This post is going to deal with a controversial subject. (Just thought I'd get that out there.) It's not controversial to most of the world but it certainly is among those of us who profess to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so before I even begin, I ask all of you to read this with open minds and to withhold judgments as much as possible. My intention here is to open a dialogue and to share my thoughts on the subject of movie ratings and movie choices.
For those reading who are not Mormon, let me give you some perspective on why this can be a controversial topic. Leaders of the LDS church have cautioned its members, and rightly so, to be very careful about what media we allow in our lives. More specifically they have cautioned us against watching R-rated movies. Many members of the LDS Church live by the rule that they never watch R-rated movies. I, however, do not live by this rule.
I am writing this post because this subject has been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons. First, I have been watching a lot of movies lately (thanks to Netflix) with a variety of ratings. I have noticed how ratings often tell us little about what is actually in the film. More on that in a bit. Secondly, a week or so ago I wrote a little post saying that my husband and I had gone to the temple (the most sacred place for Latter-day Saints to worship and make covenants) in the morning and that that night we were going to watch Shopgirl, which happens to be rated R. I didn't make an issue of this, in fact, I didn't even think about it. I was just telling about my day. The next day, however, someone (I don't know who he/she is) left this comment:
"Hmm...temple in the morning, rated-R movie at night. Interesting."
Perhaps I am misinterpreting this, but it seems to me that this person is implying that we are hypocrites for attending the temple and watching this movie in the same day. Or perhaps that because we watch some movies that are rated R we should not be worthy to attend the temple. How judgmental!
Now before I go any further, I want to make something very clear. I am not writing this post to try to convince everyone to make the same choices I do. I have A LOT of respect for people who choose not to watch movies rated R or PG-13. I see the wisdom in this choice. What I have a problem with are people who look down at those who have chosen otherwise, at people who unfairly judge those who look beyond the rating and try to make an informed decision about what we watch.
Because the thing is, the American ratings system is far from perfect. The movie that Jared and I watched last Friday called Shopgirl is rated R. It is definitely a movie for an adult audience. It is not however, some graphic, satanic movie. It is melancholy and sweet and sad and real. It is about adults in adult situations. Adults who have sex (very little is shown) and adults who make some poor choices and some good choices. There is some very brief nudity. You do see Claire Danes nude from behind. But let me remind you that we saw more in the PG-13 Titanic. There was very little swearing and the f-word was never used. When it was over, I was actually surprised it was rated R, except for that it was very much a movie targeted at an audience over 17. Most teenagers would have been very bored.
Jared and I really liked it. I had read the novella by Steve Martin that the movie is based on and enjoyed that. I knew what this movie was about. I think the story is quite realistic and interesting, albeit very quiet and slow at times. The characters grow and learn and develop and become better people by the end. The movie helped me appreciate my life and my husband and made me grateful for the love and friendship we share. I do not at all regret watching it.
I can't say that about every movie I've ever watched. I have definitely made some poor choices in the past. As a teenager I certainly watched a few movies that didn't leave me at all the better for it. During my college years, I really tried to stay away from rated R movies. I watched very few. But as I've grown and matured, I have softened my views. I try to approach my movie watching very maturely and inform myself about the movie before watching it. (Our favorite reviewer is the Movie Mom She is so smart and funny with her reviews, and she also generally explains why the movie received its rating and provides discussion points for families.)
I know of people who only watch movies that they'd feel comfortable letting their children watch. I respect that decision whole-heartedly. But I prefer to live by the guideline to avoid movies I wouldn't want my children watching as adults. I really enjoy film as an art form. I think films can be very powerful teachers. They can take us to places we could never go. They show us worlds we'd never see otherwise. They inform us about people's lives, giving us a glimpse into what other's think and feel. Perhaps even giving us a taste of empathy.
Real life is rated R. Real life isn't always pretty and happy and nice. Real life has war and sex and swearing and abusers and bad people and good people too. Sometimes in order to tell a story honestly you have to include things that will give the film an R rating, which means it is not appropriate for children. But I am not a child. And sometimes it's good to see the reality of life.
Of course I believe in limits. I don't have to see every explicit detail to understand what's going on. And there have been times when I have been very disappointed in filmmakers because they have included graphic content that did not advance the story whatsoever. I would love to see that practice stopped. I also freely use my fast forward button when watching movies at home to skip over such content. (I don't remember the last time I saw an R-rated movie in the theater.) There are also A LOT of R-rated movies that I choose not to watch, and PG-13 ones for that matter. That is my choice, and I don't condemn those who watch more than me.
I guess the point I am trying to make with all this is that we each have the freedom to choose for ourselves, and I think we should be open-minded enough to allow each other that freedom without making judgments on how good a person they are. I also think we should look beyond ratings. There are plenty of PG-13 movies out there that I don't want to watch and some R movies that I do. I wonder if I had said we were watching some raunchy PG-13 rated comedy last Friday if the aforementioned person would have left their comment.
So what are your thoughts on movie ratings? Why do you watch or don't watch certain movies? What resources do you use to make informed choices?