MPAA Rating for Seniors?

Michael Caine’s new movie, “Harry Brown,’’ might take some fans of the British actor by surprise due to its extreme violence.
by Glenn Lovell
Boston Globe Correspondent

The shell-shocked, what-did-we-just-endure expressions of filmgoers at a couple of northern California theaters said it all.

The Early Bird Matinee regulars were drawn to “Harry Brown,’’ the new Michael Caine vehicle, out of nostalgia. They took their seats armed with fond memories of Caine in his Oscar-winning roles: the fickle husband in “Hannah and Her Sisters,’’ the orphanage director in “The Cider House Rules.’’

“My wife Susan is the Michael Caine fan,’’ said Robert Taylor, 69, a retired San Jose machinist. “We were just talking about how much we loved him in ‘Cider House’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ He’s someone you can always rely on.’’

So the Taylors marked their calendar for the British import, which opens here Friday.

What they got was a crime thriller filled with knifings, bludgeonings, blood-spraying headshots. It made “Gran Torino’’ look like a high-school civics lesson.

The 77-year-old Caine plays a “vigilante pensioner’’ who shuffles into action when his best mate is done in by some scurvy drug dealers. Like Charles Bronson in the “Death Wish’’ movies, Caine dons a black pea coat and goes looking for trouble on the wrong side of town.

“Harry Brown’’ is rated R for drug use, sexual content, and strong violence. Still, some in the audience weren’t prepared for the escalating horror. “The pot farm scene, the gushing blood at the end — ugh, gruesome,’’ winced Taylor, who appeared pale even after the house lights came on. “I was expecting some violence, but not to that level.’’

All of which got me thinking: The MPAA ratings folks go out of their way to protect kids from PG-13 and R-rated assaults like “Taken’’ and “The Last House on the Left.’’ Why not a new rating for seniors? It’s been a few years since the late Jack Valenti added the NC-17 rating to protect us from an onslaught of triple-X art films that never materialized. How about an SC-65? Seniors Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May be Inappropriate for Those 65 and Over.

“I love the idea,’’ said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office guru for Hollywood.com. “The rating system is aimed at protecting children. But who’s looking out for the older audiences? I think they wouldn’t mind a bit of warning about a movie, especially in terms of violence and sex.’’

Meredy Amyx of San Jose finds a senior rating more distasteful than the Caine character’s rampage. In her eyes, it’s as ageist as it is patronizing. Who says slasher movies and “MacGruber’’-rude comedies are the exclusive purview of teenagers?

“The very idea that your experience level diminishes with age is startling,’’ said the 62-year-old freelance editor. “I would find it insulting if I saw a rating that said, ‘You’re probably too old for this movie.’ ’’

Countered Dergarabedian, “We’ve got to protect our older viewers, man. They could be psychologically damaged by something like ‘Edge of Darkness’ or ‘Harry Brown.’ ’’

There’s certainly a large contingent to protect. Indeed, boomers-turned-card-carrying AARP’ers represent the fastest-growing movie demographic. But in Hollywood’s eyes, this group is less “target audience’’ than targeted, period.

The irony is these are some of the same filmgoers who embraced “Bonnie and Clyde,’’ “The French Connection,’’ “Straw Dogs,’’ “A Clockwork Orange’’ and, yes, Caine’s bloody 1971 revenge thriller, “Get Carter.’’ These films weren’t exactly what you’d call polite. In fact, they were condemned in some quarters as obscenely violent.

“It may have been a staple of their cinematic diet growing up,’’ allowed Dergarabedian, “but that doesn’t mean seniors can now handle the more graphic Tarantino-style violence. I don’t want to stereotype, but people’s tastes change as they get older.’’

The Taylors aren’t opposed to a little extra guidance for their elders. “I look at these little old ladies who are into romantic comedies,’’ said Robert. “I think a warning would be a good idea for them. I wouldn’t take offense at something like that.’’

It’s doubtful, however, that the MPAA will take us up on a retiree rating. In the 42 years since the introduction of the G-PG-R-X system, the association has amended its ratings twice — in 1984, with PG-13, and in 1990, with NC-17, that X substitute. For now, wary seniors, like Harry Brown, will have to patrol the means streets of moviedom on their own.

June 6, 2010

Glenn Lovell is a northern California entertainment reporter and the author of “Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges.’’ He can be reached at glovell@aol.com.

One Response to “MPAA Rating for Seniors?”

  1. John E. Says:

    I like the idea! And if it doesn’t go through, thankfully we have critics to give a head’s up.

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