As movie ratings mean less and less, Christians must develop their own discernment.

The frustration of serious filmmakers over the shortcomings of the ratings system is now reaching the boiling point. Serious films given a deserved X are written off by theater owners as hassle-inducing pornography. Faced with the financial ruin of an X rating, producers of such controversial films as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! have opted to ignore the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and release them unrated to theaters. All three movies have enjoyed critical and financial success. If this trend continues, the entire rating system could go by the wayside.

The MPAA rating system—G through X—is increasingly criticized by both filmmakers and moviegoers as misleading and ineffectual. Many filmmakers regard the system as a capricious and arbitrary obstacle, an attempt to censor their art. Its intent was to avoid government censorship by indicating the content and moral tone of movies. Now, however, concerned parents often find the ratings system useless in determining the suitability of a movie for their children. The fact that filmmakers are more and more ignoring the MPAA entirely by releasing unrated films and videotapes is prompting an outcry of protest from parents and the pulpit.

But censorship and ratings systems have always fallen into the trap of illogical checklists. For example, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho—one of the most psychologically horrifying films of all times—was screened to general theater audiences and plays unedited on television. Studio censors did not object to the knife murder of a woman in the shower—as long as the knife was ...

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