What Does PG-13 Even Mean Anymore?

90% of the images in the Google search were some iteration of this.

Due to outside forces, I’ll need to keep this post brief. Originally I planned to write a fuller review of True Grit, having seen it Saturday night. I’ll summarize thusly: I was fine with it. It was entertaining and, at times, funny, and it was photographed beautifully. (I’ll leave out the part at the end where it looked like they were galloping in front of a Krofft-era bluescreen.) However, I’m not sure what all the Oscar fuss was about. It was a decent Western with some good acting (Steinfeld was impressive), but didn’t knock me on my ass. And all the grody mouths and faces in this movie made me wanna call a dentist that evening on an emergency. Not one of the Coens’ best, but better than Ladykillers.

But there is one point I want to expand on, one that will come as an adjunct to my earlier post about movie violence. At one point in the film, Rooster and Mattie quiz a young guy and an older guy on the whereabouts of Tom Chaney and the Pepper gang. The young guy is already shot in the arm, and seems close to cracking under the interrogation. When he finally does, the older man pulls a bowie knife, chops off all the fingers on one of the kid’s hands, and stabs him. In response, Rooster pulls his gun and shoots the older guy in the face. All on-screen.

And this is rated PG-13.

Now compare that to The King’s Speech, which had one scene where the word “fuck” was spoken a few times. Everything else was reportedly fairly tame. What did it receive? An R rating. Let’s also compare True Grit to Waiting for Guffman, which, apart from some mild innuendo, had one scene where a guy recited a scene from Raging Bull, with a few requisite “fucks.” Let’s guess what that got.

An R rating.

Now, there was a similar situation three years ago with Dark Knight. I read some people complaining about that getting a PG-13 due to its intensity (even Queta wondered about this right after we saw it). But look at it on paper: there’s no sex, there’s only basic-cable level profanity, and there’s barely a drop of blood. It’s all editing and soundtrack.

True Grit? Holmes was shot in the face and got head blood everywhere. It was certainly framed less graphically than the similar shot in Burn After Reading, but it still remains that we now have a PG-13 movie with brain-colored walls.

I don’t know what the point of all this rambling was, other than a general sense of befuddlement about how the MPAA makes its choices. They really seem to lean heavily on language and sex, while giving a free pass on violence to a large extent. If anything, it should probably be reversed: language should be the least of their worries, while a guy taking a bullet to the face should be scrutinized further. If anything, this situation should prove how subjective and, therefore, useless a ratings system for films winds up being, but if we’re still going to use a system, it needs some serious reevaluation.

I don’t care what a film is rated, getting shot in the face is never easy to deal with.

This guy knows.

Also, as a bonus, in looking for the Brad Pitt picture, I found this picture of what looks like Malkovich and Jenkins disinterestedly rehearsing for the final hatchet scene:

Good night, everyone!

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About Louis

SUCKERPUNCH!
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3 Responses to What Does PG-13 Even Mean Anymore?

  1. David D. says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, watch This Film is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick. He deals with this issue specifically, along with how comparably (or arguably less) graphic homosexual sex scenes are treated more harshly by raters than heterosexual sex scenes and that female sexuality is treated more harshly than male sexuality. It’s a fascinating film as he even tracks almost all of the current (as of 2006) MPAA raters, largely late middle-aged Valley dwellers, some of whom have conspicuous ties to the major studios. Highly recommended.

    • Louis says:

      Saw it, thought it was great. I think it was a good discussion of the R vs NC-17 issue.
      But it’s rare that I’ve seen a film where I think an R would be better than a PG-13, and I’m slightly leaning there in True Grit’s case.

      • Clint says:

        Coen Brothers violence almost inevitably has a greater impact and intensity to the viewer than in most other films, because you often don’t see it coming, or if you do, you still aren’t prepared for how disturbing it will be. You end up starkly remembering a lot of it in a way that you don’t really remember in a movie like Friday the 13th, despite how gory the latter gets.

        Which isn’t a great example of PG-13 vs. R, just an observation. The deaths in Fargo, Burn After Reading and No Country affected me far more than they do in a movie like Predator. They just seem to be a lot more personal.

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