Prodigal Dad on informed movie choices

Prodigal Dad on informed movie choices

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Last week my daughter asked me why we don't, as a family, see movies with an "R" rating. She asks me this every six months or so, usually at Christmas time, or during the summer when the blockbusters are released.

She looks forward to Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling, while my wife still looks for Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford. I'm there for greasy popcorn and Diet Coke.

I started to give my daughter the same, tired-old rationale I have been using for years — because an R rating is bad.

"Because it is bad" has been a staple of my dubious parenting. It worked for keeping kids from crossing the busy street or from copying someone else’s homework — because all those things are bad actually.

I figured she might be asking again because "because it is bad" might not be cutting it anymore. Same for "just don't" — slightly more genteel than "because I said so."

R-rated movies have been the line our family has drawn in the entertainment sand. It started off as a guideline from our church but has evolved on its own due to our need as parents.

R-rated movies have been the line our family has drawn in the entertainment sand. It started off as a guideline from our church but has evolved on its own due to our need as parents.

Her question got me thinking, and I am now running over the reasons I myself am picky when seeing an R-rated show, which begs an obvious question.

The first reason was always because my church leaders warned us to use prudence. So I did. And my perfectly frank admission is yes, I see some R-rated shows.

Today the bigger reason is that I am a former worker in the entertainment industry, and I got used to researching films before I ever thought about seeing them. I usually avoid the violent ones for the same reason I gave my daughter — they seem to stay with me far too long.

In the case of a well-crafted piece, like "Saving Private Ryan," that it sticks with me I consider a badge of honor. But other violent films make me queasy, and not in a good way.

My wife stays away from movies with graphic sexual content for the same reason. She is as sensitive to sexual content as I am to violence.

There is one other category that eliminates cinematic offerings for us and may not for many folks: the inane. Brain-numbing, emotionally hollow and increasingly pointless films are quickly becoming by far the largest category and taking over the world like quagga mussels and kudzu.

After eliminating gratuitous sex, bone-crushing violence and, frankly, the stupid, we are not left with much. Good writing is as hard to come by as it ever was, and good movies are sometimes made even better for the effort it takes to find them.

With that in mind, I told my daughter the mental image I use for my own cinematic adventuring — that going to any movie blindly was like eating a banana coconut cream pie with extra fresh whipped cream, toasted almonds and a glass of whole milk to wash it down. Good or bad, it is definitely going to stick to you for a while.

And much of what is in an R-rated film you don’t want sticking to you. You want to shower it off in a hurry.

That seemed to do the trick. At least she walked away with a pensive look, which means that either she was mulling over the sense of the issue or I had whetted her appetite for pie.


As parents, we have had to create our own system of judging the movies because the national rating system has changed so much in the last 30 years. Having gathered a decent rating these days does not indicate the offering is a decent film.

Often, the violence I try to avoid in the theater is on my TV as well and catches me by surprise. There I am, sitting with my children and my wife, enjoying a masterpiece like "Psycho Piranha II" and someone’s head blows up, out and off without a school of fish in sight.

So, passive TV watching is out as well as passive patronization at the local movie house. Fortunately, just a quick click on my computer at home and we are well stocked with mostly reliable information on viewing. For that matter, if I can master the remote, there is a slew of programming information available as well.

Making informed decisions about what my family views and teaching the process to our kids is my goal. With websites aplenty, there is no reason to be left in the dark concerning movies or television and the content of each.

Several sites, including, and, feature a database for films as far back as 1968 — the first year of the ratings system. They also include an explanation of their ratings definitions in detail as well as FAQ’s.

There are helps for parents with information regarding movies, as well as TV shows, music and video games. These sites include pauseparentplay, thetvboss and tvguidelines — great ways to glean information.

Of course for me, nothing beats the old water cooler/over the fence method. I listen to opinions of those I have learned to trust.

I want my kids to see me making informed decisions regarding what I think is suitable entertainment, and I want to empower them to do the same — even if they choose different than I would when they are of age


Everyone's a critic. (Photo: Mystery Science Theater 3000)


About the Author: Davison Cheney --------------------------------

*Davison Cheney writes "The Prodigal Dad" series every week on See his other musings at**

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