I've just shown my 10 year-old children their first R-rated movie. Before you call the cops on me, I'd note that simultaneously, I've forbade my children to see a different movie--though it got a PG-13 rating.
Essentially, the first movie, despite its rather ominous rating, was a movie that I thought a child of ten years might be able to handle, though I knew it would stretch their limits. The second, PG-rated movie, despite several warm reviews I've heard not only from professional critics but friends as well, remains to my mind out-of-the-question as out-of-bounds despite lots of moviegoers singing its praises as its haul passes the $500 million mark in just over a month.
The envelopes, please? The latter movie is, of course, The Hunger Games, based on the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, a dystopian fiction that has been massively popular in its own right. From what I can tell, The Hunger Games seems a savvy commentary on mass communication, the reach of governmental power, the mechanisms by which people in positions of power are capable of maintaining their power, et cetera. I say that it seems that way because I haven't seen the movie and don't intend to. And I certainly don't believe that my children should be seeing it, now or anytime between now and, oh, say, their sixteenth birthday. Why's that?
Kids killing other kids. I heard Kenneth Turan's review on NPR while commuting to work, and when he explained the general plot outline, I had heard enough.
I don't mean to say that I think that The Hunger Games is necessarily a bad movie and that it shouldn't be seen by anyone. Far from it, it sounds like a provocative film (maybe: hard to tell) and by all means let adults and young adults flock to it. But I don't think children need to see a movie about children killing other children. I don't really care how well the movie is made, nor how deep its philosophical preoccupations. I'm simply astonished that a movie involving a plot line in which kids kill other kids could possibly receive a PG rating. Indeed, I'm appalled. Do we collectively think this is an acceptable story to tell our children?!
Meanwhile, I couldn't help but chuckle as we sat in our family room watching the R-rated The Red Violin, likewise a movie focused (in part, at least) on children, death, and blood, though to my mind in a manner entirely acceptable for a child of ten. The R rating is due to a brief moment of tush and breast--in a manner that can only, in this desensitized age, be described as "mildly erotic at best"--and a scene in which a male actor basically makes love to the eponymous violin. (Owing to the time-honored double standard of male and female nudity, however, no actual cock makes it way onto the screen.) For the nude scenes in question, my daughter hid her eyes unbidden behind a pillow; my son didn't make a peep, so hard to know precisely what was going on in the moment with him. I could speculate. At any rate, The Red Violin is a movie as much about love as about death, and it is most definitely not about killing.
Side by side, seeing these two ratings matched against each other, it is hard for me to feel anything but despair that our national ratings board would discourage pre-teen children from watching a movie in which the naked human form is displayed (briefly!) in an otherwise heartwarming tale about love conquering time and death, while simultaneously being apparently nonchalant about the visual portrayal of the most grotesque actions imaginable in cinema. The Hunger Games may be deep; it may be reflective; it still sounds like Snuff to me.
Might those astounding box office draws have played a role in the rating so as to allow for the largest possible audience? Hmm.