I then listed several films that substantiated my assertion. I received a great response and thought we might do a Part 2.
The film industry both reflects and promotes change in our culture, but my analysis is not meant as a critical evaluation of today's films so much as an examination of what the culture now accepts as, well, acceptable. I could have chosen movie violence or sexuality to make my point, but I've spotlighted three films that reflect the public's toleration of once objectionable language.
Had the filmmakers avoided the excessive profanity and violence in the recent "Super 8," producer Stephen Spielberg and director J. J. Abrams could have garnered an appreciative embrace by parents of younger children, thereby ensuring a larger audience. As a use of language, it can be argued that one well-placed expletive may have humorously captured the fear or frustration of the unknown for the film's young heroes. However, to have around 40 obscenities, including one f-word, seems not only lacking in responsibility, but devoid of creativity. Parents don't want their kids talking like that. There had to be discussion concerning the film's content during its inception, so how come the decision was made to include such vulgarity and profanity in a film that could have easily been a family feature?
In "The Green Lantern," another in a long line of super hero actioneers (the list will get longer before summer's end), the hero, a cocky pilot, profanes God's name, a phrase that sorely sticks out in the alternate world of comic book super hero. A friend sitting with me at the screening later admitted he hadn't heard the profanities. A great many people no longer hear the profanity in films. Is that because over the past few decades we've become desensitized to the power and influence of movie dialogue?
In last year's remake of "True Grit," the Coen brothers adapted their version with a darker tone (like the book) than the 1969 John Wayne version. Author Charles Portis had infused his novel with a colloquial jargon where no one used contractions, the dialogue being formal, yet concise and humorous. The new version included this verbal vogue, but Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn profaned God's name four times. John Wayne didn't do that. Neither did the book. After a little research, I discovered only one time in the novel when Cogburn said it. John Wayne said the line, but left out the irreverence. The Duke swore in several of his films, but never profaned God's name on screen. Back in 1969, we fans would've been disappointed to hear him do so. Sadly, I can't name a major star from this generation who hasn't profaned God's name or Christ's on screen. Most, like Jeff Bridges, have done so frequently.
Before this begins to sound like I'm asserting that movies were better then than now, I assure you there are exceptions to the rule. It's just not easy finding a new comedy in this century that isn't built on crudity, or a superhero action adventure not muscled by an overload of CGI bombast, or a movie of any genre that doesn't contain a generous supply of cussing.
Ah, but the cinema is still a wonderful art form. And through the decades, movies have been used to stir our emotions, alleviate the frustrations of the day, and even, upon occasion, lift the spirit of man.
You will notice my selections this month reflect several decades and, like my previous list, represent the silly and the sublime. For detailed information on each of the listed films, go to the link at the bottom of the page.
Adventures from the Book of Virtues (1996). Based on the bestselling book by William J. Bennett, this superb animated series for children is designed to cultivate the best in human qualities: loyalty, courage, honesty, perseverance, self-discipline, respect. (G)
The Brave Little Toaster (1987). This creative animated story of household appliances that come to life when no one's home is full of positive messages about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. (G)
The Climb (2002) concerns two mountaineers forced to team up as they ascend Mt. Chicanagua, a dangerous Chilean alp that tempts the most astute of adventurers. With different backgrounds and views on life, their struggle with each other becomes as daunting as the mountain itself. (PG)
Deep Impact (1998). Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, and Tea Leoni head a very impressive cast in this thrilling adventure about a comet on a collision course with earth. Caution: It is rated PG-13 for language and intense action. If you have the TVGuardian box, it should remove the offensive language. I mention this film, despite the profanity, as it is one of the few action films of late that shows respect for God and often profound observations. But if the profundity does not outweigh the profanity for you, then pass on it.
Elf (2003). Buddy the Elf to a fake Santa: "You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa."
For All Mankind (1989). This documentary about Neil Armstrong's flight to the moon is a beautifully made film for the whole family. (G)
The Great Escape (1963). The compound commandant: "Are all American officers so ill-mannered?" Prisoner, played by Steve McQueen: "Yeah, about 99 percent."
Harvey (1950). A gentle soul by the name of Elwood P. Dowd likes everybody -- including his invisible six-foot rabbit. James Stewart as Elwood: "Some people are blind. That's very often brought to my attention."
In the Shadow of the Moon (2005). The incisive documentary features the accounts of the surviving members of the Apollo teams who walked on the moon. At one point, we hear Charles Duke from the Apollo 9 mission give his testimony. I couldn't believe my ears; a man was declaring his faith in Jesus Christ and there were no snickers from audience members. Indeed, my fellow moviegoers were moved, realizing that there is something far bigger than man, or even space itself. (PG)
Jane Eyre (2011). "Life appears to me to be too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs." (PG-13)
Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949) is a dark English comedy about a shunned man calculating the murder of his relatives in order to inherit the family title and fortune.
The hangman: "A difficult client can make things most distressing."
Lawrence of Arabia (1962). T. E. Lawrence's superior officer: "I can't make out whether you're bloody bad-mannered or just half-witted."
Lawrence: "I have the same problem, sir."
March of the Penguins (2005). A fascinating documentary about penguins, raw nature and survival, it's full of unworldly locations and amazing cinematography, and most importantly, it sends a powerful message concerning the importance of life. (G)
No Time For Sergeants (1958). Andy Griffith, Don Knotts. Want a really good laugh? This is full of them. Andy's a country boy drafted into the army, Myron McCormick is his frustrated sergeant.
Ben: "You ever had R.O.T.C.?"
Will: "No..., but Irvin did! Close to a year of it. He's so ornery I think he still might have a touch of it."
The Odd Couple (1968). Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau play two divorced friends, one a slob, the other a neat-freak. (G)
Oscar: "I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches. Which one do you want?"
Poker buddy: "What's the green?"
Oscar: "It's either very new cheese or very old meat."
Places in the Heart (1984). A literate script concerns a determined widow (Sally Field) bent on saving her farm during the 1930s Depression. It contains perhaps the greatest ending to a film this film buff has ever seen: a repentant adulterer is finally forgiven, when his wife, moved by the pastor's sermon, takes her husband's hand during the service, signifying the restoring of a relationship through Christ's love. Just as we put our hankies away after that moving moment, another symbolic healing occurs. I won't give that one away. Trust me, it's powerful. (PG)
Quo Vadis (1951). During the time of Nero, a Roman soldier falls in love with a Christian."
The Rookie (2002). Based on the true story of an aging ball player who came to astound scouts with successive 98-mph fastballs, this is the best baseball film I have ever seen. First-time director John Lee Hancock hits a home run by including an element found in the works of past masters like Ford and Capra -- the awareness that movies are not just about showing what we are, but also about what we can become. (G).
The Secret Garden (1993). This classic fantasy of three children discovering a magical garden is a nearly perfect movie with atmospheric direction, endearing performances, striking photography, and positive messages of hope, responsibility and the need to be loved. (G)
Together (2002) is a Chinese film concerning a widowed father who sacrifices everything in order to support his gifted teenage son's musical abilities. The son can't see the sacrifices made on his behalf until the end. Beautifully filmed in China, full of humor, drama and insight, Together is a powerful morality tale with an ending that moved me to tears. This film reminded me of 1 Timothy 5:8, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, he has denied the faith." (PG)
United 93 (2006). The film is a cautionary tale that states "United we stand, divided we fall." Beware, it's rated R for intensity and for profanity. While I include this film for its potent message, it does contain harsh and profane language. (Please go to the link below for the full review.)
Vertigo (1958). The director's powerful imagery and James Stewart's remarkable performance focus on obsession and hidden fears. "Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere."
The Winslow Boy (1999) Writer/director David Mamet (best known for his salty dialogue in past productions) has sensitively adapted Terence Rattigan's play about a barrister defending a youth accused of school theft. Genteel look at a father's determination to see justice done. A superb screenplay by Mr. Mamet, proving a story can be told without bombarding the viewer with profane and offensive material. (G)
EXperiment in Terror (1962). Taut thriller about a crazy kidnapper who terrorizes a bank clerk.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). "My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you." James Cagney as showman George M. Cohan.
The Mark of Zorro (1940). Tyrone Power is the swashbuckler and Basil Rathbone the bad guy. Witty dialogue and great swordplay enhance this tale of a vigilante who rights wrongs in old California.
For reviews of these films, which contain the content (the reason for the rating), visit http://moviereporter.com/reviews/display.php?id=2000
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available on Amazon.com.
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