In the movie You Can Count On Me, a churchgoing single mother named Samantha welcomes her prodigal brother Terry home to the small town in which they grew up. Terry is somewhat untrustworthy, prone to bar-hopping and fistfights, and he uses very bad language in front of his nephew. The story follows how Terry eventually, with "baby steps," learns to live with a little more integrity, and how Samantha's conscience provokes her to seek counsel for her own private sins. She asks her local priest, "What is the Church's official position these days on fornication?" Pastor Ron, brow furrowed, replies, "Well … it's a sin." "Good!" she exclaims. "It should be!"

Many avoided seeing You Can Count On Me, no doubt because it is Rated "R." Some will steer clear because, among other things, the film includes some foul language … mostly the fault of Terry, its roguish ugly duckling. For numerous critics, myself included, You Can Count On Me was one of the more beautiful and profound films of 2000, a deeply moving story about recovering sinaholics. (It also contained two of the best performances of the year.) Should we have abstained from the film because of Terry's swearing? We might ask Pastor Ron, "What's the Church's official position on cussing?" "Well," he'd say, "It's a sin." "But should we stay away from movies when we might hear it? Shouldn't moviemakers quit putting swearing in their movies?"

Last week, critics and readers raised their voices on whether onscreen nudity is or is not appropriate … and if it is, how, when, and where "proper" use is distinguished. (You can read a follow-up at the end of today's column.) Next week, we'll move on to the subject of foul language. Some press STOP when they hear a swear word on their movie ...

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