This week’s movie at the Gold Town Nickelodeon is called “Blue is the Warmest Color.” This film is universally lauded and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, a feat that puts it in the same ranks as “Amour,” “The Pianist,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Piano,” “Barton Fink,” and a little film from a while back called, “Apocalypse Now.”
Near as I can tell, it’s the only NC-17 movie to have won the Palme d’Or.
By all accounts, this film is a moving coming of age story of a teenager’s blossom into adulthood — a trite, but tried and true, motif. So good in fact that some theaters have waved the NC-17 requirement for teenagers as long as parents are informed about what they’re getting into. The Gold Town Nickelodeon plans to do this as well.
The Motion Picture Association of America established the NC-17 rating in the late 1980s. The MPAA board attaches NC-17 ratings to movies with such (theoretically) explicit adult material that no parent would want their child to see the film. Officially, the rating can be based on “violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong.” No children 17 or under are allowed in to an NC-17 movie.
Children can attend an R-rated movie as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
I’m not going to bash the concept of a rating system. I’m a parent and there should be some guide to help us make entertainment choices for ourselves and our kids. Nor am I such a prude as to think a family could never go to, say, an R-rated film. The R-rated movie “Terms of Endearment” is a defining movie for me. I saw it when I was 11 with my parents. For the first time I was engrossed in a film tackling adult themes like death and divorce.
I will bash how the MPAA applies ratings. Bursts of bad language tag otherwise tame films — like “Terms of Endearment,” “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles,” “The King’s Speech,” and many others — with an R-rating. These are great films. I’d have no problems letting my 10 year old see them. Yet the same R-rating applies to torture-porn bloodbaths like “Hostel,” or “Saw.” These movies, and their serial killer ilk, highlight sliced body parts, exploding body parts, anguished screams, and other terrible sick things.
And then there’s sex. I don’t know how many of us adults have ever had our Achilles tendon sliced by a torturer (“Hostel”), but many of us have had sex. Yet the MPAA treats sex much like a good ol’ ankle slicing. The moment a boob, butt, or phallus appears, you might as well open up the cavity of a co-ed camper and bathe in her guts. An R-rating will be slapped on the movie like a postal worker slaps a stamp on a Christmas package.
My guess is the rating system is bean counting. Count the number of curse words, meet a threshold, get an R. Whoops, there a flexing buttocks; get an R. One gut shot gets a PG-13; you need two for an R. One gallon of blood is PG; it’ll take a couple more for an R.
Ratings make no sense. The gatekeepers of cultural decency have codified an equivalency between nudity, sex, and language, and gunshots to the head. I would even go so far as to say the gatekeepers prioritize censoring sex and language over violence. In fact, a recent study found more gunplay in PG-13 films today than in R films 20 years ago. (www.cnn.com/2013/11/11/health/gun-violence-movies/index.html).
You would think then, given the “violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse” the MPAA must consider for an NC-17, that an NC-17 film must show the most graphic depictions of human depravity — the hell of slavery, the tragedy of child abuse, the aftermath of nuclear war. You’d be wrong. By and large, only one of those four criteria lead to an NC-17: frank depictions of sex.
So parents, as a public service, if you are considering bringing your teen to “Blue is the Warmest Color,” allow me to inform you about what you’re getting in to. This movie about two teenagers who fall in love has at some point about ten minutes of frank, explicit, well-lit, lesbian sex.
And I don’t care how relaxed you are about sex, it’s still going to be awkward sitting next to your teenager as two females get down on screen for a loooooong time.
This could be good though. If your parenting goal is for your child to delay sex, then there is no better strategy than to associate yourself — the parent — with sex. It’s a strategy scientifically proven to shrivel the pituitary gland. You could, if so inclined, lean over at some point during the long lesbian sex scene and ask, “Do you have a pen. I may need to take notes.” Then whisper at some point, “Wow!” and maybe follow that up with a barely audible, “Might have to try that with your mom.”
The kid’s not having sex for the next 20 years.
But hey, maybe the sex thing is too icky. You can always take them to the current blockbuster, a PG-13 action adventure showcasing plenty of morally uplifting stabbings, whippings, and arrows to the chest.
"Blue is the Warmest Color" continues Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 5-8 at the Gold Town.
• Clint J. Farr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.