All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies?

All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies?

As a new convert, one of the things that I’ve struggled with as I’ve gained a stronger presence of the Holy Ghost is figuring out exactly what media content is or is not spiritually conducive. Some decisions are very clear cut; for instance, a couple of months ago I went through the very cathartic process of deleting hundreds of satanic death metal songs that I used to adore. On the other hand, especially with movies, I have found some decisions very difficult. As with music, sometimes the decision is very simple; Hostel is not likely to be a spiritually enlightening experience. Yet, for many of the most powerful, poignant and well-designed films a correct path is much less clear.  There is prophetic advice to not watch R rated movies, but I have also found so many good, and meaningful films with this rating.  Ultimately, I have to say that I am conflicted and unable to figure out what is right for me.

Today I went and I saw Up In the Air which perfectly exemplifies my dilemma. On the one hand, profanity was pretty common and sexual humor and innuendo rampant. Yet, the film also had a profound and timely message about the value of human connections and family in particular. The acting and dialogue was sharp and left a profound impact. It was clearly a well-done film, but more importantly it was also a film with an ultimately positive value filled spirit.  Likewise, a few weeks back I saw the movie Precious that was also R rated and also an absolutely stunning affirmation of life. I left that movie feeling more sure of my conviction that we are all sons and daughters of our heavenly father. Up In The Air leaves me feeling confident in my conviction that is ultimately our relationships rather than our assets that make our life meaningful. I recently wrote two posts about the lessons I learned from watching Schindler’s List.  These are worthy lessons and I worry about missing out on them if I limit my viewing experiences too selectively.

I realized while watching this film that perhaps it is this spirit that is the most important facet of a film. Some films encourage a spirit of materialism, nihilism and moral relativism while others are values filled and wholesome. This spirit is related to but not directly correlated with the content. A film that revels in violence and sex will not likely have a good spirit, but one that does not will not necessarily either. Some movies can be technically proficient but negative in values. For me, a good example of this was last years No Country For Old Men. This film was critically acclaimed and technically well done. Yet, the overall philosophy was rooted in a blind chaotic nihilism that was vapid in my eyes.

The problem is knowing what kind of ‘spirit’ a film will have. The other question is whether some of the more negative imagery or dialogue one hears has a worse impact than any positive one a film can have. Does hearing profanity negate the good of a film—unlikely. What about glorification of promiscuous sex—much likely so. The problem with not setting hard and fast guidelines such as no R rated movies is that I have to make difficult decisions and may end up seeing movies that are spiritually bad for me.

Would I just be better off with a hard and fast rule against R rated films? Readers, what have you done for yourself or for your families? Your advice would be very helpful.

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8 thoughts on “All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies?

  1. As a Christian and a film fan who happened across this blog post, here are my thoughts:

    Pulp Fiction and Fight Club are films filled with violence, cursing, etc, yet contain Christian parables that are hard to miss (Fight Club, Jack’s process of becoming “free” is similar to Christian conversion; Pulp Fiction search for redemption).

    I think your move to looking at the “big picture” is a step in the right direction. For example: Pulp Fiction’s character Jules’ closing speech exemplifies the human condition: “I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.” That message matters more than all the cursing and violence (notice how Vincent Vega, John Travolta, is killed in the film after criticizing Jules’ decision to leave the killing business).

    Which leads to the next topic: I think these things, film representation of violence, sex, cursing, should be avoided if you’re having trouble with them. But if after a film you’re not left wanting to emulate what’s on screen, you’re adult enough to watch it.

    The Bible and plenty of literature is full of stories about murder, rape, etc. Film is just another story telling device and you grant it the potential power it can sway you with.

    Finally, God is everywhere. God isn’t just in church or sanctioned books; God is in you, me, the culture, the world. God goes by different names, different forms. But when we encounter any TRUTH in the world, the love, the compassion, humility, grace, we’re looking at God.

    Remember, Jesus hung out with the underbelly of society. Most often the “underbelly” films are the ones that are “bad,” but they’re the ones that show us OUR world (not some Disney, sanitized version) and how to find God within it.

    In the end, think about it, pray about it, and only avoid it if it’s causing your problems. Otherwise, don’t cut yourself off from new ways of seeing God and God’s work through others.

  2. I tend to avoid especially particularly violent movies and to a much lesser extent certain kind of movies with sexual content for perhaps similar, although not religious, reasons mainly just personal preference. But I think basing anything on the MPAA’s guidelines is a mistake as these ratings are very (culturally) arbitrary, too broad, and established for many different agendas. Personally, for example, I think they are often not hard enough on violence and oversensitive often when it comes to sexuality (make love not war;-) . But the MPAA ratings themselves are just flawed, and don’t say anything (there is some talk of reforming them (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/25/business/media/25ratings.html) You’ve got a movie like Superbad, which I understand some people think is very funny, but I didn’t care for too much (and was involuntarily exposed to it, I might add), which is rated R probably for good reason, but then you have Shakespeare in Love where I think the R rating or The American President where I think the PG 13 rating is overblown (I saw the latter when I was 8) They’re also very culturally arbitrary, in Germany most think rated high for sexuality in America are rated for age 6 or even the equivalent of G. In the UK they didn’t let me into the cinema to watch Mickey Blue Eyes when I was 12 which was rated 15 there according to the IMDB probably for a mixture of some sexuality, violence and bad language, even though I was with a parent and there was a very good chance (and in fact turned out to be true) that I would be in it to some degree since I had seen it being shot. The association that markets airline movies literally has a document stating that movies with an American audience should go easy on the sexuality and for a European audience go easy on the violence (http://www.waea.org/committees/technology/technical-specifications.asp)
    So I don’t think movie ratings are the way to go. Sometimes, I go by movie reviews and you can just sort of tell (for example, I suspected Superbad wouln’t be for me although I was able to sit through it anyhow considering I was with other people). If I’m worried that I will find something upsetting perhaps because it’s emotionally or personally upsetting, I sometimes check screenit.com (http://screenit.com/search_movies.html) I don’t alwasy agree with their agenda either, but they sort of list anything that could possibly objectionable for anyone very detailed for most movies, so since I don’t always necessarily mind being somewhat spoiled in that area, it can be reassuring because I can sometimes get with certain types, mainly when things get to emotionally tense or violent in certain ways. But for anyone, I don’t think avoiding R rated completely is the answer. You can’t always know what a movie is going to be like. But I think what matters more is your intellectual reaction to it than any harm from exposure. For any movie if you notice you don’t like the language content or whatever, you’re always free to turn it off or leave, or if you’re not sure, watch it to the end and then distance yourself from it, criticize it argue against it and you know what you’re arguing against. Finally kind of like you say, I thnk it’s important to look at the big picture and not to dismiss a movie simply because of bad language, sex or violence. There are plenty of bad movies that have neither of them. So I don’t know how helpful this is since I’m coming at it from a somewhat different angle, but I guess the lesson from this is, don’t get me started on movie ratings 😉

  3. Oh and I’d also add one other thing, even films that seem to endorse a worldview that is not very positive can have merit because they can show what not to strive for or give clearer understanding of your own ideas. I’ve never seen No Country for Old Men, but when I watched The Prestige, I found it (and the other film I’ve seen by Christopher Nolan) pretty disturbing because particularly the final scene seemed to suggest an unnecessarily dark, corrupt view of humanity where everybody is just going to be destroyed by technology or something. But I don’t completely regret seeing it because it was cinematically well done and it sort of made my point of view clearer to me.

    • I think it was more about obsession than anything else and the damage that it can bring to yourself, your loved ones, and at a macro level, the world.

      Christian Bale’s character: leads a, literal, double life, which causes his wife’s suicide (now his daughter doesn’t have a mother)

      Hugh Jackman’s: becomes obsessed with what knot Bale tied the night his wife died and thus, he becomes obsessed both with vengeance and one-upping Bale’s tricks.

      One cannot blame a hammer for hitting the carpenter’s thumb. He is using the tool, he is at fault for the thumb mashing. If we do not keep an eye our our darker selves, it will use whatever tools available to destroy us.

      Finally, if we know anything about humanity, it IS “unnecessarily dark [and] corrupt.” Why else would we be so impressed by people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa? The very reason for these figures’ prominence is due to their ability to shine a light in such darkness.

  4. PS
    Concerning “No Country for Old Men”

    You posted, “Yet, the overall philosophy was rooted in a blind chaotic nihilism that was vapid in my eyes.”

    I just asked my wife for her thoughts and we both felt that the film was more about how do we deal with real evil in this world? Anton Chigurh embodies this evil that Tommy Lee Jones discusses and the fact that the film lets Chigurh escape doesn’t mean the filmmakers endorse his actions, only that real evil doesn’t always get his comeuppance as we’ve been trained to believe through mainstream cinema. With this, the only other philosophies were that money kills (if he turned it into the police or just left it he wouldn’t have gotten into such a mess) and that bad things happen to good people (if Llewelyn had not followed his conscience to bring the Mexican water, he would have escaped with the cash). As my wife Bethany concluded:

    “In the end, the film doesn’t make a nihilistic statement about evil, as much as it poses a question; ‘How do YOU respond to evil in the world?'”

  5. I think it absolutely has to do with who you are and where you are coming from. If language and inappropriate sexual content are things you have already been exposed to, then they will not be the only things you take away from a harshly realistic but meaningful film. If, however, you are sheltered and overly sensitive to those aspects of raw filmmaking, then following prophetic counsel without question is probably the best course. Only you know what is right for you, and even many PG-13 movies are obviously a negative waste of time, but in the end, there is also the question to be asked: how important is movie entertainment? Can you have those positive life affirmation experiences without it? Is it worth it to be in the position of picking and choosing what we are obedient to? I’m not sure. But I don’t think an R rating is a ticket to damnation or equated to evil. Of course, there’s no way to really know until AFTER seeing a movie if it was worth it or not. And it’s a slippery slope in any case.

    For me and my house, I grew up seeing R’s with some discretion. When my husband converted, we made the choice to avoid them on principle to get in the habit of obedience to things we may not always agree with or understand. Lately, though, we have come across some films that we are interested in viewing on a philosophical basis…so I’m not sure where our future decisions will take us.

  6. And one last comment: this is not related to films exactly, but I think the worst kind of entertainment is really reality tv, it’s just so pointless, useless, not gripping or entertaining and seems completely devoid of value as far as I’m concerned, compared to anything that is scripted, even like, Transformers 2 🙂 (I haven’t seen it but I’m guessing here) . My personal exceptions, some game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, cause it’s less about the people and more about the guessing and knowledge, and Awards Shows, cause they’re at least celebrating supposedly talented people.

  7. Pingback: All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies? »Coolweather

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