The movie rating system appears to be an imprecise, almost backward, process. My son says the ratings issue was discussed in one of his college classes, and the general view is that nudity bumps up the rating to R, whereas plenty of violence can still get a PG-13 rating. Use the F-word more than a few times, though, and the movie is automatically in the R category. To me, this is upside-down.
We recently watched the movie “Knowing,” and it made me wonder about the movie rating system — specifically, the difference between the PG-13 and R ratings. The rating system appears to be an imprecise, almost backward, process. “Knowing,” now out on DVD, has so many spine-chilling aspects I can’t even name them all: a gruesome airplane crash, people on fire, a terrifying subway crash, animals on fire, sinister ghost-like creatures sending whispered messages into children’s heads, young mothers killed in tragic accidents, eerie creatures appearing out of nowhere. It scared the hell out of me. Truly, when we pushed “pause” for a minute, I was a little creeped out in my own well-lit house, just walking alone to another room for a minute. This movie was rated PG-13. What parent in their right mind would let a 13-year-old see such a movie? Thank goodness our 13-year-old was otherwise occupied and chose not to join us for the film. I can’t speak for him, but if I had watched that movie as a 13-year-old, I’d be sleeping under the bed that night with the lights on and my bureau pushed in front of the door to barricade me in, being fully aware even that setup wouldn’t save me. My oldest son, now a sophomore in college, recalls seeing the movie “The Ring” when he was 12 years old, just a month before his 13th birthday. Since the movie was rated PG-13 and a friend’s mother was taking them, I confess I didn’t think much about his going to see it. The movie turned out to be about a mentally ill child who had the power to kill people through merely communicating with them via video. “That movie was terrifying for a 12-year-old!” my son exclaims now, vividly recalling the trauma seven years after the fact. He was so scared after he saw “The Ring” that I remember him getting up and walking out of the room whenever a commercial for it came on TV. I think “Knowing” and “The Ring” should have been rated R. How do these movies slip through the PG-13 cracks? Is it politics, or different sets of values? The rating PG-13 comes with the clarification “Parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” I think “inappropriate” is a pretty mild word to describe horror and mayhem. Meanwhile, the much stronger R, which stands for Restricted, is unambiguous; children under 17 are required to have an accompanying parent or adult guardian. The dividing line between the two ratings is apparently a thin, subjective blur. The Web site for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) asserts that each film is rated by a board of 10 to 13 members, who are parents, and that the MPAA tries to select a diverse group of parents from across the country to decide on the ratings. My son says the ratings issue was discussed in one of his college classes, and the general view is that nudity bumps up the rating to R, whereas plenty of violence can still get a PG-13 rating. Use the F-word more than a few times, though, and the movie is automatically in the R category. To me, this is upside-down. The human body is a part of nature. Unless the nudity is exploitative or overly prolonged, I think it’s much more developmentally appropriate for young teenagers to see than bloodshed and carnage. On the flip side, there’s the bizarre example of “Frost/Nixon,” a rather sedate adaptation of the interviews between David Frost and former president Richard Nixon. This movie was rated R. We saw “Frost/Nixon” on the big screen, our 13-year-old in tow, and I can’t remember anything even remotely R-worthy. Was it because Nixon used the F-word a few times? Please. I’d much rather have my kids hear a few swear words, which they’ve probably heard anyway, than be completely creeped out for weeks on end. Another movie that defies ratings logic is the classic “Rain Man,” which is inexplicably rated R. I think most people have seen this movie a couple of times by now. My youngest son saw it when he was about 10. Of course, I had seen it prior to his viewing, so I knew it was not only appropriate but also worthwhile. “Rain Man” offers excellent lessons about human differences and frailties, compassion and the triumph of brotherly love over greed. This is the kind of movie teenagers should be watching, not restricted from. Instead, the movies condoned for them are ones overly fraught with gratuitous violence and terror, teaching only fright and foreboding. In a movie, if a person swears more than a few times, that movie is rated R, but if that same person is terrorized and dies a macabre, grisly death, it’s only PG-13. And that’s what’s truly scary. Deborah Knight Snyder is a longtime correspondent for the Mansfield News, Norton Mirror and Easton Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.