It’s no secret I love to analyze television and film. My wife would say I over-analyze but I don’t care, it’s part of the enjoyment for me. As my life moves forward I’ve obviously become crankier and less amused by certain media targeted at audiences younger than me. With that in mind, I’ve recently begun to question the content in film that is clearly targeted at me. After seeing A Quiet Place earlier this year, I realized film is much more enjoyable when story is unique without following the usual tropes of the genre and being bombarded with content Hollywood deems “realistic”. That is, the myth that simply being rated R is a better experience.
Recently, my wife and I discovered two emotion driven and thought provoking crime dramas on our recent hunt for new entertainment. BBC drama Broadchurch, an excellent show about an emotionally broken Scottish detective trying to solve a murder in a small town with the help of a local police woman; and Mindhunter, a Netflix original about a FBI agent creating a new way of crime solving through the analysis of past serial murderers.
As a new father of two, I’ve become much more mindful of what type of content is played throughout the day. Because of this, the differences between the two narratives in content was glaring. Broadchurch is TV-14. There is no excessive language, no nudity, no uncomfortable scene between our victim and his pedophile abductor. The series uses raw human emotion, score, and a minimalist setting to drive the plot.
Mindhunter on the other hand is a hard TV-MA. It can be argued that the language couldn’t be avoided. The creators used actual transcripts and recordings to create real dialogue between the killers and our central character. The sexual content is the main difference as the screenwriters felt the need to place us in the bedroom between our protagonist and his love interest. We are shown the act in its entirety multiple times throughout the season. This series is clearly taking a more voyeuristic approach to central characters lives.
At times it feels the R rating gives a false sense of being “better”. For example, Logan the third installment in the Wolverine series, played off the success of the previous year’s hit Deadpool by allowing James Mangold the use of an R rating. The initial reviews raved lines such as- “this is the Wolverine movie we deserve” – “finally a Wolverine movie with some claws”- etc.
If you want a more minimal example that Hollywood likes to create the concept that being rated R means better or more exciting, or more realistic! Look to none other than There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson creates dark and ominous world of personal struggle and greed with a screenplay that would almost certainly be rated PG in the year 1973. In order to attract a certain audience, the film was instead given an R rating as not to confuse viewers as to whether it not is “good”. Obviously there are some very adult issues shown in this film, and I don’t expect anyone under sixteen to even enjoy it. The fact remains that we establish realism at times on whether a film censored content or not.
I know I’ve certainly fallen for this trap. After a viewing of Sucker Punch as a 21 year old college student, one of my initial criticisms was how much better it would be if it was rated R. The asylum and trafficking aspect would have resonated much better if the film wasn’t censored was the narrative I created. Watching the film again a few years later, I quickly realized nothing would make this film better. More uses of the F word and nudity couldn’t help establish a sense of realism to an unrealistic mess of a film with an incoherent plot and over the top CGI.
I want to be clear, I’m not writing this to completely condemn R rated or TV-MA content. That is not my place as many of my favorite films contain this rating. It certainly cannot be avoided when making films such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. The replication of the battle on the beaches of Normandy is second to none. It’s an important landmark in film and is something I believe most people should see in order to have some sort of understanding on the history and brutality of World War 2. However, Dunkirk and Boy in the Striped Pajamas contain a very similar sense of realism and emotion with much of the brutality off camera.
Imagine Logan without Professor X screaming curses throughout the film or the flash nudity. Next, slightly tone down the blood and decapitation during the farm scene. Does removing any of this make the film any less interesting from a plot point of view? Simply adding some adult content did not make the film inherently better as Mangold would want you to believe. Having an excellent script, a easy to follow timeline, high octane action, and compelling characters will do that. Sounds a lot like X2 doesn’t it? Thor: Ragnorok clearly didn’t get the memo that your movie can only be gut bustingly funny if we follow the Deadpool formula of frat party jokes.
Watching the first season of Broadchurch, something clicked within me. The idea of death, infidelity, and other major life issues can feel real without Hollywood’s definition of unrestricted content. It’s not flawless in this area by any means, but it proves there is no need for excessive voyeurism within our entertainment. Escaping reality is the point of movies and TV. Suspending disbelief is why we watch. In real life Tony Stark would have a much more colorful vocabulary. But Tony Stark isn’t real and he doesn’t have to be in order to engage with real ideas.