The media reviewing division of Catholic News Service aims to provide the public with a spiritual, moral and artistic evaluation of the products of visual mass media -- films, television programs and related media content -- based on the standards of faith and morals preserved and transmitted by the church’s teaching authority. Thus, the most basic principle used to calculate a film’s worth is the extent to which it affirms, challenges or rejects Judeo-Christian values.
CNS reviews and classifications are intended as a guide for parents -- to aid them in choosing what is most appropriate for their children -- and for adult viewers who wish to make informed decisions in accord with Catholic teaching.
NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR VS. LARGER CONTEXT
CNS reviewers endeavor to distinguish between the moral actions of a character or characters in a fictional narrative and the larger context in which these actions are presented by the work’s creators. Thus, Francis Ford Coppola did not, we can reasonably presume, set out to glorify crime in “The Godfather,” but instead to chronicle the sorry consequences of evil. Similarly, a documentary on abortion might be a patently unacceptable celebration of so-called “freedom of choice” or an accurate examination of the tragic effects of what is always an objectively grave sin and an all-too-widespread social corrosive. Precisely for this reason, the ultimately positive presentation of a fictional instance of euthanasia in 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” – a film whose strictly artistic merits earned it that year’s Academy Award for Best Picture -- resulted in a classification of “O – morally offensive.”
Like abortion and euthanasia, premarital sexual encounters, nonmarital cohabitation, adulterous relationships, homosexual activity, artificial birth control and masturbation have long since ceased to be taboo subjects in the mass media. Instead such practices are often presented sympathetically, or even taken for granted as something “everyone does.” CNS reviewers always flag such content and, to the extent that any film or program positively endorses such behavior as either normative or acceptable, to that degree will the review and classification reflect the work’s divergence from Catholic teaching.
DEPICTIONS OF THE CHURCH AND ITS CLERGY AND RELIGIOUS
While CNS reviewers are vigilant in detecting instances of blatant anti-Catholicism, it would be unrealistic to pretend that every incident or individual in the long history of the church has provided an edifying example. Thus, quality films that fairly portray the flaws inherent in the human aspects of the church receive judicious evaluation from CNS critics.
DEFINING OUR CLASSIFICATIONS
- A-I – General Patronage
Strictly speaking, this does not simply connote films that are “for” children, or films in which they would necessarily be interested. Rather, any film free from significant objectionable content might receive this classification. In the days of the Hollywood Production Code, when it was assumed that almost all mainstream films were acceptable for all audiences, many films with “adult” subject matter -- like 1956’s “Giant” -- received this classification. Nowadays, with even the cleanest adult films usually containing at least instance of foul language, such examples are rare.
- A-II – Adults and Adolescents
The original intent of this classification was an endorsement for older teens. However, some ambiguity remains in this category, and CNS critics generally indicate whether the film is most appropriate for “older teens” or anyone over the age of 13. Films with nudity, overt sexual activity, bloody violence, or the use of foul language are almost never allowed in the A-I or A-II categories.
- A-III – Adults
Adult sensibilities can, of course, run the gamut from a viewer with a wide tolerance for edgy subject matter to more sensitive moviegoers who find certain elements less palatable. CNS reviewers try to strike a balance between the two. Occasionally, a worthy film is clearly “adult” in subject matter, yet older teens might derive benefit from it, so a sentence may be added about the movie being “acceptable” or “possibly acceptable” for “older teens.”
- L – Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling
This highly restrictive classification explicitly indicates that the film will probably be unacceptable to the casual adult moviegoer. It is generally used for those quality films that have more challenging material than an A-III in terms of nudity, sex, violence, language or moral dilemmas, but are still worthy of consideration by mature viewers well-grounded in their faith and open to the portrayal of gritty subject matter. Less often, this classification is applied to films that -- whatever their aesthetic merit or lack thereof -- are too strong for an A-III but not sufficiently wayward to receive an “O.”
- O – Morally offensive
This classification is for films that feature excessive violence, gratuitous or exploitative sexuality or are laden, for no artistically valid reason, with non-stop vulgarity. Additionally, films that directly contradict church teaching on matters such as euthanasia (“The Sea Inside”), abortion (“The Cider House Rules”), suicide (“Thelma & Louise”), adultery (“Extract”), homosexual activity (“Taking Woodstock”) or vigilante killing and revenge (“The Brave One”) also get O’s, no matter how lauded some of them may be by the secular press.
(Revised August 2010.)