. In addition, the only people that seemed religious (the singers), are displayed as gullible to a great extend. Singing while everybody is screaming in panic because of another blackout. Hugging each other when the city falls to pieces at the end of the move. They never have anything interesting to say (in contrast to us !). A well made movie with a misleading message.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Hank, age 44 (Netherlands)
Negative—This movie is just plain wicked. Such a strong accusation against a simple little movie that appears innocent and harmless you say? The film creates this strange/queasy/dirty feel to the “city of Ember” which is eventually overcome at the end when the heroes of the film break free from and escape the “lie” that they have been born into that was created to keep them in ignorance, by deviating from the norm and following “secret knowledge” which leads them to true revelation and freedom at the end where they are shown on the surface of the planet basking in the sunlight looking down with pity through a chasm in the Earth upon the rest of humanity that is still enslaved in darkness and ignorance down below them. They then drop a note tied to a rock down to the city below beckoning the lucky person who should find it to follow their path to “freedom” and to the people below this “message” would appear to fall out of the clear black sky—and the curtain closes. Almost seems like it could be a Christian allegory, then again Carbon-Monoxide is almost Carbon-Dioxide.

This is no new story, it is a very old one. The author of the story is not the movie director or screen writer or any other man but it is that old serpent the devil who came to Adam and Eve claiming they were being lied to and offered them the fruit of “knowledge” which would give them freedom. This movie is the portrayal of the beliefs of an anti-Christian religion called “Gnosticism”. Gnosticism in a nutshell teaches that God is evil and the devil is good, basically what the Bible refers to as putting light for darkness and darkness for light. I know you’ve probably never heard of it, but many in Hollywood have and believe in it and openly confess that they craft their movies very purposefully and skillfully to portray and introduce their beliefs to the masses. Stories that portray the devil and his Antichrist as the heroes who fight for the good of mankind and destroy God and the ignorance He uses to enslave people. Movies like Tom Hanks’s (who co-produced this film) “The DaVinci Code”; Jim Carrey’s “Truman Show”; Toby McQuire’s “Pleasantville”; Arnold Schwartzenegger’s “Total Recall”; Johnny Depp’s “From Hell”; J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter”; Harrison Ford’s “Bladerunner”; Tom Cruise’s “Vanilla Sky”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, and “Minority Report”; Keanu Reeves “The Matrix” just to name a few.

Seems all the more malicious for portraying such blasphemy in a way that at a glance might appear innocent or even biblical, but what do you expect from the devil who was called the most subtle? May I remind you of the words of the Apostle who in a letter believed by many to be written for the specific purpose of combating what was at that time a new heresy spreading among the Church which came to be known as Gnosticism: 'O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge-(the word “knowledge” here is “gnosis” in the Greek) by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. -1Timothy 6:20+21 and “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me”—Psalm 101:3.

Fight the Good Fight Ministries has series of expose videos titled “Hollywoods War on God” that are very in-depth, a real “eye opener”. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
Michael, age 29 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I thought that “City of Ember” was amazing! I didn’t think it was offensive at all. I think its a great movie for kids maybe… 8 or older (it depends on the child). Anyway, I think everyone should see it! The only problem is that the theme is a bit dark… but other than that, it was awesome!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Anonymous, age 11
Positive—I just saw this movie with my entire family last night, and I absolutely loved it. It was extremely clean, and kept all of us (even my dad, who loves to pick things apart) engaged through the entire movie. At the end, the thought that most of us had was: I could watch that again, right now, that was awesome!

When we first saw the previews, it sounded great, but we thought it wouldn’t end up being a good movie (as many do). We were very happy to be disappointed in our expectations.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Megan, age 17 (USA)
Positive—I, personally never would have seen this movie if my friend hadn’t picked it out at the movie store. To tell you the truth I found this movie entertaining and exicting. I highly disagree with the reviewer who said it was very offensive. There wasn’t anything that was offensive in it. It’s as clean as “Wall-e.” The spirtual content, I guess, was the message at the end of the movie that theres always a way out even if hope seems lost.

I would recommend this movie for kids who don’t scared easy. The two scenes with the big rat is intense. So I guess any kid that is seven or up could see it. The movie is well-acted and the sets are incredible but the story is very unrealistic. Like all the storage rooms where the food is kept has made every citizen of Ember have food for the past 200 years has been living? There is no phone or commputer in Ember, and Ember is a small little town that has kept all of America underground for 200 years? All these questions float throughout your head at the end of the movie and it dosen’t explain it very well.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Langston Cabral, age 11 (USA)
Positive—I loved this movie. Amazing! No sex… or anything bad. I don’t remember there being any bad words. However, I wouldn’t see it if you were under ten just because it might be a little scary.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Sarah Moore, age 14 (USA)
Positive—I thought this was a very charming movie. There wasn’t anything people might find offensive, the characters were very likable and their journey to follow the “builder’s instructions” was significant and maybe even spiritual. It would be cool if there was only one “Builder,” but I guess I shouldn’t expect Hollywood to do something like that!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Katie, age 16 (USA)
Neutral—There was nothing offensive about this movie, it just didn’t make any sense. Or maybe its just because I haven’t ever read or heard of the book. Nice film, kept me on the edge of my bed! Not for children under eight years old.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Ian, age 16 (USA)
Movie Critics
…first-rate performances by a fine cast, it’s a spirited teens-save-the-world drama that has more relevance than its fantasy roots might suggest. …
Mack Bates, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
…would probably entertain younger viewers, if they haven’t already been hopelessly corrupted by high-powered sci-fi on TV and video. It’s innocent and sometimes kind of charming. The sets are entertaining. …
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…the design and fashions are a delicious mix of Steampunk and post-apocalyptic, everything frayed, dirty and held together with twine and duct tape. The inhabitants, taking their cues from this environment, seem to be slowly turning into characters out of a Dickens novel. …
Chris Knight, National Post
…a post-apocalyptic parable… but there’s not much for audiences to hang their emotions on. … all the running, the hiding, the escaping (from giant moles, from giant Murray) are decidedly less exciting, and compelling, than City of Ember wants to be.
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
…a misfire… ‘Ember’ lacks that spark…
James Verniere, Boston Herald
…For older kids, a dystopian marvel… It’s a little fuzzy in terms of story, and too dour for young kids… I liked the texture, tone and spirit of this movie.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune