Blue Valentine NC17 Soapbox

NC-17. The dreaded MPAA assigned rating that basically says, “I hope you weren’t planning to release this film in theaters. Good luck recouping your costs on DVD”.

With the soon to be released “Blue Valentine”, their rationale for the rating was because of “a scene of explicit sexual content“. Having seen the film, that “scene” involves a man (Ryan Gosling) performing oral sex on his wife (Michelle Williams). Oh, the horror.

Wait a minute. So a man going down on a woman constitutes an automatic NC-17 rating? Yes, there are other sexual encounters, some female nudity and a visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic (which may be very uncomfortable to some but is not visually graphic in any manner). But that’s not what the MPAA is decrying by slapping the film with this restrictive rating.

This year brought us “Black Swan”, where Mila Kunis/Natalie Portman goes down on Natalie Portman (you’d have to see the film to understand). But that film gets an R-rating, with the disclaimer being “strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use“.

2005 brought us director David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” which involves a scene where Viggo Mortensen pleasures his wife (Maria Bello) via oral sex – all while she wears a cheerleading outfit. But still, that film gets only an R-rating for “strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use“.

2002′s “Laurel Canyon” gives us Christian Bale engaged in the very same sexual act with Kate Beckinsale (sans cheerleading outfit). Again, only an R-rating for “sexuality, language and drug use“.

Anyone see an inconsistent pattern here? If not, donate your eyes to science because they’re not being used.

Clearly, the very independent nature of “Blue Valentine” works against it, as there is no large studio or heavy duty producer to appeal to the MPAA. But still, in this day and age where programs like “The Walking Dead” can depict zombies killing and eating people on prime time cable television, an entire “Law & Order” series is devoted to sex crimes, and audiences are expected to believe Shia LaBeouf can score Megan Fox – there’s something VERY wrong going on.

For those who haven’t seen the fantastic documentary, “This Film is Not Yet Rated”, please take my advice and do so. In it, director Kirby Dick interviews many Hollywood players and attempts to infiltrate the MPAA in order to get some straight answers on their process. It’s a bit shocking and very shameful just how much power is in the hands of a small, select group of people when it comes to appraising the public viability of a work of art. Though, it’s not shocking that this wasn’t nominated for an Oscar (though it should have been) since I’m sure it pissed off a few influential people.

Now, I’m not saying that ratings can’t be useful or that no film deserves an NC-17. Earlier this year, “Enter the Void” was so chock full of pretentiousness that it deserved the rating solely for that reason – let alone for all of the violent and sexual material that probably shouldn’t be shown to anyone not deemed an adult. (I’d be far less inclined to agree with the rating had the film given reasonable support for why the content was necessary … SPOILER ALERT: It wasn’t.)

This brings up the point that the ratings should be given out because the content of the film is able (or unable) to validate the use of culturally taboo elements. If used in certain contexts, profanity is tolerated in films given less than R-ratings, up to a point (and yes, they’re counting the number of times these words are used). A penis may be shown in an R-rated film, so long as it isn’t erect (WTF?). You can chop off a thousand heads with swords and wrap a human being in barbed wire, only if … wait, no, you can do that whenever you want and get an R rating.

After all, violence – seemingly no matter how severe – is absolutely okay for a 17 year-old to watch. But don’t let that same 17 year-old see an honest depiction of sexual relations between two people in love. We wouldn’t want him or her to be unjustly traumatized.

Maybe someday there will be an entirely different soapbox about parents blatantly ignoring ratings and bringing children to films they shouldn’t be seeing; for their sake and on behalf of the audience who has to endure crying babies and the like (get a babysitter or stay home. You had the kid, not me).

In the meantime, however, all I can do is offer up an opinion, in the hope it will sparks others to evaluate my blathering and create a public discourse so we can move closer to a more rational manner to rating films. The lack of theaters willing to show an NC-17 film makes the rating a de facto form of censorship. Call me an idiot (please don’t) but I thought that freedom of speech was something we all agreed on. Silly me.

**(added Dec. 8)** Thankfully, “Blue Valentine” won its MPAA appeal (thanks Harvey Weinstein) and is being released with a R rating … as it should have been in the first place.