She may be out of prison, but Inez still feels trapped. For starters, she got fired from her old job for not calling in (you know, because she got arrested). With no references, she can’t get a new job. Without a job, she has no money, no place to live and most importantly, no way of getting 6-year-old Terry out of foster care.
Now, logically speaking, Inez really should try to find some stability before introducing Terry into her chaotic life. But Inez isn’t thinking logically. She wants to be a good mother, and she’s grieving that, in foster care, Terry feels unloved and unwanted.
So, desperate and out of options, Inez kidnaps him.
In the 11 years that follow, the mother-son duo faces poverty, gentrification, racism and marital infidelity. But their greatest struggle is keeping their secret. Because if anyone discovers that Terry is legally still a ward of the state, he’ll be taken from Inez, and she’ll return to prison.
Folks show up for Inez and Terry throughout their lives. Friends provide housing. Kind neighbors inform Inez of job opportunities. Invested educators advocate to get Terry enrolled in an elite high school. And most importantly, Inez and Terry are there for each other.
Their relationship isn’t perfect by any means (more on that in Negative Elements). But Inez and Terry love each other. Inez affirms Terry, letting him know that he is wanted and loved. And Terry, though often plagued by teenage angst, helps Inez out and, when necessary, takes care of her.
Inez eventually marries, and she and her husband, Lucky, agree to give Terry a better life than the ones that they had. It could be argued that Lucky fails to be the fatherly figure that Terry deserves, but Lucky still tries to teach Terry to be a better man that he was.
Inez and Lucky both reassure Terry that he is a blessing, not a burden. Inez’s best friend speaks into Inez’s insecurities, reassuring Inez that she is worthy. Lucky is physically protective of Terry, instructing the young boy to walk on the inside of the sidewalk, away from vehicles. Later in life, Terry protects a girl he likes in a similar manner.
When Terry starts getting to know the girl he has a crush on, she tells him that she doesn’t like his friends since they are rude to her. She encourages him to acknowledge his potential and pursue his dreams.
Lucky gifts a 6-year-old Terry with a cross necklace that Terry wears the rest of his life. We see some churches in the background of scenes.
Before marriage, Lucky and Inez talk about sex during a post-coital moment. We see Lucky’s unclothed rear and Inez’s bare legs. The couple lives together before they are married. Inez comments that she has slept with many men. Women wear revealing outfits at times. Someone says Inez dresses like a prostitute. A couple smooches several times.
A woman gets upset with her boyfriend after she catches him checking out other women. Later, after they are married, we learn he cheated on her since he fathers a child with another woman (though his wife chooses to stay with him despite this infidelity).
Lucky tells Terry how he met and wooed Inez. Terry then tries a similar tactic with the girl he has a crush on. Teenage boys flirt with teenage girls.
When a girl rejects Terry’s buddy because he’s being crude and inappropriate, the boy calls her a “dyke.”
It’s not sexual, but we see a woman’s underwear hanging on a line to dry.
Inez smacks a 6-year-old Terry on the cheek for cursing at her. We hear that a boy with a cut forehead injured himself falling out a window. Inez shoves a few people for insulting her. A child repeatedly hits his caretaker until she physically grabs his arm and stops him.
A news report talks about police brutality against Black people. And as Terry gets older, Inez teaches him how to behave around police to stay safe. Despite this caution, 13-year-old Terry and his friend are randomly searched by officers. The officers shove the boys against a wall without provocation. (We hear this has happened more than once.)
A woman says she keeps a gun in her home. We hear a report about sodomy on the news; the context makes it sound as though it was part of a sexual assault.
A man passes away after a difficult battle with cancer.
We hear the f-word 33 times, the s-word 14 times and the n-word three times. God’s name is abused four times (once paired with “d–n”). There are multiple uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p—y.” (There’s also a single use of a derogatory term for homosexual men.)
Inez and other characters smoke throughout the film. (Inez is often seen with an unlit cigarette stuck behind her ear.)
A woman shares that her daughter is a drug addict after Inez says that she lost her family to drugs.
Editor’s Note: There are plot spoilers throughout this section.
Inez kidnaps Terry. And while we might understandably sympathize with her, it was still illegal. It makes their lives much more difficult and leads to a plethora of other wrong acts.
First, let’s discuss why Inez kidnapped Terry. The boy was abandoned on a street corner by his biological parents when he was just 2 years old. From that moment on, throughout his four years in foster care, he felt unwanted and unloved. Inez—who has no formal relationship with the boy before the kidnapping—steals him away because she remembers what that was like. (She and her sister lived in foster care when they were young, too.) She wants Terry to have a better life than she did. And she believes she can provide that better than the state.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t fix Terry’s feeling of being unwanted. When he first goes missing, every news outlet and police officer in the city are on high alert. But after a while, with no leads, they stop looking. Noticing this, Terry concludes that nobody really cares what happens to him. And though Inez counters these thoughts with reassurances that she wants and loves him, it’s clear he’s not totally convinced.
Furthermore, Inez and Terry have to lie constantly about who Terry is. In fact, Terry gets so used to telling this lie that he begins to believe it himself. And when the truth is finally revealed, the 17-year-old Terry is devastated.
Terry was too young to remember that Inez wasn’t the woman who gave birth to him. And though he loves her like a mother, when he learns the truth, Terry feels betrayed. He can’t help but feel their entire relationship was based on a lie.
We hear a few stories about children running away from their foster homes. (Inez says that after her own sister ran away, she never saw her again.)
Inez and Lucky both spend time in prison, though it’s never mentioned why. Inez also claims she’s been to jail multiple times because of Lucky.
Inez can act immaturely and lose her temper. Sometimes, it’s a pride issue, but more often, it’s caused by her own insecurities. (And even though she grows in this area, some people still wrongly accuse her of being hotheaded when she’s acting calmly.)
Although he loves Inez, Terry can be awful to her. He knows how to hurt her, and he doesn’t hesitate to attack her vulnerabilities. He rebels against her push for him to go to college by showing up late to school and failing to turn in assignments. He eventually regrets treating her this way when he realizes they’re going to be separated.
We see the process of gentrification in Inez and Terry’s neighborhood. Family-owned businesses that have been around for decades are forced to close their doors. The girl that Terry likes says her family is moving to Florida to live with her uncle because someone swindled them out of their house.
Terry and Inez feel this pressure, too, when their apartment begins to break down. Their new landlord initially sends maintenance workers in to make repairs. However, after the workers botch the job, the landlord says he needs Inez and Terry to vacate for a few months in order to fix it, making it seem like he did this on purpose. And when Inez refuses since they have nowhere to live, the landlord says they should just move.
There’s a derogatory comment about immigrants.
Love isn’t easy. Family can be hard. And, as A Thousand and One illustrates, we can sometimes be our own worst enemy in both.
Inez raises Terry from boyhood to adolescence, loving him and caring for him the best way she knows how. But in the end, a mother’s love isn’t all that Terry needs. He needs the truth. And sometimes, the truth hurts.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending … or beginning, or middle for that matter, especially as it pertains to content concerns.
There are upwards of 30 uses of the f-word alone. While sex is largely kept off-screen, we still see the bare rear of a grown man. Many other forms of negative content are more subtle, only hinting at how bad a situation is.
And, of course, there’s the story’s big plot twist at the end. I won’t spoil it here, (you can find the details in our Other Negative Elements section) but suffice it to say that the entire tale is based on a lie.
A Thousand and One is a powerful story, no doubt. But with so many content concerns and the sad ending, it’s not one everyone will be scrambling to see.
Editor’s Note: Focus on the Family has many resources to help children in foster care. Visit focusonthefamily.com or called 1-800-A-FAMILY for more information.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.