Which Movies Will You See?

IN RECENT decades, the profusion of on-screen sex, violence, and profanity has met with varied reactions. Some say that a certain sex scene is lewd, while others argue that it is artistic. Some insist that the violence in a movie is gratuitous, while others say that it is justified. Some assert that dialogue peppered with profanity is offensive, while others claim that it is realistic. What one person calls obscene, another calls freedom of expression. Listening to both sides may make this all seem to be a matter of semantics.

But film content is not just a matter for trivial debate. It is a valid concern, not only for parents but also for all who value moral standards. “Whenever I take a chance and go against my better judgment and venture back into a movie theater, I always feel like a worse person when I come out,” lamented one woman. “I’m embarrassed for the people who made this trash, and I’m embarrassed for myself. It’s like watching the stuff that I’ve just watched has made me a smaller human being.”

Setting Standards

The concern over movie content is not new. In the early days of film, a furor arose over sexual themes and criminal elements that appeared on the silver screen. Finally, in the 1930’s, a code was put in force in the United States that severely limited what could be shown in films.

According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica, this new code for films “was monumentally repressive, forbidding the depiction on screen of almost everything germane to the experience of normal human adults. It prohibited showing ‘scenes of passion,’ and adultery, illicit sex, seduction, and rape could not even be alluded to unless they were absolutely essential to the plot and severely punished by the film’s end.”

Regarding violence, films were “forbidden to display or to discuss contemporary weapons, to show the details of a crime, to show law enforcement officers dying at the hands of criminals, to suggest excessive brutality or  slaughter, or to use murder or suicide except when crucial to the plot. . . . Under no circumstances could any crime be represented as justified.” All told, the code stated that “no picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

From Restrictions to Ratings

By the 1950’s, many Hollywood producers were defying the code, feeling that its rules were antiquated. Hence, in 1968 the code was dismantled and replaced with a rating system. * With the rating system, a film could have explicit content, but it would be branded with a symbol forewarning the public of its level of “adult” content. According to Jack Valenti, who served as president of the Motion Picture Association of America for nearly four decades, the goal was “to offer some advanced cautionary warnings to parents, so that they could make their own judgments about what movies their children should and should not see.”

With the introduction of the rating system, the dam broke. Sex, violence, and profanity flooded into mainstream Hollywood movie scripts. The new freedoms that were granted to films unleashed a tidal wave that could not be suppressed. Still, with a rating, the public would be forewarned. But does a rating tell you all that you need to know?

What Ratings Cannot Tell You

Some feel that over the years the rating system has become lax. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health supports such a suspicion, for it found that films deemed acceptable for younger teens now contain more violent and sexually explicit content than those of a mere decade ago. The study concluded that “movies with the same rating can differ significantly in the amount and type of potentially objectional content” and that “age-based ratings alone do not provide good information about the depiction of violence, sex, profanity and other content.” *

Parents who obliviously send their children off to the theater may not be aware of what is considered appropriate viewing today. For example, one movie critic describes the main character of a movie rated in the United States as suitable for teens. She was “a 17-year-old free spirit who cheerfully engages in daily drunkenness, illegal drug use, orgiastic partying and aggressive sex with a boy she has just met.” This type of content is hardly uncommon. Indeed, The Washington Post Magazine notes that references to oral sex seem to be “routinely acceptable” in movies that are rated appropriate for teenagers. Clearly, a rating should not be the sole factor in assessing the content of a film. Is there a better guide?

“Hate What Is Bad”

A rating system is no substitute for a Bible-trained conscience. In all of their decisions​—including those having to do with entertainment—​Christians strive to apply the admonition found in the Bible at Psalm 97:10: “Hate what is bad.” A person who hates what is bad would consider it wrong to be entertained by things that God abhors.

Parents especially need to be cautious regarding the kind of movies that they allow their children to see. It would be naive to take no more than a passing glance at the ratings. It may well be that a movie rated appropriate for your child’s age bracket promotes values that you as a parent do not endorse. This is hardly surprising for Christians, since the world has embraced a way  of thinking and acting that is at odds with godly standards. *​—Ephesians 4:17, 18; 1 John 2:15-17.

This does not mean that all movies are bad. But caution is in order. In this regard, the May 22, 1997, issue of Awake! made this comment: “Each individual should weigh matters carefully and make decisions that will leave him with a clear conscience before God and man.”​—1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

Finding Suitable Entertainment

How can parents be selective when it comes to choosing which movies their family will watch? Consider the following comments from parents around the world. Their remarks may help you in your quest to provide wholesome entertainment for your family.​—See also the box “Other Forms of Recreation,” on page 14.

“My wife or I always accompanied our children to the movies when they were younger,” says Juan, in Spain. “They never went alone or just with other youths. Now, as teenagers, they do not go to movie premieres; instead, we prefer that they wait until we have read the reviews or have heard comments about the film from others we trust. Then as a family we decide if we should see this film.”

Mark, in South Africa, encourages open communication with his teenage son about what is playing in the theaters. “My wife and I initiate the discussion, asking his opinion on the film,” Mark says. “This enables us to listen to his thoughts and reason with him. As a result, we find that we are able to choose movies that we can all enjoy together.”

Rogerio, in Brazil, also spends time with his children analyzing the films that they want to see. “I read with them what the critics have to say,” he says. “I go with them to the video  store to teach them how to look at the cover for indications that a film might be inappropriate.”

Matthew, in Britain, finds it beneficial to talk with his children about the movies they want to see. “From a young age,” he says, “our children were included in discussions about the content of films that have interested us as a family. If our decision was to avoid a certain film, my wife and I would explain why, rather than just say no.”

In addition, some parents have found it helpful to research movies on the Internet. There are a number of Web sites that give detailed reports on the content of films. These can be used to get a clearer picture of the values promoted by a particular movie.

The Benefits of a Trained Conscience

The Bible speaks of those who “have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) Thus, the goal of parents should be to instill values in their children that will help them to make wise decisions when they have the freedom to choose their own entertainment.

Many youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses have received excellent training from their parents in this regard. For example, Bill and Cherie, in the United States, enjoy going to the movies with their two teenage boys. “After leaving the theater,” Bill says, “we often get involved in a family discussion about the film​—what values it taught and whether we agree with those values or not.” Of course, Bill and Cherie realize the need to be selective. “We read up on the movie beforehand, and we’re not embarrassed to walk out of a film if there is objectionable content that we didn’t anticipate,” Bill says. By including their children in responsible decision-making, Bill and Cherie feel that their sons are being helped to develop a keen sense of right and wrong. “They are making wiser decisions  when it comes to choosing what movies they would like to see,” Bill says.

Like Bill and Cherie, many parents have helped their children to train their perceptive powers in the matter of entertainment. Granted, much of what is produced by the film industry is not appropriate. On the other hand, when they are guided by Bible principles, Christians can enjoy good entertainment that is wholesome and refreshing.


^ par. 9 Many countries around the world have adopted a similar system whereby a rating symbol indicates the age group for which a film might be appropriate.

^ par. 12 In addition, the criteria used to rate a motion picture may vary from one country to another. A movie that is deemed inappropriate for teens in one land might receive a more liberal rating in another.

^ par. 16 Christians should also keep in mind that movies for children and teens may contain elements of witchcraft, spiritism, or other kinds of demonism.​—1 Corinthians 10:21.

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“When I was younger, we used to go to the cinema together as a family. Now that I am older, I am allowed to go without my parents. However, before they let me go, my parents want to know the title of the film and what it is about. If they haven’t heard of the movie, they read a review or watch a movie trailer on TV. They also check out information about the film on the Internet. If they feel that the movie is not suitable, they explain why. They allow me to express my opinion as well. The conversation is open, and we make the decision together.”​Héloïse, 19, France.

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“If parents forbid things and don’t offer anything wholesome in place of them, the children may try to satisfy their wishes in secret. Therefore, when children show that they want to watch some type of unwholesome entertainment, some parents don’t forbid them right away, nor do they give permission. Instead, they allow time for cooling off. For a few days, without getting upset over the issue, they discuss the matter, asking the youth why he or she feels that this type of entertainment would be good. By talking it over, youths often come to agree with their parents and even thank them. Then, with the parents taking the lead, they choose some other entertainment that they can enjoy together.”​—Masaaki, a traveling overseer in Japan.

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▪ “Young ones have a natural desire to be with others of their age, so we have always provided our daughter with wholesome companionship under our supervision. Since there are many exemplary young ones in our congregation, we have encouraged our daughter to develop friendships with them.”​—Elisa, Italy.

▪ “We are very much involved in our children’s recreation. We organize wholesome activities for them, such as walks, barbecues, picnics, and get-togethers with fellow Christians of all ages. In this way our children do not view recreation as something that they will enjoy only with their peers.”​—John, Britain.

▪ “We have found gatherings among fellow Christians to be rewarding. My children also like playing soccer, so from time to time, we arrange to participate in this sport with others.”​Juan, Spain.

▪ “We encourage the children to enjoy playing musical instruments. We also take part in many hobbies together, such as tennis, volleyball, bicycle riding, reading, and getting together with friends.”​Mark, Britain.

▪ “We make it a point to go bowling together as a family and with friends. Also, we try to schedule something special to do together once a month. The key to avoiding problems is for parents to be watchful.”​Danilo, Philippines.

▪ “Attending live events is often more exciting than just sitting in a chair watching a movie. We keep our eyes open for local events such as art exhibitions, car shows, or musical programs. These types of venues often allow for communication during the event. We are also careful not to provide too much entertainment. Not only is time a factor but too much entertainment also deadens the novelty and excitement of the event.”​Judith, South Africa.

▪ “Not everything that other children do is appropriate for my children, and I try to help them to understand that. At the same time, my husband and I try to provide them with good entertainment. We make an effort to keep them from saying, ‘We don’t go anywhere. We don’t do anything.’ As a family, we go to parks and arrange for get-togethers at our home with others from our congregation.” *Maria, Brazil.


^ par. 47 For further information on social gatherings, see our companion journal, The Watchtower, August 15, 1992, pages 15-20.

[Credit Line]

James Hall Museum of Transport, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Check the movie reviews BEFORE you decide

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Parents, teach your children to be selective