Because this is the ONLY issue you all really care about…

Put aside for a moment the alleged LDS prohibition on viewing R-rated movies (I know that’s asking a lot from this group). Imagine a world in which no reference to movie “ratings” has ever been voiced by any of the Brethren, but a general admonition to follow the “Admonition of Paul” is in force. What I want to know is: “What kind of movies should good LDS members watch, and what kind shouldn’t they watch?” Most critical commentary on the “No R-rated movies standard” tends to condemn the MPAA’s rating system as “arbitrary,” “flawed,” and a poor guide to determining what is worth viewing and what isn’t. But if there were a perfect standard, or at least a hypothetical rating system that incorporated all the sophisticated concerns and nuanced criteria you think should count toward determining whether a film is acceptable, what would that standard look like? This may seem like a simple question, but I don’t think it is. Most LDS discussions of R-rated movie-watching confront it in passing, but not directly. Some specific questions:

(1) Surely there are fantastic, moving, amazing films very much worth watching, notwithstanding the fact they contain some offensive material. Surely there are other films that have lots of redeeming qualities but that are not worth watching, as their offensive content definitively outweighs the good they contain. Are there rules of thumb for determining how to distinguish between these two types of films? Where do we draw the line? Is there some sort of objective standard we can devise, or does it “just depend” on each person and his/her particular sensitivities? Whatever the answer, I don’t think the mere act of pointing out that Violent Film X or Sexual Film Y “contains some inspirational moments so we should see them anyway” is a sufficient answer.

(2) Where does everyone come down on the classic “sex vs. violence” question? One line of argument holds that gratuitous violence in film is worse than gratuitous sex. After all, isn’t murder worse than a little fornication? Would you rather that Little Johnny imitate the axe murderer or the horny teenager on screen? On the other hand, another line of argument has it that gratuitous sex is worse than gratuitous violence. Little Johnny is quite likely to experience a genuine sexual response to Kim Basinger fooling around with Mickey Rourke (and we don’t want that). He is less likely to genuinely get the urge to go on a killing spree just because he saw Charles Bronson do it. Is there a unique LDS perspective on this question?

(3) Assuming that “violence” and “foul language” are generally to be avoided, what exactly are we avoiding and when? Suppose I’m deciding between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest splatterfest, or a serious film about gang violence like “Boyz in the Hood.” Is the murder and mayhem of “Boyz in the Hood” more important to avoid, as it is more realistic and therefore more intense, or is Arnold’s film to be more fervently avoided, as its violence is “gratuitous,” rather than a realistic portrayal? Are the frequent cuss words in “Boyz in the Hood” more offensive than those in Arnold’s film because they portray gang life “as it really is”, or are they less offensive for that reason?

(4) Many decry the “desensitization” that accompanies frequent exposure to violence or bad language in cinema. I agree that desensitization is a real phenomenon and that I, personally, have been thoroughly desensitized. (I know this because I was sickened by certain scenes in “Robocop” when I first saw it, and now they seem like no big deal). Is my desensitization only a problem to the extent that I imitate the foul language I hear in my speech, or act out violently in imitation of what I see? Or is there something about the very act of desensitization, per se, that is a problem, regardless of any observable consequences?

(5) The only way to really know the content of a film, and thus know whether it meets your content standard or not, is to view the film. But if you have to view a film to truly know whether or not you should view a film, you’re really not in a position to ever avoid the films you should avoid, are you? So isn’t some sort of ratings system, MPAA or otherwise, ultimately necessary, regardless of its flaws?

(6) Can we all at least agree that the most offensive film of all time is “Turner & Hooch?” I think I’d rather sit through “Faces of Death” and a truckload of gay porn than have to watch that drooling dog again. Disgusting.

Aaron B


  1. “Can we all at least agree that the most offensive film of all time is “Turner & Hooch””

    As long as we don’t trash the dog.

  2. Aimee Roo,

    Ok, but once I take your advice, these questions will not magically disappear just because I watch movies *less*. I guess we could give up movies all together… But we know that’s not going to happen (and that it’s just avoiding the issue).

  3. Bob, I’m as cool as you! (The nerdiness must be just a disguise ;)) I haven’t seen Titanic either.

  4. First let me get something out of the way: Cleanflicks is an abomination and should be wiped from the face of the earth.

    Okay, my views fall in line with Logan and John H’s above: The most offensive things, to me, are the glorification of adultery and Hollywood’s insistence on the principle that you cannot depict a man and women as “being in a relationship” until they’ve had sex. On the former, I hate movies like the vastly overrated “English Patient” where we’re supposed to empathize with the adulterous Kristin Scott Thomas because her affair has so much passion. That stuff pisses me off. On the latter, the films John mentions are just a few examples of hundreds of movies where this weak screenwriting principle is in place. “How is the audience supposed to that the two characters are in love if they don’t sleep together?” Hey, I knew Hawkeye was in love with Cora and they didn’t even EMBRACE until about 90 minutes into “Last of the Mohicans.” Learn how to write real human characters you morons.

  5. First of all, Turner & Hooch was a fine movie. I loved it. I haven’t seen it for years, and don’t intend to, but that was one great dog. Slurp!

    Second, if a movie makes me feel uncomfortable because I think it will offend the Spirit, I won’t watch it. Well, I try not to, anyway.

    Not a very hard and fast rule, is it? Hmmm. If I am right, then maybe there cannot be a hard and fast rule.

    Oh, no! Ambiguity in the face of personal responsibility! What are we going to do? :)

  6. wolverine says:

    How about any movie featuring Tom Greene? The Church ought to prohibit any movies he stars in.

  7. I love the fact that we have the Spirit. It takes the place of so many of these “standards” because it knows each of us and what we are susceptible to and what inspires us. Certain things inspire us at certain times (I will only mention in passing that I just recently felt the Spirit rather strongly while listening to Kid Rock, and I am NOT a fan of that genre of music, sorry Logan/Bob). Not that this helps any.

  8. I love your list of questions, Aaron, but I’m hesitant to add to a hypothetical system that can give rules for Latter-day Saints. Aside from eliminating the obvious – hardcore pornography and perhaps films like “Faces of Death,” I think standards are too subjective.

    For example, you speak of being desensitized. I know plenty of Mormons would insist I’m desensitized (and maybe I am) for my love of Tarantino films, Scorcese films, the Terminator, the first two Alien films, Interview with a Vampire, etc. I’m drawn to raw, gritty films that often feature a seedy underworld those of us in the mainstream normally don’t see.

    Yet I’d argue on the flip-side that far too many Church members are desensitized to films like Notting Hill, Message in a Bottle, Titanic, etc. These kinds of PG-13 romance films all have the same formula: boy meets girl, boy and girl are from radically different backgrounds, boy and girl have fun, interesting, but usually brief encounters, boy and girl have sex, boy and girl then have a serious relationship (but that is threatened by an external force, usually caused by their different backgrounds). I *hate* these kinds of movies that portray to our youth that you can only have a serious relationship *after* you’ve had sex, and that it’s romantic to have an intense, beautiful night of passion (hey, no realistic awkwardness in sex here – it’s like they’ve been together for 30 years!).

    I rarely hear these kinds of films or storylines condemned, yet the films I enjoy are. That’s not to say that perhaps both shouldn’t be condemned – maybe my kind of film ought to be right alongside it. But the dilemma with a system is that the majority will determine what it ok for the culture, and it may or may not have anything to do with what is really offensive.

  9. I still haven’t seen Titanic… My wife has come pretty close to making me “give in”. And I probably will eventually. But really, how many people are as cool as me because they haven’t seen Titanic?

    However, I am part of the uncool club of people who has seen Adam Sandler’s 50 First Dates. That PG-13 movie was sick AND lame…

  10. I’m not sure it’s possible to come up with any sort of objective standard, because different things affect people differently.

    First, I’d agree with much of John H said. In some ways, PG-13 films can be more dangerous than R-rated ones, because the immorality is more subtle. Too many films put sex too early in relationships, and sex seems to have become an easy shorthand way of saying that two people are “in love.” I don’t like the message that sends.

    I guess the bottom line for me on deciding what movies are appropriate to see is to look at what sorts of attitudes they promote. Do they portray other people as our brothers and sisters, children of the same God? (Of course, I don’t expect them to do that explicitly.) Or do they treat people as objects? Do they glorify violence? Do they glorify nonmarital sex? Do they promote amorality? The question becomes, what will I learn from this movie?

    Of course, few movies can be looked at in a simple way. I think, for example, of “The Notebook,” a romance that came out this summer. On the one hand, I would highly recommend the film, as it very strongly was supportive of the belief that we should love our spouses “in sickness and in health,” and that love transcends personal convenience. But there also was some inappropriate sexual activity in the film as well (nothing explicit), and I could see what that might bother some people.

  11. In order to merit two hours of my time, a movie has to make me feel that I’m somehow a better person for having watched it. I’ve become so time-conscious in my old age that I no longer tolerate movies with nothing other than entertainment value.

    I used to be a movie snob. A film had to be skillfully written, acted, and directed to deserve my accolades. Now my only real criterion is the effect that the movie has on me. Poor writing or acting can get in the way of a movie’s message, as can offensive material. I feel uncomfortable listening to a steady stream of F-bombs, even if the underlying values of the movie are positive.

    BTW, I love CleanFlicks (which may render me a pariah on this blog). I saw in the edited version of 50 First Dates a very touching story, while my friends who saw the unedited version were turned off by the vulgarity.

  12. Maybe we should just avoid movies more often and get outside for a change. Maybe we could play some board games, go bowling, or mini-golf, or even just go for a walk. Or, spend two hours visiting a friend instead!

  13. McKay Curtis says:

    Maybe we spend too much time seeking entertainment. Maybe when we get to the other side we WON’T be asked, “Did you watch such and such a movie?” but we WILL be asked, “Why did you spend so much of your time watching movies? Instead of watching so many movies, why didn’t you find more ways to serve others? Why didn’t you do a little more temple work and geneology? Why didn’t you spend more time with your family?” etc. etc.

    Just a thought.

  14. My younger sister who just recently married and seems to have matured ten years over night (what’s up with that?) has made this resolution with her husband not to watch movies with any questionable material. Not like the old her. However, we were watching a generally innocent movie that did have the implication of sexual intimacy and my younger sister tells me to close my eyes as she sat there and watched. I naturally asked why it was a-okay for her and she responds with “well?” as her face turns a light shade of pink. Yes she is more “experienced” and we were just joking, but I still do not believe in codoning the disrespect of something sacred. On the other hand, I do justify a lil violence here and there. Not a big fan of the shoot em up gang banger type, but those that depict historical events or blatent battle of good over evil suits me just fine. I think we all need reminding that at times the defense of all things good will require some violence much like in Book of Mormon times, otherwise we become overly tolerant of the notion that anything anyone wants to do has to be tolerated until the world is overrun by evil men with there evil purposes. I recall my father attending the Patriot at a theater across town as a bishop so the youth couldnt use him as an excuse. As for desensitation, I am often teased for my constant jumping throughout films that have any suspense or graphic violence, be it good or bad. It stills strikes me to the core. Maybe I am just a silly girl with no manly man to comfort me in such moments, but I do remain still sensitive to these things all the same. It all boils down to good judgement and all things lovely, virtuos, yada yada….seeking after them and all. I do my best which gets better with practice.

  15. a random John says:

    On the Sex Vs. Violence question, I have always sided with the later argument, that sex is worse not because the sin being depicted is worse than killing someone but because people are more likely to commit it. My sister-in-law had an interesting perspective, that prior to marriage she was very uncomfortable during sex scenes in movies, since that was “off limits” but once she was married the sex scenes were less offensive and she flip-flopped on the sex vs. violence issue.

    Of course debating which shade of gray is darker is often an excuse to ignore the fact that one’s preferred shade while lighter is still too dark.

  16. Justin H. says:

    Turner & Hooch is WAY worse than Captain Ron. Waaaaay worse.

  17. Wait a minute, Turner & Hooch is worse than Captain Ron?

  18. With Lowell, I’m skeptical that there’s an objective standard of what we should or shouldn’t watch. I know my standards have developed and changed in my own life, and think that’s fine.

    I was in high school when Titanic came out. I remember Bob and I decided not to see it, for the exact reason most teenagers like us did see it. We felt that decision was important at the time, both as impressionable young men trying to live chaste lives and as a statement to ourselves and others that we had “transcended” the rating system (translation: “get off our backs if we want to see R rated movies. Can’t you see how mature we are?”). Similarly, I wouldn’t want to show graphically violent movies to young children who could get seriously frightened or deeply emotionally affected.

    Now seeing Titanic doesn’t bother me. In fact, now that I’m married, my sex-in-movies tolerance has gone way up. Naked bodies? I don’t know what y’all do with your own spouses, but trust me, I’ve seen it before. Nudity really doesn’t affect me. Others may feel differently, and thatÂ’s fine for them.

    Some things do make me uncomfortable, though. I have a hard time with blatant and glorified adultery, for example, whether there’s nudity or not. But while it bothers me, I don’t necessarily regret having seen a movie with it. On the other hand, sometimes I might regret seeing a movie, but I don’t feel like I’ve “sinned” if I do.

    Since I don’t consider it a “sin” to have glimpsed something on the screen that I wish I wouldn’t have, I don’t consider choosing my movies to be very much of a problem for myself. You can actually get pretty good info about a movie before you go, and if something that bothers you does get past your screening, it’s not the end of the world. You can try to screen even better in the future. If it really bothers you, you can get up and leave.