SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991 & Nevada;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Alcohol and Drug Abuse; Child Abuse; Running Away; Coming of Age; Families in Crisis;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Drama; 1986; 103 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
This is a coming-of-age movie about Rose, an adolescent girl who lives in Las Vegas during the early 1950s. The Korean War is raging. The U.S. Government is conducting atmospheric atomic bomb tests in the Nevada desert. Rose has an alcoholic stepfather and a mother who “facilitates” her husband’s alcohol abuse while suffering from her own problems with gambling addiction.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Jon Voight, JoBeth Williams, Ellen Barkin, Allen Garfield, Annabeth Gish, Jay Underwood and Dusty Balcerzak.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“Desert Bloom” shows much about life in the U.S. in the early 1950s, what it was like to live under the threat of nuclear war, alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abuse, and gambling addiction. It shows, with compassion and tenderness, a girl coming of age amid the many problems of the adults around her. Rose has a friend, a boy, who is helpful and compassionate.
SERIOUS. In one scene, the drunken stepfather slaps Rose two times very hard on the face causing a bad bruise. Later the mother, stepfather and aunt get into a fight in which the stepfather chokes the mother. Rose stops the fight by pointing a rifle at the stepfather.
In another scene, the stepfather, drunk again, and the aunt (his wife’s sister) begin a sexual encounter. They are interrupted by Rose.
Alcohol abuse and drinking are shown. The adults smoke frequently, but then, most of the adults in this movie are anti-role models.
Before watching the film, briefly describe the inadequate preparations made for self-defense in case of a nuclear attack in the 1950s. Alert your child to the fact that not only are some people addicted to alcohol, others are addicted to gambling. Finally, talk a little about the phenomenon of the “codependence”, someone who protests that they want the alcoholic to stop drinking but does things to protect the alcoholic from the consequences of their drinking and so enables them to continue. See Helpful Background. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to bring up discussion questions relating to the film.
TeachWithMovies.org recommends that every child in any family in which there is any history of heavy drinking or alcohol abuse be taken to an open AA meeting beginning at the age of 12 or 13. This should be repeated every year or so. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Try to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell the kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA are a way that they can avoid the destructive effects of alcoholism. For more information, see Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us.
After the Second World War, the Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into a Russian Zone in the North and an American Zone in the South. In 1950, supported by the Chinese, the North Koreans invaded the South. The United Nations forces, mostly U.S. and South Korean troops, fought the war. The Korean war lasted until an armistice was signed in 1953.
For more information on atomic testing and the U.S. Atomic weapons program, see Atomic Archive.
In 1945, the United States became the first and only country to use an atomic bomb as a weapon of war. In the 1950s, the United States government conducted tests of the atomic bomb in the Nevada Desert. By 1950, the Soviet Union had an atomic bomb. The only defense suggested by the government to the public in case of a nuclear attack was to build a bomb shelter or to get below a desk or table, or flat on the ground, and to “duck and cover.” See Fat Man & Little Boy, a movie about the Manhattan Project and the development of the first atomic bomb.
In the 1950s divorces were difficult to obtain in every state except Nevada. Nevada attracted tourists by granting divorces after only a short period of residence. People would come to Las Vegas, stay in a hotel or motel for the required period, get their divorce and then leave. In the movie, Rose’s aunt is staying the required period, but since her sister lives in Las Vegas, she doesn’t have to stay at a hotel.
In this film, the mother is a “facilitator” of her husband’s alcoholism. The “facilitator” (also called a “codependent”) of an alcoholic is someone who, while protesting that they do not want the alcoholic to drink, protects the alcoholic from the effects of the drinking and acts in other ways to facilitate the alcoholic’s refusal to face up to the disease. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Until the alcoholic stops drinking it will get worse and worse. The best remedy known for alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). At the end of this film, explain the concept of the facilitator or codependent to children and explain that the first step in the way out of this family’s problems is for the mother and stepfather to recognize that his alcohol problem requires treatment and that he should start going to AA or obtain treatment from some other source. (For more on alcoholism, enabling behavior, and codependence, see Codependence — What Happens When a Family Member is an Alcoholic or a Drug Addict.)
The mother also needs to face up to her problem with gambling. There is an organization called Gambler’s Anonymous for people suffering from gambling addiction. See Discussion Questions on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
There is a high correlation between alcoholism and child abuse, both physical and sexual.
2. What are the makers of this film trying to tell us through the title of the movie?
3. Do you agree with the U.S. government’s decision to test atomic bombs in the atmosphere on the U.S. mainland? If not, where else should the tests have been conducted?
4. Would “duck and cover” be an effective defense against the effects of an atomic bomb blast?
5. Did Rose’s mother forgive her sister and husband for their indiscretion? Should she have forgiven them?
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
1. What is the first step necessary for this family to begin to heal?
See the Helpful Background Section.
2. Was Rose’s mother codependent upon her husband’s alcoholism? Can you give some examples of the mother’s codependent behavior?
See the Helpful Background Section.
3. If at any time in your life you suspect that you have a problem with alcohol what should you do?
Go to the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
4. Did Rose’s mother have a problem with gambling? Was it anything like the problem that Rose’s stepfather had with alcohol?
5. Did Rose forgive her stepfather for beating her? Should she have? What should Rose’s mother have done about the beating?
6. Remember the friend who threatened Rose’s stepfather if he ever hit Rose again? Was that the proper response to an instance in which a parent gives a child a black eye? What should you do if you one of your friends is the subject of child abuse?
7. Why did Rose’s stepfather beat her?
8. Was Rose right to run away to her grandmother’s? What risk was Rose taking? What is the difference between running away to a relative’s home and running away to the streets?
COMING OF AGE
9. In this film, there were no good role models on which Rose could pattern her future behavior? How did this complicate her passage from a girl to a woman?
10. How did the stepfather’s abuse of Rose and his drinking affect Rose’s coming of age?
11. How did the mother’s codependent behavior toward the stepfather affect Rose’s coming of age?
FAMILIES IN CRISIS
12. What types of professional intervention would have helped this family?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. Parents who permit their own personal problems to have an adverse impact their children are not acting responsibly. How did the actions of Rose’s mother and stepfather, as shown in the movie, hurt her?
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. Given her parents’ problems, what is the only hope for Rose to grow into a reasonably whole human being?
The importance of caring in human relationships is that it is the only medicine to emotional wounds. Forgiving is part of caring. As Oscar Wilde said, “It is only the imperfect who are in need of love.” He also said, “All sins, except a sin against itself, love should forgive.” See the Learning Guide to “An Ideal Husband“
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 9, 2009.