Sunday, September 23, 2007

the R-rated post

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?


  1. very thought provoking post; i'm thinking...

    will be back.

  2. Hmmm. You have some good points. You're definitely right about how some PG-13s should better have been rated R and some Rs not as bad...but I avoid R-rated movies because though I realize it's not a question in temple recommend interviews, I think, if church leaders have mentioned that particular rating, why try to second guess that? The more you just do what they say, the better off, right? And really--if you miss a particular movie--are you going to really remember and be sad that you didn't see it a year or two down the road? Is there really going to be a hole in your life? That's my thoughts--I'm not arguing at all, but you did ask for discussion, so that's my two cents.

  3. i've got to agree with Kayli on this. I agree with you, Katrina, in that some PG-13s are just (if not worse) as bad. We use a lot...we rarely, if ever, rent a movie that we haven't first checked out on both screenit and Movie Mom.

    But as Kayli said, we/I avoid R-rated movies because it's something church leaders have advised us not to do. I figure for me the more that I follow in obedience, the better, so that I just get myself in that pattern of doing what church leaders say and I'm not deciding every time what I'll do. Not unquestioning obedience, persay, as I think a lot of people outside of our faith would view it, but I like to think of it as I've made an informed choice to follow people who are both wiser and have a more direct line of revelation than I do, and at that point I try to follow without questioning. It's the same reason why I took out my double piercings and why I don't drink caffeine--I know that I wouldn't be an awful person if I did either, but it's just something that I've been asked not to do.

    So there's my two cents...

  4. I think that aside from the counsel from church leaders, I try to avoid such movies because their content (generally the offensive stuff) gets trapped in my head. Perhaps I'm more sensitive to some material than others... for example, I still remember to this day the first time I heard the "f" word in a movie (Swing Kids, rated PG-13). Don't get me wrong- I've seen my fair share of rated R movies that I didn't think deserved the rating, and a few others that did. I certainly find a rated R Last of the Mohicans, where honorable people are fighting to save those they love, MUCH less offensive than something that completely and totally mocks the things that we have been taught are sacred (e.g. American Pie). Like you said, I think it's important to screen things beforehand as the rating system isn't always reliable as to the explicit content of the movie. I think the new strength of youth pamphlet doesn't mention a particular rating but more generally refers to anything that would defile the Spirit.

  5. Well, you have asked the question and I think you sincerely want to know what others think. In my mind, when I raise my hand to sustain church leaders (a question which is included in the temple recommend interview), I am committing to be obedient to the things they ask of me. Whether or not an R-rated or a PG13 movie will keep me out of the celestial kingdom or keep me from feeling the Spirit is not as big a question as whether those things depend on my ability to follow the counsel of a prophet. And just an observation from a mother whose children are grown and who is a grandmother of many, you will someday be surprised at how soon your children will consider themselves "adults" and will follow your lead. As Elder Packer once said, "There is no sin so small that it can escape the notice of a three-year-old."

  6. “We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. … Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same” (“To the Youth of the Noble Birthright,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 45).

  7. FYI... that is a direct quote from President Ezra Taft Benson.

  8. I agree with what you say about the American rating system--double standards abound. I also agree with what you say about keeping our nosy noses (and judgments) out of other people's business. I think we could all stand to turn that scrutiny inward and examine choices in our own lives rather than picking apart others'.
    As for my personal stance, I just generally don't watch the R-rated ones, (which isn't all that tough because I just generally don't watch many movies.) There might be some real pearls of wisdom or understanding that I'm missing out on, but for all the smut that you have to sift through, it's not worth it. Occasionally though, a movie comes out that I think looks absolutely fabulous and they slap an R on it and I'm super disappointed (and tempted.)

  9. I didn’t mean for that to sound mean. The thing is your choice IS your choice. I would just be careful when you make obedience to the prophet’s counsel seem sheep-like. The grayer we let the lines get, the more desensitized we become to material that offends the Spirit.

  10. I didn't mean to stir up such emotions or defensiveness, I just thought it was interesting, something I wouldn't choose to broadcast on the internet. But that's just my opinion, and since your blog is public, I felt like you were ok receiving comments, whether they agree with you or not. I didn't make my comment as much in judgment of you as to cause some thought, which it appears to have done. You have thought a lot about it and feel good about your decision and it is definitely your decision. That's the whole point in agency.

  11. What an interesting topic! First, I must say that the whole movie viewing thing has been on my own mind lately, and I was wanting to make my own post on this (not so much in the morality/rating context as the creative context, which you also referred to.)
    So, with the fairness of me reading with an open mind, I trust you will also and sincerely hpoe you aren't offended by anything I say, because I assure you that isn't my intent.

    I didn't AT ALL think that the comment was suggesting that you're not worthy to attend the temple AT ALL. (Though it would drive me through the roof wondering who it is?) I did think they were trying to make you think. Ratings are obviously not the only way to go. (And, like mentioned, plenty of PG-13s are raunchy, and probably raunchier than some Rs.) For that reason, I avoid a lot of PG-13s. Life isn't only R rated as you said-sometimes worse!! I have a higher tolerance for violence, etc b/c I have ZERO desire to physically harm someone (And most violence/killing that I would even consider seeing seems to be in historical settings.)

    More important to me, the biggie is the quantity of nudity/sex, etc. Yes, even with our married eyes we fast forward. Crazy? Not so much. After becoming WAY TOO aware of how that destroys WAY TOO many marriages, its simply not worth it. Though most like to think that it doesn't affect us, I truly think its one of Satan's greatest lies. Not prude, willing to face reality. A few moments of seeing someone naked has become a porgnography, sex addicted, marriage-ruining society. (11 marriages of close friends within one year's, most traced back to porn/sex in one way or another.) The reality of this topic (porn/sex/divorce) has been incredibly upsetting, unsettling and depressing to me this past year. We all have temptations, and none of us are above them. (Though of course, not all of ours are related to this.) For us, it IS NOT WORTH it and we try "to avoid it like the plague". (Pres. Hinckley)

    I think that if a Prophet even suggests that something isn't appropriate, why even mess with it? He's closer to God than any of us, and we're trying to be like him, right? For me, knowing that he knows whats best for us might be hard to accept, but...I think like all of his counsel, we're supposed to do our best to follow it.

    A good resource:
    It gives a very detailed breakdown of everything from violence, to curse words, to sex scenes, etc. (Even # of which curse words, details of scenes, etc.) Whenever I'm questioning a movie, I go here first.
    (It used to be free, but I see now there's a fee...)

    I look forward to reading your post-post, Katrina!

    PS-(Seriously) Kudos to you on your recent temple trip-you've gone more recently than we have. :)

  12. Hi, Everyone! Thank you so much for your insightful comments! I truly appreciate each of them as they have all made me think a lot these past few days. I want to respond more specifically to comments, but I don't have the time right now. (I started a new job this week.) I will be doing it soon though. Thanks again!

  13. congrats on your new job! what are you doing?

  14. Yes, my thoughts too, congrats and what are you doing?

  15. This really has been an interesting discussion... I would recommend the site It is even better than screenit, and you can access movies still in the theater.