MPAA ON TRIAL: JESUS VS. BILL

In this week’s episode of “MPAA on Trial”, I decided to take a look at two films released less than a year apart from each other. Both films are only similar in the fact that they are each filled to the brim with violence and gore. Thus, they were evenly slammed with a well-deserved R rating.

The Motion Picture Association of America gave Mel Gibson’s epic tale of religious brutality the R rating for reasons involving “sequences of graphic violence.” Seeing the film, no one should feel the urge to argue with them. The rating for this film is perfect, as is the rating for Quentin Tarantino’s “roaring rampage of revenge” entitled, Kill Bill Vol. 1. This film was also rated R for what the MPAA called, “strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content.” Again, both films have the perfect rating.

So what’s the problem? Those of you that have seen the two films should be able to easily tell the differences in the styles of violence. The Passion is full of real-life, painful imagery that can cause the viewer’s sphincter to coil. “Kill Bill” on the other hand is full of fun, silly and unrealistic comic book style gore.

Gibson never had to change a thing with his film to keep the rating at an R. The whole purpose of “The Passion” was so the human race can actually see how brutal and horrifying Jesus’ death was, instead of using that troublesome little thing called “an imagination.” Lash after lash, whip after skin breaking whip, we watch our protagonist suffer the ultimate death. Camera angles do their best to show the skin break, especially one scene in particular, where a “cat-of-nine-tails” style whip gets caught in the midst of Jesus’ back. The whip-giver does his best to pull it out as hard as he possibly can, and the camera again exposes us to a ghastly sight. Chunks of his skin tear off with it and blood spatters out.

Tarantino on the other hand, actually had to change the color during the climax of his film to shade the violence. In Chapter 5 of “Volume 1” (entitled “Showdown at House of Blue Leaves”), The Bride (played by Uma Thurman) takes on a group called “The Crazy 88’s” with her samurai sword in hand. As each of the group attempts to take her on, she hacks and slashes with her sword, spraying blood and limbs all over the floor.

When first submitted to the MPAA, they demanded the scene to be cut down. Thankfully, Quentin figured out a nice way to appease the censors without cutting out anything. He changed one particular sequence from regular color to black and white, with perfect entry and exit points, allowing the scene to slip by unedited.

In the Japanese cut, this scene goes un-altered. Should you be lucky enough to find it, you can see the climax in its intended full-color glory and in that fine country, they only require you to be 15 years-old to see it.

With everything that is said and done in this “Kill Bill” prior to this point, the MPAA thought audience members wouldn’t be able to handle this?

While “The Passion” isn’t as comical as “Kill Bill,” it still has plenty of violence. One could even say it worse off due to its realism and intensity. Yet it went through the censors unscathed.

In 1987, Paul Verhoeven was forced to cut down a scene in “Robocop” where Ed-209 accidentally unloaded about 15 clips of ammunition into an unlucky executive. The MPAA threatened the film with an X rating if it (and a few other pointless scenes) wasn’t altered. Rated X for violence? That is ridiculous. “The Passion” as a whole is way worse than that singular scene, and while 18 years have passed since the “RoboCop” decision, you’d still think the MPAA would want Mel to trim it down some.

Alas, they didn’t care. As the wheels in my mind turn, I could only come up with one conclusion. Could it be that, since it is a film about Jesus, violence and gore are okay? Look at American society today. We are a long way from ex-president James Madison’s vision of keeping Church and State separate. Perhaps the Motion Picture Association of America runs like our current government. If that is the case, could a movie about Jesus be punished with the dreaded NC-17, or even an X, rating?

Thousands of people in the days of Jesus died the same way he did. Pretend for a second that Mel Gibson made a movie called, “The Passion of the Ferraro.” Instead of it involving the death of Mr. Christ, it would involve the death of one my old ancestors. The film would be the exact same as the Jesus “Passion.” The same of course, except Jim Caviezel’s Jesus would be replaced by Dustin Diamond’s Michael Ferraro. Since my ancestor isn’t the supposed son of God, would it still be rated R?

Better yet, make believe Tarantino made a movie called, “Kill Judas.” Instead of following the revenge trail of The Bride, we’d follow Jesus seeking out Judas in the same revenge-filled manner. Would the “House of Blue Leaves” chapter need to be altered or color changed?

Sadly, these questions will probably go unanswered. The chance of either of these film suggestions getting produced is about as slim as George Lucas making a good “Star Wars” movie again. Based on the last two, that just isn’t going to happen.

For the most part, the MPAA offers a great service to the community by rating films in appropriation to age. Every once in a while, however, things go terribly awry. For example, a certain film containing the mere suggestion of certain sexual acts may get the dreaded NC-17, while another film may actually show us the sex acts in question and squeak by with an R rating. Michael Ferraro takes a look at some of these more questionable calls by the MPAA in an attempt to try and understand their madness.




Posted on March 31, 2005 in Features by
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