Morality Bites Blog-a-thon: Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility?

.Thanks to Ronan of Filmplicity and Julian of DirtyWithClass for organizing this thought-provoking blog-a-thon!

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I still remember the post that started it all… it was in the comment section of this post on DWC blog when Julian suggested to Ronan to get people to share their opinion on the hot-button issue, and voilà! 😀


Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility?

When I read Ronan’s post on the issue of censorship, somehow I immediately remembered the utterly annoying Indonesian censoring system that basically puts a black tape over areas deemed inappropriate… such as in many of James Bond’s opening sequence where customarily naked girls are dancing about to the Bond theme song. For some reason this one at the end of For Your Eyes Only is the one that’s stuck in my mind!
I grew up in a culture with heavy censorship… it’s sooo strict to the point of absurdity. I’ve mentioned this on Ronan’s blog a while ago, even sitcoms like Growing Pains are censored! They’d even cut off scenes the Seaver parents smooching in the kitchen before one of them went off to work, and I always wonder, what is wrong with a scene of a loving marriage??! I’m not going into what law/ethics the Indo government based such strict codes on as I don’t want to get into political/religious discussion, but to put it mildly, unlike in the US, artistic freedom isn’t exactly upheld in a high regard in my home country.
However, as wonderful as such freedom is, the flip side to such a virtue is that it can easily be abused and/or be used to justify questionable content.

With the issue of morality, as a lot of other bloggers more eloquent than I have pointed out, is that it is nearly impossible to standardize or even define. What one person consider moral is different from person to person, because every person has their own ‘standard’ they go by that is guided by their own unique personal worldview. But whilst it’s impossible to measure the conventional standards of each person, I’d think that there is a certain barometer if you will that MOST people will regard as good or evil. I mean, one might enjoy watching Patrick Bateman in American Psycho whack his colleague’s head off with a chainsaw just because he feels like it, but if we ask that person whether that act is wrong or not, I can’t imagine anyone would say that it is perfectly fine to do so. The same case with the extremely violent behaviors found in films like SAW, Human Centipede and a number of other slasher flicks out there that have become increasingly popular.

Though it’s debatable whether there is a shift in moral code, it’s safe to say that people’s tolerance for certain things depicted in the media surely have changed over the years. What’s considered taboo before has become the norm and constant exposure to ‘shocking’ imagery/language/behavior surely have the power to desensitize our minds. I know that for me, my tolerance for violence and foul language have actually decreased as I get older. I’m becoming more mindful of what things I expose myself to, not only because I feel that is the right thing to do, but simply because I don’t find enjoyment in them any more. Those things don’t serve any purpose whatsoever as it neither inspire nor entertain me. But it seems that I am in the minority as there are perhaps more movies out there that are foul-mouthed than those that aren’t.

Sure there is the argument of presenting certain bad behaviors to illustrate a point or depict what really happened in history. So context definitely matters. But even so, I respect filmmakers who opt to show the violence, sexual act or what have you OFF SCREEN. One film that I thought did a great job in getting the point of the story across without resorting to unnecessary violence is Road to Perdition. It’s a dark story, yes, and there are violent scenes to be sure, but they’re not gratuitous for the sole purpose to shock the viewers.
My main concern about this morality argument is more towards films marketed to kids or young adults as they’re the most vulnerable and susceptible to pop culture. The other day I just read about doctors urging ban for junk food ads during kids shows, and I believe there are some strict order that ban sugary drinks and limiting the fat/sugar content of foods sold in middle and high schools. Now, I’m all about promoting good, nutritious food for kids (or anyone of all ages for that matter), but it strikes me that our society seems to be more concerned by what enters our physical bodies but not so much about what gets into our spiritual bodies, our soul. If there are calls to healthy eating that seem to be embraced by food makers/restaurants as well as average consumers, why is there such resistance to measures taken towards ‘healthy viewing’? If the same ‘restraint’ if you will is applied to what kids watch these days, perhaps raunchy teen shows such as Skins might not even be allowed to air to begin with.

I’ve been reading some arguments of those who don’t think filmmakers have moral responsibility and that such responsibility should be placed on the viewers instead. Sorry to single you out Julian but I just want to speak to your argument that ‘…viewers can, or at least should be able to judge what is appropriate for them, and more importantly know what they can and can’t apply from a movie into there actual lives’ Well, certainly in a perfect utopia, it would be nice if that were the case. It’s true that some people who’ve been exposed to dark/violent/sexual content since they’re a young age might not always turn out to be a disturbed person or serial killer. But that is not to say that there has never been a correlation between media violence and real-life violence. There have indeed been reports of some individuals doing very bad things because they are affected by what they’ve watched/played (in the case of violent video games). As in the case of the Columbine High School massacre over a decade ago, analysts/psychologists found that “…part of the killers’ problem may have been desensitization due to their constant exposure to violent imagery in such video games, as well as music and movies …” (per Wikipedia) Coincidentally, I have just read this article on CNN at lunch today and I couldn’t believe how extremely violent a lot of those video games that are easily accessible to kids, but that is a whole other discussion!

The issue of moral responsibility can be applied to all sorts of media, but since the question specifically pertains to filmmakers, I’m going to just contain my answer to movies.

So my answer to the question is: YES, the filmmaker do have a moral obligation to the audience, especially those geared to kids and teens who may not have the best judgments of right and wrong.

To borrow a quote from a famous Marvel superhero, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ I think that same sentiment can be applied to the powerful organization that is Hollywood (Now of course, there are other filmmakers outside of the US film industry, but Hollywood is by far the most mainstream). However, I don’t think the sole accountability lies ONLY with them. It ought to be a SHARED one with parents and teachers, as well as the moviegoers themselves. I think parents today have a much more challenging task in protecting their kids from all the temptations/distractions that bombard them day in and day out and my friend Scott (Custard) who’s a father of two girls can attest to that. There is a delicate balance between shielding them from harmful content and completely censoring them from anything that would help them to learn what’s right or wrong. I hope that when I become a parent one day I’d be able to know the difference. But as Ronan says in his post, I appeal that the power that be in Hollywood to take the initiative and give us a better quality of movies to choose from.


So that’s my two cents. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Weekend Roundup: ‘Black Swan’ review

Summer is certainly a busy month and this past weekend was another one jam-packed w/ activities. Last weekend I mentioned about the Fill Their Plate Run 5K/10K, well this Saturday morning my friends and I volunteered at a meal-packing event for Kids Against Hunger, a humanitarian food-aid organization which mission is to significantly reduce the number of hungry children throughout the world. There were about 60 something people in our shift and we packed about 12,000 meals to be sent to Haiti.

We didn’t have time to make it to the cinema but managed to watch Black Swan which I put in our Netflix queue quite a while ago. But before I get to my review, I’d like to remind everyone of an upcoming blog-a-thon called Morality Bites, spearheaded by my pals Ronan of Filmplicity and Julian of DirtyWithClass blogs. It’s a blog-a-thon that ask the burning question:

Does a filmmaker have a moral responsibility?
The rules are simple: Publish a post on your blog in response to this question or simply post your response on the page wall and email us a link to your post.

Click on the graphic to go to the Facebook page for more information or sign up on the FB wall. Hope you all will participate this Wednesday.

Now, on to the review…

BLACK SWAN

Obsession is a dangerous thing… even more lethal when you are obsessed with perfection. Nina Sayers is a beautiful ballet dancer who nabs the much-coveted lead role of a new production of Swan Lake. She’s perfect as the delicate White Swan, her teacher repeatedly tells her, but struggles to pull off the darker, more provocative part of the Black Swan. The stage performance tells of a tragic story where the Black Swan seduces the White Swan’s Prince which leads to the heartbroken White Swan killing herself.

This is the role of a lifetime — and like everyone in the grueling profession, Nina’s life is completely consumed with ballet and the dream of being cast in such a prestigious production. To make matters worse, she lives with a controlling mother, Erica, who was a former ballerina herself. Nina’s practically suffocated by her mother’s constant barrage of questions and demands, but at the same time, she is all she has because Nina’s got zero social life outside of her rigorous training. The ultimate tragic figure, director Darren Aronofsky takes us on a psychological ‘thrill of terror’ ride as Nina descends into madness the more she embodies the sinister side of the Black Swan.

Nina’s life is chock-full of complicated relationships — with her mother, her instructor, her main rival Lily, and ultimately with herself. As Leroy astutely whispers to her just before she goes on stage, “The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.” Her relationship with the free-spirited Lily is particularly intriguing. Nina is jealous of Lily because she easily personifies the sensual nature of the Black Swan, whilst at the same time being fascinated as well as threaten by her.

I’ve been warned by several people that this is a movie that messes with your mind… the line is blurred between reality and dreams/nightmares, one can’t tell when the illusions ends and reality begins. It’s a fair warning as the movie is not only spooky but can be frustrating at times as we’re always guessing what’s in Nina’s head and what actually happens.

This film was nominated for a slew of awards including Best Picture Oscar. After seeing this, I do think the accolades are well deserved. I was quite astounded that the movie had a measly $13 million budget as the production quality made it look more expensive than that. Aronofsky depicts the enigmatic world of ballet with a keen eye and the whole camera movement, choreography, the music by Clint Mansell and even use of color scheme captures the eerie and spooky mood throughout.

The casting is spot on all around as well. Parisian thespian Vincent Cassel is perfectly creepy but brilliant teacher, Barbara Hershey as the control freak mother, and even Winona Ryder as the cast-aside Swan Lake star Beth is unforgettable in her small role. Props for the casting agent for finding actresses who look believable as ballerinas. Mila Kunis is spot on as the sexy Lily who’s quite the comic relief in the movie. Her role the antithesis of the high-strung Nina though I don’t know if it’s really much of a stretch for Kunis as I feel she’s played this type of roles before.

As for Portman, she impressively carries this movie as the tortured soul protagonist. The amount of physical and emotional effort she puts into the role is nothing short of astounding. Her melancholic face suits the role well, as it seems that throughout the film she’s confined into looking either nervous or frightened. But there is one scene during her stage performance where she has this sinister look on her face as she becomes ‘possessed’ by the Black Swan. I’ve never seen that side of Portman before, and that last fifteen minutes of the movie really floored me [as I was already at the edge of my seat the whole time!]

So, did I enjoy the movie? Well, now that is an another question entirely. This is one of those movies I truly appreciate and am glad I’ve seen it because it was really well-crafted. At the same time, because there are lots of scenes that are extremely uncomfortable to watch, I don’t think I want to see this again. I find the world of ballet quite fascinating – I took a couple of lessons as a wee kid [fortunately I never dreamed of becoming a ballerina!] and have enjoyed a few ballet performances in my life. Yet because of the high suspense and state of mind when watching the film, I couldn’t quite enjoy the beauty of those performances… it’s as if Nina’s persistent state of twitchy restlessness rubs off on me as I keep anticipating something bad is about to happen.

Still, I think Black Swan lives up to the hype and for that I’m giving it a high grade. It’s one of those movies that lingers long after the end credits, oh and even the end credits segment itself is beautiful and if I had seen this at the cinema, it would be worth staying around for.

4 out of 5 reels

So what did you see this weekend? I feel like I’m the last person to see this movie, so most likely you’ve seen ‘Black Swan’ already.  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.