The LDS Church has asked church members to avoid R rated movies for quite some time. (For a little more background, here is my post that discussed the documentary Cleanflix.) As I reviewed that post recently, some ironic things struck me.

Hollywood often gets cited as having questionable morals, producing filth, and contributing to the moral decay to society. I don’t think that criticism is unfair. Of course, they also put together some wonderful stories. The Ten Commandments comes to mind, but even movies that aren’t overly religious are pretty good: Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Lincoln, and Apollo 13 are some pretty good, moral movies. There are some people that are very strict in avoiding R-rated movies. They didn’t see The Passion of the Christ back in 2004 strictly because it was rated R. I was looking for a quote from a prominent LDS person that indicated that this was one of the few cases where the movie rating system failed, but I didn’t find it. I did find something similar from this Times and Seasons article.

R-ratingYears ago, I also remember my elder’s quorum president in a singles ward bearing testimony in church about Saving Private Ryan. He said he knew he shouldn’t have seen the movie because it was rated R, but the story was a fantastic tale of the heroism of our WW2 soldiers, their patriotism, and the higher cause of overcoming evil. I never saw Schindler’s List in the movie theater because it was rated R. But when it was broadcast on television, unedited without commercials, I decided to watch it. It was a profoundly moving film, despite the violence and non-sexual nudity in the film. I was particularly appalled that the Nazis forced Jewish male and female prisoners to strip naked, walk around the yard, and then German officers gunned down the naked Jewish prisoners randomly. Truly the Nazis were incredibly evil. Could that seen have been edited out? Sure, but the depravity of the Nazis wouldn’t have been so “naked” for the world to see. As disturbing as the scene was, it was also powerful. Yes, it should have been rated R, but was an amazingly good film nonetheless.

I saw a comment on Facebook that said this:

taking your teenage son to see murders on stage is ok, but not if two men kiss. I understand that there wasn’t a content warning for this one and that’s why she says she’s upset. Still, it’s rather jarring that in society we more readily take in all kinds of violence, yet some can’t handle a kiss between to people of the same sex. It just shows you that we have a relatively high tolerance for violence in our media diets, but NOT for any relationships that don’t fit heterosexual norms. Gender is a powerful issue.

As I thought about this more, some of these films I mentioned about were rated R primarily for violence: Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ, etc. But there are other rated R movies that aren’t violent, aren’t sexual, but get the R-rating for simply using the F-bomb. Recently I watched Argo, as well as Slumdog Millionaire. Neither had gratuitous violence, and the only thing I remember were two f-bombs in Argo, and 1 in Slumdog. (Maybe there was another, but I must have missed it–I don’t recall any sexual nudity, though there were some children’s bare butts shown.) Frost/Nixon was another cerebral, non-violent, non-sexual movie with only a couple of f-bombs from Pres Nixon to make it forbidden for LDS members. I am too young to remember the interview, but it was pretty astonishing to hear Pres. Nixon say that the president is above the law.

Some LDS members loved to use Cleanflix to see forbidden R-rated movies. In my old post, I noted the irony: “some movies, such as Pretty Woman were about a prostitute, and while nudity could be edited, the subject material was still about prostitution.” This has led some church leaders to even say that PG-13 movies are bad, and I’m sure some are. Back in the day, I used Cleanflix to watch Blackhawk Down. Yes, they took out the f-bombs, but the violence was still pretty horrific, and the edited movie probably still should have earned an R rating. The movie was moving, but at the end, I just shook my head and said, “Why did we go to Somalia in the first place? What a nightmare that was!” It did feel our soldiers needlessly died.

Of course Europe’s ratings are quite different than the U.S., so what are they to do without the guidance of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to vet these movies for them? I know that everyone has their own personal tastes. Some object to language, others violence, others sexuality/nudity. Some of us have a high tolerance for each of these.  I enjoyed The Blair Witch Project–that movie gave me the creeps for about a week after I saw it.  It was rated R only because of language–there was no gratuitous violence, although death was strongly implied.  There was no blood or nudity at all, but the f-bomb was rampant in the movie.  I can’t say it was a morally uplifting movie, but the creepiness factor was pretty impressive.  The Ring was another creepy movie with a PG-13 rating, and I don’t remember any f-bombs.  I’d rate them similarly on a creepy scale (if you’re into creepy movies), but I can absolutely understand why anyone would choose not to see either film.  The Alien films have also been a favorite of mine.

Here are some questions.

(1) Would it be better for the Church to teach correct principles, and let the saints govern themselves, rather that outsource morality to the MPAA?

(2) Do you agree that movies with 2 f-bombs deserve an R rating?

(3) Do you think Americans in particular, are under-concerned about violence?

(4) Do you think Americans in particular, are over-concerned about nudity and sex?

(5) Are there R-rated movies that you think were either misclassified, or held a positive moral and spiritual message?