Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Value of R-Rated Movies

I grew up with the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet readily available to detail The Brethren's standards for things I was and was not permitted to do.  One of the things I never really had a problem with was avoiding R-rated movies.  I may have sworn, been dishonest, listened to immoral music, and tainted my sexual purity, but for a long time I didn't watch R-rated movies...and I didn't have a problem with not watching R-rated movies.

But then in my junior year of high school one of my teachers decided it was a good idea to show the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan in class.  I didn't have the courage to announce that it was against my religion to watch, so I nervously rationalized that it was historically significant and I wouldn't be watching the complete film.  The next year, my government teacher showed us the entirety of All the President's Men.  It didn't even occur to me what kind of rating that would have until I encountered a block of dialogue that heavily featured the F-word.  And, to my dismay, I realized that I'd been watching an R-rated movie the entire time.

While I was at BYU and still mostly a believer, I explored a lot of different music and started to enjoy a lot of it that was outside what I'd been taught was the acceptable domain.  So when I finally stopped attending church, I opted to do the same thing with films and give this whole R rating thing a serious try.  And I watched a whole bunch of movies that I'd previously been told were to be avoided at all costs.

Here are some of the positive, important and Mormon-friendly messages that have been reinforced by some of my favorite R-rated films.

Panic Room - To me, this movie is really a huge buildup to the selfless, redemptive actions of Forest Whitaker's character.  He could have gotten away with the money but he would have left Kristen Stewart in danger.  So he went back and saved the girl because, despite his status as a criminal, it was the right thing to do and he knew it.  Mormons would not oppose his character's willingness to sacrifice to do what is right.  Also important is that he saves the family even though he's a criminal--don't judge the book by its cover.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Woven in among the many different themes that the brilliant-but-crazy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman works into this heartbreaking story is the severe consequence of making rash, emotional decisions.  Any kind of careful consideration can help spare the devastation that affect Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey after they both decide to erase their memories of each other.

Ten Inch Hero - This movie has a hell of a lot of heart.  Though much of the dialogue is sexual in nature, the movie actually glamorizes the bonds of friendship and family instead.  There's also the storyline in which Jen learns that her inner beauty is more important than her outer appearance--a theme that's also mirrored by Jensen Ackles' outwardly rebellious but inwardly sympathetic character.

Love Actually - As advertised by its title, this movie also has a hell of a lot of heart.  It shows the audience all kinds of love in all kinds of forms.  While there's nudity, immorality and plenty of swearing, the movie's central themes are about loyalty, friendship, the need to love and the need to be loved.  It captures the most important human emotion so beautifully and so poignantly that, at the end of the film, you kind of feel like humans, though flawed, are pretty awesome.

Schindler's List - This is one movie that I'm actually kind of angry about.  It's rated R and so I considered it off-limits and never really bothered to learn about it, despite the fact that it ranks so high on so many lists of great movies (eighth on IMDB, for example).  And though I didn't enjoy the majority of Schindler's List as much as some of my other favorites, it's this ending that makes the movie so great.  It emphasizes with such heartrending clarity the need for selflessness, for sacrifice and gratitude, and for working to make a positive impact on an often brutal world.  Sure, there's movies that glorify drug use, meaningless sex, obsessive vengeance and cold-blooded murder, but Schindler's List is the kind of R-rated movie that the LDS church is simply wrong to teach adults to avoid.

There's a lot of good to miss out on when you limit your film choices based on other people's decisions (by which I'm referring, of course, to the non-divinely-inspired MPAA).  Most art achieves the greatest impact by honestly confronting some aspect of human existence.  While it's possible to do that by avoiding sex, drugs, coarse language and violence, sometimes the most poignant messages require some kind of R-rated counterpoint.

Not that I expect Monson and friends to understand that.

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