What Is the Movie "Tommy" About?

by Mitchell Land

The movie "Tommy" was released in 1975. It was directed by Ken Russell, who also directed "Crimes of Passion," "The Music Lovers" and "Altered States." The film features actors and musicians such as Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Jack Nicholson and Eric Clapton. The movie is based on the concept album of the same name by The Who.


"Tommy" begins with the wife of a British fighter pilot, Nora Walker, learning that her husband is presumed dead in World War II. Nora carries on with her young child, Tommy, and marries Frank Hobbs. When Tommy is five years old, his father suddenly reappears, and Tommy accidentally witnesses the death of his father, who is killed by his stepfather. His mother and stepfather tell Tommy that he neither saw nor heard the incident, so he can never tell anyone about it. The child immediately goes deaf, blind and dumb.


Nora and Frank make attempts to heal Tommy. Throughout his childhood, doctors and preachers prescribe potential cures. His stepfather takes him to see a woman named "The Acid Queen," and a preacher advises that Marilyn Monroe can heal him. Tommy's parents also leave him with some relatives, like Cousin Kevin, who tortures the child, and Uncle Ernie, who sexually abuses Tommy. The child finds salvation in a pinball machine, and he gradually works his way up to becoming a world champion.


Tommy spends much of his time staring into a mirror. After winning the pinball championship, a doctor advises the family to break the mirror to shock Tommy back into typical consciousness. The plan works, and Tommy begins to tell his story to those who want to hear it. He eventually gains religious cult-leader status.


Tommy was conceived as a concept album -- a rock opera -- and the music plays a large part in the movie. All the songs were written by The Who. Popular songs from the movie include "Pinball Wizard," "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?, "Amazing Journey" and "I'm Free." Pete Townshend served as the musical director, while Martyn Ford and Nicky Hopkins assisted in arrangement. Terry Rawlings was the music editor.

About the Author

Residing in Bristol, Va., Mitchell Land began writing for various websites in 2010. He worked as a writing center tutor at Baylor School for three years, where he also contributed music reviews to "Baylor Notes." He attends Greensboro College in North Carolina and studies theater and French.