Sunday, April 20, 2008

There Will Be R

Okay. So maybe I'm not finished with There Will Be Blood.

Just one more thing, as Columbo used to promise.

Why is There Will Be Blood rated "R?"

The MPAA rating card at the beginning of the movie says it's rated R for "some violence." I can't argue that. There is definitely some violence in it. There are two murders and a few beatings. Each one violent, to be sure, but not horrific in terms of onscreen gore.

There are two other deaths in the film, both oil-drilling accidents. In each case, the men are so soaked with oil that it's impossible to spot any blood on them.

There's nothing graphic in the film. One murder is a perfunctory shooting; the other takes place off-screen. Despite the title, there ain't much blood.

So why the R? Why restrict a movie that has less murder in it than the occasional "Matlock?"

A more conspiratorial minded fellow than myself might be tempted to chalk it up to the MPAA's prejudice against movies for grown-ups, even ones that don't include the traditional blue-nose bait (sex, nudity, the f-word, and so on).

But instead, I'm going to attribute this overuse of the R rating to the fact that There Will Be Blood is an intense moviegoing experience and when someone gets killed in this film, you feel it in a way that you don't when Jason Bourne offs this or that enemy agent in his PG-13 movies. A murder in There Will Be Blood means something and it can't easily be laughed off as fluff.

Ironically then, if I'm right, Paul Thomas Anderson and his movie are being punished (or "more restricted," if you prefer) for doing their job too well. It's a director's goal to have an emotional impact on an audience, but that very impact, when it's achieved, makes violence seem a lot more disturbing than the actual screen images might suggest on their own.

Let's face it: Two murders is a slow week on any given "CSI" show. But two murders is enough to get Daniel Plainview restricted. He should have committed them more casually. Then unaccompanied 16-year-olds could enjoy that whole milkshake business, too.

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