To Learn Beauty, Look Closer

I am in a precarious situation. I am a movie fan and a parent at the same time. I remember how much I loved Dumb and Dumber in my early twenties. The bathroom humour (literal) and innuendo made me laugh out loud. When Joy and I had a baby girl in 1999, well that could have ended the whole movie-loving thing. Or at least maybe be altered to all G-rated movies. John McClane and his Yippee-ki-yay blankety-blank would have to move over and make room for Aladdin and Stuart Little. But that didn’t happen. The kids didn’t and don’t watch these movies with me, but how can I justify continuing to watch movies with content that I wouldn’t let them watch? is it hypocritical? Well, it comes down to the beauty that is found in some of the more offensive things in life.

To help clarify, here are some points that may or may not make any sense. Here goes…

1. Some people do. I try to use this saying as often as I can with my kids. “Daddy, that guy over there is drinking beer!”
“Yes, some people do.”
“I don’t like her. She swears.”
“Now don’t judge her. Some people swear.”

I want my kids to know that just because they refrain from things like premarital sex, smoking or coarse language doesn’t mean they are any better than anyone else. In fact, we sometimes watch movies with them now (they are 10, 13 and 15) that have characters doing such things. I want them to be able to experience a little bit of this stuff (Calm down now… nothing too crazy—we won’t watch Friday the 13th or Boyz n the Hood with them or anything!) so they can shake off the shock and deal with the reality of it.

2. A low level of influence. Movies can influence us, but mostly in the way they make us think or feel. We make our own decisions, but movies bring other opinions and perspectives to our minds. Kind of like… oh, I don’t know… BOOKS! I personally don’t believe they influence our actions as much as is popularly believed. Yes, I’m sure there were some copycat van surfing after Teen Wolf came out, but for the most part we make our own big boy / big girl decisions. Though I love Planes, Trains and Automobiles, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Office Space I’ve never once driven a car into a hotel, wailed on a printer in the middle of a field with a baseball bat, or even danced near an indoor pool.
Right now we are living in a golden age of G and PG rated movies. It’s not hard to find a good—even great—movie with one of these ratings, and few times do you not find one playing at the theatre any given week. But if we are to believe that movies are highly influential on individuals and society at large, then why not say that Monsters Inc or Up is changing everyone around us? What is this world coming to? People are being nice to each other and helping each other find out their inner beauty, life purpose and all kinds of crap like that! It’s those stinking G movies I tell you! Our kids are going to get numb to this stuff…

3. But what about the nudity, sex and gratuitous violence? The question is simple and fair: does a movie really have to have either of these? Any movie producer or director would answer with yes. But they’re only people who make movies for a living and make lots of money doing so. What do they know? But I have to say I agree. You can’t tell the story of 12 Years A Slave without the violence and other scenes that are difficult/uncomfortable to watch. Being exposed to it, I believe, is an important thing to do and we are fortunate to live in a time when we have movies that bring the reality to us in such a vivid way. There’s no turning a blind eye or deaf ear to the atrocities committed in the past century by our own fellow human beings. Movies will see to that. But even with movies like Lethal Weapon or Rambo: First Blood Part 2 where the violence seems to be just used for entertainment’s sake, we have to at least admit that violence is a reality in the human experience. Perhaps it’s not that we are getting a kick out of seeing blood. Maybe in some strange way we can relate to it. No I don’t watch violent movies with my kids, but they will become adults someday.

4. You didn’t answer the question… what about the sex? Yeah, this is a big one, I know. In fact, in my social circles there are a lot of Christians, perhaps even mostly. And Christians can handle violence on the screen much sooner than boobs or a steamy bed scene. Now this week’s movie, American Beauty is a perfect model for when this is necessary. First, let’s establish why nudity and sex is on screen so much:
a) We’ve all heard the principle that sex sells. Yes, many movies use sex as bait. We’ve all seen this when we were young and it did, indeed, influence us. Sometimes in negative ways, sometimes not. When I was young I was convinced movie makers would simply get together and say, “Hey, you know that actress from that one movie? We should make a film where she has to get naked. Wanna?” I suppose I didn’t think it was quite like that, but pretty close. And that kind of “let’s do it because we can” attitude does happen in the entertainment business. However…
b) Yes, sometimes it is artistic and necessary. Even Michelangelo used full-on frontal nudity. I saw it. I was in Italy. What a sicko. In American Beauty, there is an infamous scene. It is uncomfortable to watch. Even if nudity wasn’t a part of it, the subject matter is abhorrent. It can even cause you feel guilty for continuing to watch. But (and I won’t spoil it for you), something happens at that moment that is so crucial to the telling of the main character’s story. And the contrast of the before and after is critical to the telling of the story and for the audience to experience it with its main character, Lester Burnham.

For the most part, we are all adults who can handle this. And if it is too much for us, we don’t watch it. Simple as that. And we don’t judge those who do. Personally, I really wish Michelangelo would’ve chiseled out at least a pair of boxers for poor David. But someone who says it’s exquisite art won’t receive any judgment from me.
And if I can add here, the journey Lester travels through in this movie really is a beauty. It’s definitely a movie you may watch and say, “What was that all about?” when you’re finished, but that’s the best part about it. You really need to talk with someone afterward. Amid the taboo fantasizing, the swearing, the pot and the violence, there is beauty. Look closer.

Congratulations American Beauty . This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Annette Benning in American Beauty. She’s pretty entertaining in this movie, but her believability is also pretty amazing. I’d share my favourite scene that she does but it would definitely spoil the ending.
Best Actor: Kevin Spacey, for sure. But let me mention here that 3 Idiots has some pretty great actors in it. It’s a fantastic story and has the coolest example of a plot that comes together in the end. It’s also the one movie whose story has more to do with education than any of the other ones we chose from this week. Look it up and give it a watch. It’s totally worth it.
Best Quote: “F.A.O. my Schwartz!” – Lotso Bear in Toy Story 3 (voiced by Ned Beatty).

I hope my kids learn a lot this year. More than that, I hope I do. If I don’t, they’re likely to follow suit.


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