If the movie offend thee

You all surprise me.  You really do.  As I write, there are seven comments on The Jerk’s first movie review, and not a single one expressing moderate to quivering righteous indignation at the implicit endorsement of a trashy piece of work like Roadhouse.   I was expecting a nice loud chorus of, “AND YOU CALL THIS A CATHOLIC BLOG?”   Boy, if this were Inside Catholic, I’d have been excommunicated at least twice by now (although the second time wouldn’t count, because Pope Michael of Kansas has had his excommunication privileges temporarily taken away by his parents, who do, after all, own the garage apartment he lives in).

My flexible friend.

I guess I’ll just chalk your laxity up to the heat, and go ahead and write what I was planning to write anyway, because I think it’s an interesting topic.

I mean, we have to have some standards, yes?  You really can’t call yourself a good Catholic and then just go ahead and do whatever you want.   Seriously, no matter how many college courses we took, there must be some movies that Catholics shouldn’t watch, some music we shouldn’t listen to, some clothes we shouldn’t wear, words we shouldn’t use, quantities we shouldn’t drink, and so on.  That’s the whole catch in that “Love God, and do what you will” thing:  if you actually do love God, then you’re not going to want to move away from Him; and certain activities certainly do make that gap wider.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am fairly susceptible to the “It’s okay because I’m edgy” trap.  It’s not conscious, but I tend to feel that I’m sooo smart and ironic and a anyway a good mother and all, so it’s probably really okay for me to do . . . well, just about anything, as long as I have lots of babies and pray most days.

In fact, it’s more than okay:  why, I’m rendering a valuable service to the reputation of the modern Church. By indulging in various seemingly unholy activities (and I’m talking about medium-bad stuff like drinking too much, showing a little too much skin, swearing, speeding, telling dirty jokes, etc.), I’m  not only not a bad Catholic, but it makes me an extra-good Catholic, because I’m not one of those fearful, novena-haunted zealots who can’t see past their own mantillas to the rich and burgeoning sensual world of culture and art.  No water in the wine!  We’re Catholics, not Puritans — we can handle it!  After all, how are we going to share the Good News if we’re too timid to step out of our crisis bunkers?  How will secular folks take us seriously if we look like weirdos?

Tell me they don’t look like weirdos.

Actually, despite the above picture which I couldn’t resist posting, the matter of how we dress is a whole other kettle of fish, which I definitely want to talk about later.  But for right now, in light of yesterday’s post, let’s just consider the movies we watch. We watch a lot of movies at our house.   Fairly often, my husband and I discuss whether or not it would be a good idea for us (just us, not the kids) to watch something–usually because it has too much graphic sexual stuff in it, but sometimes because it just has too much of a nasty feel.  We talk it over, based on what we know of the reputation of the director, the trailers we’ve seen, etc., and then decide together whether or not to see it (and if only one of us says, “Let’s not,” then we both don’t).

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a movie is not for us (or for anyone).  We discussed  Sin City (this link is to the parents’ guide, which, in describing why the movie is inappropriate, is itself fairly inappropriate!) for about two seconds before we nixed it.   It looked like it might have some artistic merit, and yet it didn’t seem worth going to Hell for.  On the other hand, we did watch Eastern Promises, which was sexually explicit and violent and grim as all get out.  But it was a good movie, maybe great.  I cautiously recommend it.

We don’t want to miss out on good movies.  But I guess the best possible thing to do would be to err on the side of caution, and always always skip movies that we’re afraid might have a bad influence on us.

Or is that the best possible thing?  We love movies so much, and have such good conversations about them, that I have a very hard time believing that Catholics should confine themselves to G movies (do they even make those anymore?), although I do have some respect for people who have that much will power.  After all, approximately 94%* of western culture was made possible by the Church in one way or another, and not all of it is paintings of fat cherubim.

Here is what we have figured out:  it’s kind of like chastity**.  Say you’re abstaining.  So you’re not going to have sex today.  But, dammit, you are a married couple, and the chaste behavior of a married couple is different from the chaste behavior of a pair of dating teens.  So, yes, you’re allowed to do more, without doing everything.  But you have to be smart about it.  And you have to understand that your standards and limitations might change from month to month, or even day to day, depending on your mood, your attitude, your spiritual state, your current relationship with your spouse, what you did yesterday and the day before, etc.  What could be some good clean married fun one day can be a disaster the next, even if it’s objectively the exact same behavior — it all depends on the context, your motivations, and on what you know will happen to you if you do it, if you can be honest with yourself about your own weaknesses.  (And of course, there are some things which are always off-limits, no matter who you are or how you feel today.)

So, in the same way, a movie that is fine to watch one evening, and gives us food for thought, and provokes rich, marriage-building conversation and camaraderie–this same movie might be an occasion of sin, or even a sin, the next week.  It all depends.

So, what’s a movie viewer to do?  I think this is the point at which many good Catholics throw up their hands and decide to play it safe, and just stick with super-safe fare.  Which means you are going to end up seeing a lot of Doris Day

and then you will have to claw your own eyeballs out, which would be a shame.  There are other approaches, however.  Here is what we do:

  • As I mentioned, we discuss movies ahead of time, and we try and be honest about our mental, spiritual, emotional, and, ahem, physical state.
  • Then we watch the movie.  If someone starts, say, taking their clothes off, we cover our eyes.  To cut the tension, we make spitting noises at each other, or occasionally punch each other.
  • If it gets too bad, we turn it off.

Well, that’s it.  There’s my brilliant three-point strategy for avoiding hellfire without having to watch Calamity Jane.

I once posted a silly review of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (in which I compared it to the Odyssey; yes, I did), and warned the readers that the movie contained “some tough scenes, including partial nudity and various creepy and depressing conversations.”  Well, someone who signed himself “Scandalized” responded:

I watched this movie based on the author’s recommendation. I’m sorry I did as I believe it’s offensive to God to sit through a movie like this. The nudity, the gay kissing scene, the trashy dressed room mate? What the author describes as ‘tough’ scenes to watch would be more accurately defined as occasions of sin.


There was a time when this kind of entertainment would have been blacklisted by the Catholic Church (under pain of mortal sin we would have watched it)….but now (for the mature viewer, anyway) it’s become entertainment good enough to be praised on a Catholic blog.

So I says to him:

I’m truly sorry you were disappointed. If you never watch movies that have nudity or immorality in them, however, I’m not sure why you decided to watch this one, when I warned you that those scenes were in it! I thought the photo of the shark graffiti would serve as warning, also.

Maybe it will make you feel better if you know that my husband and I cover our eyes and make stupid noises during certain types of scenes in movies. Then we quickly peek at the screen – uh oh, they’re still naked – look away again, bah bah bah bah – and then look again to see if it’s safe yet.

You see, I agree with you that movies can be an occasion of sin. We make an effort not to watch those scenes which are bad for our souls, and we do make the decision to skip certain movies altogether, even if they seem like they would be entertaining.

The Church no longer lists forbidden movies, but she still holds us to the same standards — it’s just that we’re supposed to impose those standards on ourselves.

So, one question: did you watch the whole movie, or did you turn it off when it started offending you?

Durned if he never got back to me on that last question.  But that’s what it boils down to, it seems to me.  If the movie offend thee, then turn it off.


*Shut up, I said “approximately”

**By this hugely misunderstood word, I do not mean “celibacy.”  I mean living in such a way that your sexual behavior is appropriate to your station in life.

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