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Nightmare Alley | 2021 | R | – 5.6.6

content-ratingsWhy is “Nightmare Alley” rated R? The MPAA rating has been assigned for “strong/bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.” The Kids-In-Mind.com evaluation includes a couple of implied sex scenes, several kissing scenes, partial nudity and implication of sexual assault, a couple of deaths by poisoning, gunshot, beating and auto accident with bloody wounds shown, carnival acts, many arguments, and 10 F-words and other strong language. Read our parents’ guide below for details on sexual content, violence & strong language.


A man (Bradley Cooper) seeking gainful employment finds work in a carnival, learns mind reading and uses his skills to manipulate the wealthy of 1940’s New York. Along with his partner (Rooney Mara) they do very well, until he meets a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) with a more perilous plan for him. Also with Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Mark Povinelli, Peter MacNeill and Holt McCallany. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. [Running Time: 2:30]

Nightmare Alley SEX/NUDITY 5

 – A man undresses and we see his bare chest, back and abdomen and his partial buttocks; he sits in a bathtub and a woman sits on the floor next to him, talks to him and complements his appearance before plunging her hand under the bath water; he seems surprised (she was apparently stimulating him). A woman opens her jacket and we see a long jagged scar between her breasts and down to her abdomen and a man kisses along the scar (sex is implied).
 A man and woman kiss in a tent, she implies that she had been raped in the past. A man and woman kiss in a few scenes. A woman leans over to kiss a man and they kiss.
 A man climbs in bed with a sleeping woman and she caresses his clothed chest. A man and a woman dance closely on a carousel and they nearly kiss; he asks her to leave the carnival with him and she runs away. A man tells a woman, “You’re the one I’ve been pining after.” A woman says that a man was, “Not man enough to keep her.” A woman accuses a man of cheating on her and leaves him.
 A woman wears a low-cut robe that reveals cleavage in several scenes. Women in a carnival wear skimpy costumes that reveal cleavage, bare abdomens and legs to the hips. Women wear low-cut dresses that reveal cleavage in several scenes. A sculpture of a nude woman is seen on an ashtray (we see outlines of breasts and buttocks without detail).

Nightmare Alley VIOLENCE/GORE 6

 – A woman shoots a man in the head (blood splatters from the wound), and then shoots herself in the eye. A man shoots at another man running away and the other man starts his car, speeds into the gunman knocking him in the air and onto the ground, and then drives over him killing him (we see bloody wounds and torn flesh). A woman shoots a man and we see blood spurt and his bloody ear dangling from his head. A man drags a body wrapped in a cloth along a floor and pushes it into a hole in the floorboards, throws a lit cigarette on it and flames burst up engulfing the house as he walks away.
 People in a carnival enter a tent where there is a railing and when they look over a door is opened to reveal a man huddled and looking dirty and mad; a man throws a chicken in the ring with the man, the man picks it up, the crowd calls for him to kill it, he cries and bites the chicken’s head off (we hear tearing and we see blood in the man’s mouth). A woman opens her jacket and we see a long jagged scar between her breasts and down to her abdomen. Many jars filled with liquid are seen in a carnival and they each have what looks like fetuses in them; one is shown with an oversized head with a craggy scar along the skull and what looks like a large eye in the forehead and a man says that the child killed its mother in childbirth; another is a tiny piglet.
 A man punches another man in the face repeatedly and we see his face bloody and broken and the flesh torn away from his skull. A man discovers a man and a woman kissing and preparing to have sex and he punches the man in the face a couple of times (the woman stops him from hitting him again and we see that he has a bloody nose). We see a man’s bloody hand after he beat another man to death and he pulls a tooth out of one of his knuckles. We hear that a man got loose in a carnival and other men searched for him; one man goes into a fun house, passes through a large demon mask with a mouth that opens and shows sharp teeth, and finds the man hiding, moaning and whimpering; he lunges at the man, hits him, the other man hits him in the head with a club (we see a bloody wound), and the man is rendered unconscious and dragged back to a cage and locked inside. A man wraps a phone wire around a woman’s throat until police break a window and startle the man, causing him to run away; he is chased and he hides in a train car behind cages with animals in them.
 A woman covers her hands and abdomen with stage blood and pretends to be a materialized woman. A man is shown locked in a cage and he rattles the bars and yells. We hear that a man is dead and we see him lying on the ground motionless; a woman cradles his head and cries as others watch. A man flashes back to sitting with his very ill father and in one scene, he opens a window to create a draft and removes blankets from the sick man (presumably causing him to die from exposure).
 For a carnival show, a woman sits in an electric chair, her wrists are clamped to the armrests and a man pulls a lever to start and stop an electric current. A strong man lifts a heavy weight and after he puts it down says that his knees are shot and asks another man to take over the show. A woman’s carnival act is that she has been merged with a spider and we see her with a human head surrounded by a spider’s web and large spider legs. A woman’s carnival act shows her touching electricity and it zaps all around her and seemingly passes through her body. A man talks about the death of another man’s loved one and he pretends to faint to divert attention from giving any more information. A man is told, “No more moochin’,” when he sits around a fire with other people and someone hands him a bottle of booze; the man gives them a watch from his wrist.
 A man talk to another man about forcing someone to miscarry and the man says, “I have hurt so many young women.” A man yells at a woman for messing up during a performance. People talk about sadness and regret. A man insists that another man materialize the man’s dead wife; the man yells at the other man and they argue briefly. A man in a carnival tells a woman in the audience that her dead brother’s hand is on her shoulder; she cries and says that she can feel it. A carnival worker calls for people to witness a creature and he asks, “Is he a beast or a man?” A man tells another man that the watch he is wearing was stolen from another man; he tells him that he hates the man whose watch it is and that he would have loved to be loved by the man. A man shows a woman an electric chair and suggests it as an addition to her carnival act; she asks, “Are you gonna execute me?” A man threatens another man a couple of times; he accuses the man of “bumping gums” with a woman, and tells him if he ever hurts the woman, he’ll kill him. A woman accuses a man of cheating on her and leaves him. A man pleads with a woman, “Everybody has left me in my life.” A man talks about conditioning people to become geeks and says that he would get them addicted to opium and booze. A man talks about guessing that another man had polio when he was young and that he saw a lift in his shoe. A woman tries to stump a man when he does a mind reading act and he guesses correctly about her having a gun in her purse and why. A man accuses a woman of having mommy issues and she refers to them as “Electra complex.” We hear that a couple’s 23-year-old son died in war and that the woman never forgave her husband for sending him to war. A woman tells a man of “impending danger” and warns him not to do a “spook show.” A woman tells a man, “I know you’re no good.” A man asks another man if he is a medium and if he can speak to the dead while connected to a lie detector. A man says, “My love went to a commoner’s grave.” A man tells his father, “I always hated you.” A man tells another man that he smells as if he urinated in his pants (using crude terms).
 A tarot card has the image of a hanged man on it. A man twists his body unnaturally as a contortionist in a carnival.

Nightmare Alley LANGUAGE 6

 – About 10 F-words and its derivatives, 1 sexual reference, 7 scatological terms, 2 anatomical terms, 5 mild obscenities, name-calling (geek, pal, sinner, panache, honey, spook show, old-timer, boozers, small small man, tomato, not fit for living, poor soul, frozen-faced, snake charmers, unstable, unpredictable, inappropriate, dames, mark, indecency, poor bastard, lost, hollow, gobbledy gook, grifter), exclamations (go away, shut-up, what’s the big idea), 4 religious profanities (GD), 11 religious exclamations (e.g. oh God, Jesus, God-fearing, face of God, My God, no man can outrun God, Lord bless us). | profanity glossary |

Nightmare Alley SUBSTANCE USE

 – A man drinks from a bottle, a man is asked if he is sauced, a man drinks beers with another man, references are made to a man’s drinking habit, a man asks another man to get him a bottle, people drink in a hotel room, a man talks about having bottles of wood alcohol and different bottles of drinking alcohol for a show, a man and a woman drink, a man tells another man they should have a snort, and a man drinks a glass of whiskey. Men smoke in many scenes throughout the movie, women smoke in many scenes throughout the movie, a man smokes a cigar in a hotel room, and people in dining clubs are shown drinking and smoking in a few scenes.

Nightmare Alley DISCUSSION TOPICS

 – Science, education, carnival life, mind reading, fortune-tellers, fear, truth, guilt, delusions, mentalism, speaking to the dead, death of loved ones, murder, hope, pity, loneliness, power, disappointment, lying, honor, infidelity, greed, choice, control.

Nightmare Alley MESSAGE

 – Be careful who you put your trust in. When a man believes his own lies, people get hurt.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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