Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #12

Re: Decent Films

The Pope’s address which spoke of violence in movies — does this mean we are not now permitted to watch certain movies that have a certain kind of violence?

I’m not sure whether this is the address you mean, but in his 2007 message for World Communications Day Benedict XVI decried “programmes and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programmes are directed at children and adolescents.” The pope went on to say, “I appeal to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family.”

The Holy Father does not criticize all media presentations that include violence — or sexuality — but those that exalt violence or trivialize human sexuality, especially when they are targeted at youth.

He also qualifies his comments with the important phrase “in the name of entertainment.” Where violence or sexuality is served up as entertainment, human dignity is demeaned. But entertainment is not the sole function of film. For example, films can also challenge, inspire and educate.

Appropriate depictions of violence which put it in its true moral light — which either highlight the evil of wrongful violence, or depict morally legitimate violence employed to resist evil — do not exalt violence in the way that the Holy Father has in mind, and may aim to do more than just entertain. (This is not to demean entertainment in itself.) Within moral limits, depictions of sexuality may also serve legitimate artistic purposes, though here as with violence restraint is needed to avoid appealing to base desires and offering occasions of sin, as per Inter Mirifica 7.

Pope Benedict’s mention of “animated films” might be confusing to some Americans because Hollywood doesn’t produce the kind of animated films the pope has in mind. However, the Holy Father is likely aware of the ultraviolent and sexual content not uncommon in Japanese anime. Unfortunately, Americans do have more familiarity with the sort of video games to which the Holy Father refers, e.g., in the Grand Theft Auto series.

Not all movies with violent or sexual content exalt or trivialize acts demeaning to human dignity. For example, the 1995 Vatican film list honors a number of films that include violent and/or sexual content, but do so in a way that does not exalt violence or trivialize sexuality. Schindler’s List is a well-known example; other relevant examples include Andrei Rublev, The Mission and The Decalogue.

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