Evan Rachel Wood is making the news this week with a complaint about oral sex. For her recent turn in Charlie Countryman, an apparently execrable movie about a guy mourning his mother who receives a vision to travel to Eastern Europe, where he falls in love with a gangster’s moll (oh boy), Wood filmed a sex scene. This sex scene apparently depicted Shia LeBoeuf going down on Evan Rachel Wood. And the MPAA, when they saw the film, threatened to give it an NC-17 rating on the basis of that scene. Because there is apparently something so deeply offensive and radical about cunnilingus that the Children of AmericaTM cannot possibly be exposed to it. Meanwhile, as Wood noted in her tweeted rant, “the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.” Such are the views of modern film scolds and censors. Just a few years ago they were doing the same thing to the relatively tame oral sex scenes in Blue Valentine. And the media is reporting that Lars von Trier’s upcoming Nymphomaniac is about to get hit with one, too.
It’s funny how increasingly irrelevant the fear of the NC-17 — and the MPAA more broadly — feels.
First of all, Wood is of course right that the MPAA appears to be led by stupid hypocrites. Note that no one came out to present the counter-argument. Even if the MPAA weren’t totally indifferent to violence, their weird preoccupation with sex rings pretty hollow, nowadays. The MPAA’s apparent revulsion and horror at the mere prospect of a filmed female orgasm is a subject best discussed by comedians. It is 2013, and at this point “slut-shaming” is part of the mainstream lexicon. You will see more hip action on a music awards show than you will in just about any sex scene. And we haven’t even discussed the sex-to-drama ratio on something like Game of Thrones yet.
Even ye olde physical barriers to entry are starting to crumble as regards movie theaters. Until recently, many theaters wouldn’t carry NC-17 movies because to play them meant they must — by voluntary agreement, mind, and more on that in a second — screen out everybody under 18. And doing that policing is annoying and burdensome and would surely irritate those of us who’ve gotten accustomed to the cursory nod from the movie-theater attendant at the mouth of the multiplex. The masses will not welcome further obstacles to the pursuit of pretzel bites and Mandarin Orange Coke Zero.
But increasingly theaters have begun to show a little independence. As Gary Susman recently pointed out at Rolling Stone, when, for example, Blue Is the Warmest Color was released, several theaters announced they would not abide by its NC-17, and let older teenagers see the film. They wouldn’t do that for everyone, of course. The somewhat shaky point of distinction for a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color is that it’s “art.” And it bears noting that the theaters who broke the mold on this one were largely in sort of liberal-intelligentsia enclaves like Evanston, Illinois, where some ridiculous Christian group is unlikely to materialize bearing placards defending the honor of the Children of AmericaTM. I am not sure whether or not the same privilege would be extended to something like Nymphomaniac, nor am I sure that the same standards could apply to, say, Kalispell, Montana.
But the scary thing is, at this point I would prefer that the random judgments of movie theater owners across America govern the question of How Much Vagina Is Too Much than the jokers who apparently faint at the whiff of it at the MPAA. It’s time for a new order. Even if it turns out to be just as stupid and arbitrary as this one, it’ll make for a change.