An American Crime Movie Review Summary

Actors: Ellen Page, Hayley McFarland, Nick Searcy

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of An American Crime

Based on real events, An American Crime is the story of a suburban housewife who keeps a young girl prisoner in her basement. An American Crime tells the story of Sylvia Likens, a young girl who is victimized by Gertrude Baniszewski and a hoard of neighborhood children. The film starts off with Sylvia and her younger sister Jennie being placed in the home of Gertrude by her travelling carnival working parents, they don't have enough money to allow their kids to join them on the road but they decide to pay Gertrude to look after them for a few months. While at the home Sylvia and Jennie are welcomed with open arms by most of the children, quickly assimilating into the lives of Gertrude and her own kids.
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The first sign of trouble comes when Sylvia learns that Gertrude's eldest daughter Paula is pregnant. Paula is in an abusive relationship and while witnessing a physical attack on Paula, Sylvia tells Paula's boyfriend that she's pregnant. Paula becomes enraged by Sylvia's actions and threatens her, telling Sylvia that she will regret her actions later. All of this is witnessed by Ricky, a friendly neighborhood boy that has a crush on Sylvia. Soon after this event Paula tells Gertrude that Sylvia has been spreading rumors about her. As punishment Gertrude instructs her younger son, Johnny, to hold Sylvia down while Paula beats her.

The abuse continues and escalates, from Gertrude burning Sylvia with a cigarette to Gertrude forcing Sylvia to insert a bottle in her vagina in front of her children. Gertrude tells some of the neighborhood children to throw Sylvia down the stairs and they lock her in the basement. Jennie, fearful of her sister's fate asks how long she will be down their, receiving no concrete answer in return.   

Johnny brings some neighborhood kids around to torture and humiliate Sylvia in the basement and Paula, with an intense sense of guilt overcoming her, asks her mother to let Sylvia go. Gertrude refuses and when a pastor comes around to talk to her about Sylvia, she lies and says she was sent away. Gertrude participates in the torture, carving the words "I'm a prostitute and proud' in Sylvia's side but forcing her young son to finish when she's had enough.

As a last resort Paula and Ricky help Sylvia escape to her parents where she is welcomed back with open arms. When her parents see how poorly she's been treated they rush back to Gertrude's house to investigate. Sylvia finds her nearly lifeless body on the ground and it's revealed that Sylvia's escape was only a hallucination that occurred right before she dies. The family eventually calls the police and Jennie tells them to get her out of the house so that she can tell them what happened.

The next scene takes place in a courtroom where Jennie is revealing the atrocities that have been done to her older sister. The abusers are convicted and sentenced. The last scene is of Sylvia riding the merry-go-round at the carnival, her one and only safe place.
Best part of story, including ending: This story is dark, as it takes us into a truly twisted family and forces us to watch the neglect and physical torture of a young teen girl. The little instance of hope that it gave and so quickly took away are what make this film heartbreaking, the fact that it is a true story is what makes it frightening.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene is the very last one, with Sylvia on the merry-go-round it's the only moment in the film that creates a sense of happiness for the main character.

Opinion about the main character: I liked that Sylvia was strong enough to fight till the end, and Ellen Page brilliantly portrayed the pain and fear of a prisoner.

The review of this Movie prepared by Jessica Waters a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

Script Analysis of An American Crime

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Plot & Themes

Time/era of movie:    -   1960's-1970's Crime & Scandal    -   Yes Escape/Rescue?    -   escape/rescue from prison/confinement

Main Character

Identity:    -   Female Age:    -   a teen Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White American


United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   explicit references to torture Any profanity?    -   Occasional swearing

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