Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Revision to CatholicSkywalker Movie Rating System

One of the reasons that I started this blog was so that I could engage my Catholic identity and my love of pop culture at the same time, even when they are in conflict.

But this becomes especially problematic if a movie (or TV Show, comic book, etc) is artistically excellent and yet presents problems for me as a devout Catholic.

I recall early on I did a review of Pitch Perfect that gave the movie a fairly good review.  But one commentator was aghast that I could give such positive praise to a movie that is casual about binge drinking and sexual promiscuity.

I still stand by my review, but the reader brought up the real dilemma.

Currently the question of the relationship between art and Catholicism is being addressed in the Catholic Skywalker Dialogues, but I have not come to any solid conclusion yet.

This also brings to mind my upcoming review of Deadpool.

As with Pitch Perfect I plan to give it a fairly good review.  However, there is much in it that some may find objectionable.  If my readers find my rating system problematic, I thought that I should contemplate a revision.

First, allow me to how I rate films now.  I go by a 5 star system: 5 is excellent, 1 is awful.  The stars represent the general overall artistic excellence of the piece.  While all reviews deal with the subjective, I try as much as possible to give an objective evaluation of the movie's artistic merits.

I have used the star system to comment on the movie as a movie per se.  It is not meant to be a recommendation by itself.  I try to put into the body of the review items that people may find problematic or objectionable.  The reader can then determine if this film fits within their moral limitations and judgments.

Allow me to distinguish between these two.  A moral limitation regards a person's personal moral response to the film.  It is important to give this information so that a person can safeguard themselves from something that may lead them toward sin.  I remember when I was in high school a movie called New Jack City came out.  For some reason, it triggered within some people a violent response and several fights broke out at many different theaters.  If you are someone who has a propensity to be set off to violence, then you should avoid that film.  Or for example, a person who struggles with lust should stay away from a film that leeringly lingers on the human form.

Outlining the moral content of a piece of art is also important for the viewer's moral judgment.  By moral judgment I mean that the viewer (particularly the Catholic viewer) is sensitive to the presentation and promotion of moral values that are repugnant to the Gospel message.  In my review for The Theory of Everything, I excoriated the film because of its absolutely dreadful view of marital love and fidelity.  I thought that viewers should be forewarned that the movie would present distorted and broken view of God's plan for romantic love.

In both cases, once the information is given, the reader can make the determination for himself or herself regarding seeing the movie.

This brings us back to the star system.  The main detriment with it is that it does not directly address the moral question in its rating.

Part of the reason for this is that movies are not just one art form by several pulled together into a whole.  A movie can be excellent in many ways but damaged by one element like the actor (e.g. The Martian).  Or a movie can be overall of poor quality but have one element like the actor which makes the film worth seeing (e.g. Winter's Bone)

The moral dimension of a film is not separate from the artistic consideration; it is a part of it.  But in the star system it is only one aspect of the work as a whole.  And depending on the degree of excellence of the rest of the art and/or the level of depravity in its morals, the ratings will vary.

To make matters more complicated, the presentation of immorality may be done for an overall moral purpose.

For example, The Godfather is not only an amazing piece of cinematic art, but I believe it is also one of the greatest morality tales ever put to film.  You can watch Michael's slow descent into evil by slow, practical, and well-intentioned choices.  It is such a good movie at presenting the slow erosion of the soul through moral choice.  In that way the violence may be morally depraved, but it is done to show it for what it is.

However, do not forget that there is a gratuitous nude scene halfway through the film.  I find this morally objectionable because it does little to help the story and serves mainly to excite lust in many of the viewers.

Shall we consider the moral shortcoming of The Godfather?  Of course.  But is that the only consideration when rating a movie?  No.  At least not for the star system I am currently employing.

And to further complicate things, sometimes the meaning of the content is ambiguous.  I have had several debates with people a greatly respect about the moral content of The Devil's Advocate and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.  I argue that both movie ultimately have positive and Catholic messages.  My interlocutors disagreed.  Both of us saw the same films and walked away with opposite conclusions.

The change I am ultimately implementing is this:

Begin each review with a breakdown of the moral content.  This will give readers a heads up regarding where the movie stands in relation to Catholic morals.

My plan is to focus on 4 Categories:

Anti-Catholic Philosophy

The moral metrics will be as follows:

Objectionable = the content is strongly negative and may have negative effects on some viewers
Mature = the content may be objectionable to some, but it should only be viewed by someone mature enough to properly process the content
Acceptable = the content may have a few morally questionable items, but it does not have enough immorality to make it mature or objectionable, but it does not necessarily support good morality
No Objection = the content does not have anything morally objectionable.

So for example, below are some famous movies rated using the following metrics:

A house is hovering in the air, lifted by balloons. A dog, a boy, and an old man hang beneath on a garden hose. "UP" is written in the top right corner.
No Objection
Violence  No Objection
Vulgarity  No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy  No Objection

Braveheart imp.jpg
Sexuality/Nudity  Mature
Violence  Mature
Vulgarity  Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy  Acceptable

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Schindler's List
Schindler's List movie.jpg
Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

Superbad Poster.png
Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

These ratings are based on my judgement as a Catholic movie reviewer and they are not without controversy.  Notice that even though The 40-Year-Old Virgin has objectionable content in Sexuality/Nudity and Vulgarity, it is Acceptable in Anti-Catholic Philosophy.  That is because I believe that the ultimate theme of the movie is that God's plan for sexuality (including virginity until marriage) is presented as the path that leads to the greatest happiness.  As I mentioned, many people would object to this interpretation of the film, but that is my conclusion.

The movie reviews will still contain the same star rating system.  But by adding these new items, hopefully I will be better able to serve the moral needs of my readers with my reviews.

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