David Lurie (John Malkovich), twice-divorced and dissatisfied with his job as an English professor in post-apartheid South Africa, finds his life falling apart. When he seduces one of his students and does nothing to protect himself from the consequences, he is dismissed from his teaching position, and goes to live with his lesbian daughter Lucy, who shares a farm in the Eastern Cape with trusted black worker Petrus. For a time, his daughter's influence and natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. In the aftermath of a vicious attack by three black youths, he is forced to come to terms with the changes in society - as well as his disgrace.