Movie ratings system needs a new take

Ang Lee, director of the controversial film “Brokeback Mountain,” recently submitted his new movie “Lust, Caution” to the MPAA. The film follows a woman in Japanese-occupied Shanghai who seduces a Japanese officer in order to kill him. Because of the film’s pervasive sexuality, the MPAA branded it with an NC-17 rating.

Ang Lee was handed the Best Director Oscar for “Brokeback Mountain,” but not without controversy. Because the film portrayed a gay relationship, it was given an R rating, even though during their sex scene Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are fully clothed.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Attitudes toward sex in the United States have always been particularly puritan. Sexual education programs in many of our schools teach that abstinence is the only acceptable method of birth control. Homosexuality is seen as something to be laughed at, such as in the recent film “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” The audience identifies with the characters because they’re disgusted by their situation, and aren’t we all disgusted by sex?

What is perhaps more disturbing is the fact that “Lust, Caution” was given an NC-17 rating while films like “Saw” and “Turistas,” which contained incredible levels of violence, were given an R rating. Films like these portray extremely grotesque situations of torture, and are some of the most popular films in the country. We’re disgusted by sexuality, but enthralled by violence.

It’s frightening to think that something as natural as sex, something everyone on the planet does, is a subject so taboo that we feel we cannot depict it in films, but something as unnatural as torturing fellow beings is “cool” and “awesome.” We don’t think twice before watching a horror film, and although we may cover our eyes, we still find the extreme violence fascinating. But sex is “gross” and “perverted.” In fact, “Lust, Caution”‘s NC-17 rating was given for its depiction of “unconventional” sexual positions and male-on-female oral sex. The film contains no male full-frontal nudity, the most common reason for an NC-17 rating. This also represents the sexist view that female nudity is an OK thing while male nudity is not.

America’s puritan view of sexuality is potentially very damaging. If we continue to close our eyes to sex, we’ll teach the next generation and generations to come that sex is something to be feared, not celebrated. And the MPAA’s message that sex is far dirtier than extreme violence may contribute to rising levels of violence in schools, the workplace and society.

“Lust, Caution,” with its NC-17 rating, probably won’t see any showings in the area. However, you can check it out on DVD when it’s released.

Is it really as bad as the MPAA says? Decide for yourself

The Daily Vidette

Illinois State University