National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Multiplex Mayhem

BY Tom and Caroline McDonald

July 6-12, 2008 Issue | Posted 7/1/08 at 11:34 AM


The big summer movie season is here and, thanks to the barrage of ads everywhere you turn, my children are pleading to see a lot of questionable entertainment. How can I be sure a movie is appropriate? My kids are of varying ages, so this is an especially difficult judgment call.

First and foremost, of course, consult the wise and well-crafted reviews of Steven D. Greydanus in the Register and at his website, We consult him, as well as for detailed content information.

If there is still any doubt, we will see the movies ourselves before sending the kids. In addition, here are four questions to ask of each movie:

Does the movie glamorize realistic violence or other wrongdoing? We say “realistic” to draw a distinction between, for example, the gross-out gore in slasher films and the zany bopping in many cartoons. Note that this guideline does not say, “Does the movie contain graphic violence?” It is more crucial how that depiction of violence is used. Obviously, younger children can be seriously scarred or influenced by any onscreen violence, but violence can be used in an appropriate way for more mature audiences.

Films like the Saw series portray graphic violence in an appealing or “cool” light, which is morally unjustifiable. In contrast, a film like Saving Private Ryan, whose violence is also very graphic, renders a portrayal of the horror of war that can educate this generation about what a debt of gratitude it owes to those who fought for our freedom during World War II.

Does the movie mock or belittle sacred institutions, beliefs or other noble things? To cite just one example, most sitcoms today treat fathers as the national symbol of buffoonery. Families are in crisis enough without that negative image being reinforced. And the Catholic faith is usually misrepresented at best and mocked at worst.

Does it show, like St. Paul says, that the wages of sin are death? In other words, does the film show the real, true-to-life consequences of sinful actions? It is important to note here that a movie’s moral acceptability has little to do with whether it has a happy ending. Whether it ends happily or grimly, what matters is why. For example, The Sixth Sense is a scary, grim movie that we would recommend as morally on-target. Contrast this with Pleasantville, a “happy” movie that is completely objectionable in terms of its message.

Does it include arousing sexual scenes? We want to be very clear to distinguish the portrayal of sex from the portrayal of violence — the two cannot be compared. Sexual intercourse is a gift from God for married couples who have pledged themselves completely to one another and no one else. It is a sacred, private act for them alone.

Therefore, the only way to portray sex onscreen in a way that respects God’s plan for it is not to portray it at all.

Certainly, sexual relationships have played crucial roles in plots going back to Shakespeare and earlier, so it can be a legitimate, even necessary plot point. But remember that sexual relations in Shakespeare never took place onstage. If that aspect is crucial to the plot, it ought to be implied — never shown.

Pray for wisdom and stick to your guns!

Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life coordinators

for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.