Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire gets an R (and why it may deserve it)

As always, Box Office Mojo has a rundown of the weekly MPAA ratings updates and as usual, there is a bit of news.

Despite my research indicating that Slumdog Millionaire was to be rated PG-13, taken from pages that quickly corrected themselves and thus make me look bad, the film has been somewhat surprisingly slapped with an R rating. And fans are not happy at all. It was rated R for 'some violence, disturbing images and language'. First of all, the movie opens with a somewhat explicit torture scene, and something pretty awful happens just offscreen to a child during the first act. Truth be told, the entire film is pretty intense (although it was heightened by the obscenely loud audio mix at my screening). Aside from general intensity and tone, which would not be a just reason, the main reason I could think of was the possibility that there were more than one 'f-bomb' dropped that I didn't notice. If this is the case, then it's an iron-clad R. The easiest way to lose that PG-13 is to put in more than one variation of 'fuck'. If Danny Boyle and co didn't realize this, or thought they could bluff the MPAA, then they have only themselves to blame.

Many of the complaints are using The Dark Knight as an example of a movie that somehow gamed the system and scored a PG-13 due to big-studio pressure or what not. Hogwash. The movie feels violent, it feels adult, and it feels R-rated. But, judging purely by the content and how its presented, it is a PG-13 film. And it's a good example of how the MPAA correctly operated, basing its rating not on tone or intensity, but on objective onscreen content.

There is no hard profanity and absolutely no sexual content. There is (if I recall) no drug content in the film whatsoever. As for the violence, it's very much managed in a way so as to ensure a PG-13. There is not a drop of blood, and only the appearance of Two-Face qualifies as gore (surely an image that 90% of the ticket buyers are used to and thus weren't shocked by). The many shootings are entirely offscreen, with not a single squib used. The more grotesque violence is offscreen and heavily implied. We don't see a pencil go into a man's head. We don't see The Joker slash a man's mouth open with a knife, but rather the reactions of the bystanders. In fact, much of the violence, as I noted in July, is presented in an obtuse, just offscreen manner that sometimes rendered it difficult to follow on the first viewing.

But back to Slumdog Millionaire. This could all be a case of free-publicity, as the outcry gets the film countless articles and blog entries such as this one as the award season kicks up (all of which will discuss how good the film is). If the R-rating is mainly for language, then I see no reason why those offending F-words can't be removed. If they were there, I didn't even notice them, so it certainly wouldn't harm the film. If the rating is because of the general intensity and tone, then I oppose the rating and believe that Fox Searchlight should appeal. Come what may, a terrific R-rated film has just as much of a shot at the Oscars as a terrific PG-13 rated film, if not more so (higher ratings can sometimes create the impression of being more adult and mature, however faulty that logic really is).

I still believe that the film is appropriate for children 10 and up, especially if parents are in tow for discussion afterward. But again, this is a case of the MPAA seemingly ruling based on objective content, rather than how harsh or light the movie feels. Countless youth-based films that felt younger-skewing were justifiably rated R because of an abundance of profanity (Rushmore, Almost Famous, etc). That doesn't mean that those movies were inappropriate for kids, but they earned their ratings based on the objective rules of the MPAA. It may not always make sense, but the real problems come about when the MPAA does make decisions based on things like 'intensity' or 'it just feels like an R'. If Slumdog Millionaire was rated R because of profanity, then it seems like a clear-cut case. I just wish I could remember if there was more than one 'f$$k' in the film.

Scott Mendelson

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