A Dark Knight's Tale - Too Dark for PG13
It is not very often that I am moved to write something after I see a movie and it is even rarer for me to come out of a theater and promptly cry for twenty minutes. Standing with my two friends at 2am on the street corner, defending my point of view was almost as stressful as watching the film. I was called stupid for “missing the point” and after witnessing earlier the round of applause the movie got when the credits rolled, I began to wonder if in actual fact I had missed something. The new Batman film, “The Dark Knight,” is not like previous films in the series. It has all the elements to make it seem so at first; it is loud and action-packed and quite frankly fast, so much so that my eyes found it hard to focus on the screen at times. Underneath all of that was something far more sinister which left me feeling cold. The performance given by the late Heath Ledger was exceptional but by all accounts disturbing and frightening, even more so with his death during the making of this movie. Although the circumstances around his death are uncertain, it is not out of the realms of possibility for me to speculate that his immersion into the character could have had such an impact on him that in some way resulted in his death. A thought I could not help thinking while watching the film. As his last performance he will no doubt be remembered and I would not be at all surprised if he receives posthumous recognition with an Oscar. Ledger was for me, however, a little too convincing. The rating for this movie is the real issue for me. In the US the movie was rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace (which there were many times over). In Canada where I saw the movie, it was given a 14A. I am not opposed to a little violence if it’s befitting to the storyline but the level in this film, for this rating is alarming. Scenes with Ledger smashing a head into a pencil and holding a knife to the throats of at least three of the characters were more than I could stomach. The other characters were no better with countless guns being placed into mouths or on temples, scenes showing graphic disfigurement of the body were grueling and then towards the end of the film a distressing scene where a child is terrorized at gun point. Standing back on that corner in the early hours, this is where my argument lay. Sex in the City was rated 18. That’s right, 18(!) and not a gun or a drop of blood in sight. Having said that, there was hardly any blood in The Dark Knight either but I don’t see how it could be seen as being any more appropriate for younger viewers than Sex in the City. Writer and director Christopher Nolan discuss The Dark Knight in an interview with about.com and agrees that the film pushed the PG-13 rating to its limit¹. “Nolan knew that was the rating the studio was targeting throughout production and kept that in mind when crafting the film.”…Part of my creative process is knowing the tone of the film that I'm going to wind up with. So always knowing that this was going to be a PG-13 movie and that we want kids and families to go see this, you think along those lines and you don't really tend to come up with stuff that's completely beyond the pale." So, there was no blood and I guess we didn’t actually see the bullets go into people either, did we? Nor did The Joker cut any of the mouths he pressed his knife against but it was all suggested. Is violence any less real when it’s left to the viewer to fill in the blanks? Can we honestly say that a 13 year old will not be affected by this? I was and I’m 31 and don’t think I haven’t asked myself whether I am just a hormonal woman trying to protect her eggs! What I was more upset about while being driven home was that I seemed to be the only one affected by the film. That this level of violence has somehow become the norm and a source of entertainment while sex, the most natural act in human nature, is public enemy number one. Have we all become so desensitized to violence that we can’t see it for what it really is? How can it be okay to be so prudish and censor anything with nudity or sexual content, but at the same time accept this level of violence as being okay? Newsflash - we all have sex! It is fair to say that historically, violence has been accepted in North American culture whereas sex has been a taboo subject. I should not be that surprised really, considering the prevalence of guns and violence in the US that, this rating appears acceptable. Being from the UK might perhaps give me a different perspective but for me I am happy that my reaction was so strong. I don’t want this level of violence to be considered a PG-13; I wanted more censorship on the violence so that I can make an educated decision about whether I want to see the movie or not. The two people I viewed the movie with were hard core gamers who favor games like Call of Duty and Metal Gear Solid. I find these games to be filled with extreme violence and where I am most definitely missing the point. When I expressed a view that my friends were more susceptible to this kind of violence because they played games they became insulted, assuming I was implying they were stupid. “I’ve read more books than you”, said one of my friends who had, in fact, missed my point. Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night and My boyfriend, full of adrenaline, found himself on the sofa at 4am also unable to sleep. After being told to lighten up, I went into work to find a co-worker with a copy of this week’s New Yorker. I explained the situation and how crazy I felt, seemingly the only one amongst my friends to feel this way, when she handed me the article “Past Shock” by David Denby ² where he states “do not, despite the PG-13 rating, bring the children.” It was a huge relief to read someone else’s view on the subject and to know that at least one person out there saw what I saw, a dark (K)night, indeed. ¹ Murray, R, 2008, Writer/Director Christopher Nolan Talks About 'The Dark Knight'
It would seem that my UK perspective has nothing to do with it. I just found out that the rating for the UK is actually the lowest at 12A – quite disturbing also when you consider that violent crime is on the rise there as well.
BBC news ³ reports that crime is falling in the UK for the first time since 1995. However Police recorded 22,151 offences involving knives last year in England and Wales. The highest number - 7,409 - was in London, where 20 teenagers have died violently since the start of 2008. Other incidents include grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, woundings and robbery but not murder. Not murder…well I guess things must be getting better then.
I'd also just like to add that this article is not comparing genres of films as one of the comments suggest but more the acceptance of sex and violence in today’s society.
¹ Murray, R, 2008, Writer/Director Christopher Nolan Talks About 'The Dark Knight' http://movies.about.com/od/thedarkknight/a/darkknight70408_2.htm
² Denby, David, July 21st 2008, Past Shock, http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2008/07/21/080721crci_cinema_denby
³ BBC News, 17 July 2008, Recorded crime figures show fall, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7511192.stm