In most circles of life, the words “mature” and “adult” are seen as compliments, signs that you are handling yourself in a manner superior to toddlers and teenagers. No one that I know of wants to be thought of otherwise.
So why is it when the words “mature” and/or “adult” are applied to movies, suddenly everyone tightens their sphincter like a Victorian spinster? Calling a movie mature or adult never seems to refer to non-juvenile matter like Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby, but rather to Behind the Green Door or Ass Rammers 12. When did maturity become synonomous with plain brown wrappers?
This is a problem, for me, because it points up a serious problem with the edgier end of the MPAA rating system. There is an “adult” rating, namely NC-17, but it is treated like the Typhoid Mary of movie classifications. NC-17 movies do not get advertised in newspapers nor do they play in many multiplexes. Garnering an NC-17 rating is the cinematic equivilent of committing seppuku.
Roger Ebert has pointed up the need for a viable rating for non-pornographic adult-oriented films. The MPAA response has been, to date, sticking their fingers in their collective ears and loudly saying, “La La La La.” Their position is that we have NC-17 and it’s not their fault no one wants to release movies with that rating.
I agree with Mr. Ebert that something needs to be done. I’ll have a more radical suggestion about what to do with the rating system in part three of this commentary, but this part will address the assumption that we are going to keep the current system more or less as is.
The main problem with NC-17 is that it directly replaced the X rating. Since the X rating had become almost exclusively associated with porn, the NC-17 inherited this stigma. As a result, the restrictions that previously applied to X films were simply carried over.
In order for an adult or mature rating to be viable, in needs to be free of the “X” stain. The simplest way to do this is to slot a new rating in between R and NC-17. Since NC-17 will still exist to carry all of the baggage associated with it, hopefully the new rating would be free of it. I think it would be important that the MPAA get the major newspaper and theater chains on board with this new rating from the start, get them to commit to supporting it and not banish it to movie marketing Siberia.
The MPAA should also make it clear is that the new adult rating is really just an extension of the R rating. This new rating would be the “we really mean it” version of R, the “get a sitter and leave the kids at home or we’ll beat you with a dead fish” version. Call it “RM” or “RA,” but make sure that it is associated in people’s minds with mature, mainstream films and not Leather Lesbians 8.
Maybe then, filmmakers would be free to make films for adults who want to see such material and the rest of the world would know enough to stay out or at least keep the nine-year-olds at home.