Surviving: A Family in Crisis (1985)

7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Good cast

Sometimes feels like it is reading a pamphlet on teen suicide to the audience

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Surviving:  A Family in Crisis

Studio:  Telepictures Corporation

Genre(s):  Drama

Airdate(s):  February 10, 1985

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


I learned about suicide and carbon monoxide poisoning from this movie. Probably not the desired effect…

Lonnie (Molly Ringwald) is home after an attempted suicide. She finds solace in Rick (Zach Galligan) who is also struggling with difficult tests and problems at home. Rick’s parents (Ellen Burstyn and Len Cariou) and his brother and Sister (River Phoenix and Heather O’Rourke) just don’t seem to get him and Lonnie finds her parents (Marsha Mason and Paul Sorvino) also don’t understand. When tragedy strikes, the families must try to find peace.

Directed by Waris Hussein, Surviving: A Family in Crisis has also been called Tragedy or simply Surviving. The TV movie aired on ABC on February 10, 1985 and was a fairly well received attempt to open a dialogue about teen suicide. A shorter version of the film was released on VHS.


A happy world rocked

I can remember seeing this when it was new. It had the Gremlins guy and the Sixteen Candles girl…and traumatized me by teaching me about carbon monoxide suicide (probably not the intended purpose). Watching it over thirty years later, the movie has some staying power but mostly due to the stars.

The problem with the film is that it plays like an Afterschool Special with more adult themes. It is preachy at points and melodramatic. The movie does smartly not just end the movie with the suicide but also shows the devastating effects on the families. It just unfortunately sometimes feels like it is reading a pamphlet on teen suicide to the audience.


Creepy that both River Phoenix and Heather O’Rourke died young

The movie does have a stellar cast. Zach Galligan and Molly Ringwald were the “stars”, but now River Phoenix has surpassed Galligan due to his own short life. Phoenix was joined by Heather O’Rourke of Poltergeist who also had a short life. The parents are smartly cast with Len Cariou and Ellen Burstyn probably having the meatier roles over Paul Sorvino and Marsha Mason. Character actor William Windom gets the clunkiest role as the doctor who has to give out the information on suicide.

Surviving: A Family in Crisis maintains the message and themes that are still prevalent in teen suicide. It is dated and looks old, but the ideas are right. The movie isn’t readily available, but often can be found streaming online.  There have been more movies about the subject since Surviving and the problem continues and will continue, but it was a big attempt to talk about it…but it just needs some tweaking.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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