The Passion of the Ratings.
“Have you seen ‘The Passion of the Christ’ yet?” my client, the pastor of a large church asked me excitedly as I finished running off a copy of his church capital campaign video in the edit suite. I’d like to say I hesitated and chose my words carefully, but I didn’t. I didn’t even have to think about it.
“No way,” I snapped back at him, “I have zero interest in seeing that film.”
Grace is not always my strong suit, and I had just put my foot in it, for sure. Fortunately, he was much more forgiving in his response to me than I had just been to him.
“Oh?” he said, showing gentleness where I had shown none, “why would you say that?”
“Because it’s rated ‘R’. My first film got an ‘R’ rating by the MPAA. When a lot of my “Christian” friends found out that it was a rated ‘R’ film, many of them pretty much scorned me. Several of them said something to me about it, and made it clear how disappointed they were in me and my film without even going to see it. I’m not trying to justify our film’s vulgar content that rightly earned it that rating, and I certainly was not the same man then as I am now, and would never produce a film like that today, but it really made an impression on me that I was being judged by my friends over a stupid rating. Nobody ever asked what my reasons were for producing it. They just pronounced judgement and dismissed me.”
At least he was still listening to me, or maybe he hadn’t formulated a response yet. I continued.
“Now, my film got an ‘R’ rating for language. But, we didn’t have any sex, any nudity, and certainly not any violence. I mean, nobody had their hands pierced with nails or got scourged to within an inch of their life with a whip. There wasn’t even any blood in our movie. Just a lot of F-bombs from dark characters that were truthfully portrayed. So, really what I learned through that experience was that rated ‘R’ movies are bad, and the good Christians don’t go to see them. Well, actually, they do…they see a lot of them. But, I don’t feel obligated to go see a rated ‘R’ movie just because it’s about Jesus.”
I’ll admit, I was being obstinate with him, but I told the truth of what was a heavy burden on my heart. It had been on my mind for a long time, and he just happened to be the one who tripped the cord of this explosive charge I had set many years ago. The fact that the one asking was a pastor only made it that much more poignant.
He relented and quickly changed the subject. I knew he was probably annoyed and a little taken aback by my forceful candor, and he really didn’t show any interest in pursuing the conversation with me any further. In retrospect, I would have welcomed a heart to heart conversation with someone, even him, on what I percieved as pure hypocrisy on the part of my Christian friends. Instead, like everyone else I had breached the subject with, he wrote me off and ended the conversation.
“Typical,” I thought to myself as he left my office, having avoided what was obviously a touchy subject with me, “that’s what all of those church people do. Just ignore it. Whatever.”
It wasn’t the first time I had told someone that story, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But no one I ever had the conversation with ever wanted to see things from my perspective. It wasn’t that I was trying to justify the vulgar content I had produced in my film. It wasn’t that I truly had a problem with the violent nature of “The Passion of the Christ”, either. I mean, I’ve read the book. I know how the story goes. It’s got some violence, to be sure. No, it was about the double standard that I saw in the Christians around me, who on one hand will preach about not being “of the world”, but then will turn right around and use the standards of the world to pronounce judgement on one and conveniently ignore it for the other. For a man who had been dealing with a crisis of faith for many years, it only solidified my then-growing annoyance with the church and Christianity in general.
“Rated ‘R’ movies are bad, unless they’re about Jesus. Then they’re okay.”
That is the message that came through, loud and clear, to a young film producer looking for spiritual reckoning. And I wasn’t buying it, especially since I knew for a fact that most of my critical friends had seen every Arnold Schwarzenegger and Van Damme film ever made, just like me. Blood, guts, sex and profanity – and those great one-liners that everyone in the world could quote back to you without hesitation. You know how it goes, someone in the room starts the line and then someone else finishes it. It forms an instant bond. “Hey, you saw that movie too? I love that part!” Yeah. Those are all rated “R”. Why wouldn’t I have thought it would be more accepted than it was to make a film with the same rating as everyone’s favorites? We all watch them, right? Or are we just being selective in our outrage?
Hey, I understand. I have children. My wife and I rely on things like ratings to tell us if a movie or TV show is appropriate for our family or not. It’s not like I think we should abolish the ratings system (although a PG film doesn’t seem to be the same now as it was when I was a kid). But hypocrisy is what Christians are accused of all the time. and most of the time, I think it’s pretty accurate.
For the record, I did eventually see “The Passion of the Christ”. I thought it was fine, although I hate subtitled films, so that part really annoyed me. I give much respect to Mel Gibson for making the film and staying true to the actual scriptures with it, and having the characters speak authentic Aramaic was pretty legit. It certainly is a project I would be terrified to undertake. Glad Mel took that one on so I don’t have to. I’m frankly terrified to produce stories straight out of scripture. Not because of what people think, but because I don’t want to get it wrong and have to explain myself to the Lord. There’s some serious weight to that book.
I don’t mean to pick on Christians in particular. The world is full of hypocrisy. That’s one of the big reasons I never talk about politics on social media. For starters, politics is not my job. I’m not a politician, I’ll never be a politician, and no matter which side I take, someone will hate it (and me) and hypocritically accuse me of being a hypocrite. Guess what? I am a hypocrite. We all are. That’s why I need the grace of Jesus every day. It’s the only way I can find any balance.
I’d like to think I’ve grown up a lot since that conversation with the pastor over “The Passion of the Christ.” I don’t get hung up on ratings. I don’t get hung up on people’s opinions. I’m just a man on a mission to tell great stories through motion pictures, with an audience of one.