"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

Updated 2 years ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

Never say never, but I'm about to zealously defend a partially made in McDowell  County, WV motion picture that has generally favorable reviews but has been criticized on social media for poor West Virginia characters and a pool sharking scene in which a teenage Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) follows her alcoholic  dad's  (Woody Harrelson) ruse  that she will provide sexual favors to the opponent.

"The Glass Castle," which spent 261 weeks on the NY Times best seller list , tells a memoir of a nomadic family lead by Rex and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) Walls.  Rex's alcoholism which originated from the death of his second child while serving in the Air Force. Rose Mary, a gifted artist, struggles to keep the family with four siblings together sometimes resentfully relying on her teaching certificate.

After their debts mounted in the West, the settle for an unconventional, poverty stricken existence in Welch, WV.

Accompanied by strong acting, these sentences from a review of the book grasp the film's essence without mentioning the controversy:

"What's best is the deceptive ease with which (author Jeanette) Walls makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure. In one especially lovely scene, Rex takes his daughter to look at the starry desert sky and persuades her that the bright planet Venus is his Christmas gift to her. Even as she describes how their circumstances degenerated, how her mother sank into depression and how hunger and cold — and Rex's increasing irresponsibility, dishonesty and abusiveness — made it harder to pretend, Walls is notably evenhanded and unjudging... mentioning that her favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships."

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

Thumbs up aside, a social media debate erupted concerning the film's PG-13 rating which translates:

"Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers."

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) introduced the ratings system as a self policing method to avoid governmental censorship. Although the alphabetical lettering has altered since its introduction in 1968, the adjustments have been tweaks to refine a system intended to clarify a movie's suitability for viewing by children and teens.  Ratings are assigned by  a board with parenting experience who  consider factors such as violence, sex, language and drug use and then assign a rating they believe the majority of American parents would give a movie. The group discusses the film and votes on the rating.

Beyond the "letters" are these explanations:

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

G-  Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children

PG- May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.

PG13- Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.

R- Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them

NC17- No One 17 and Under Admitted. Clearly adult. Children are not admitted.

Just as diversity instills throughout our country, the 'unknown' panel voting on ratings likely represent  conservative to liberal ranges. But, the general guidelines for specific ratings have intentional vagueness, intended to induce creativity.

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

Historically, rating components include:

*Violence ( generally PG and above ; the more intense,  persistent and extreme require harsher ratings)

*Language (profanity in PG but not "sexually derived words," which have exceptions ranging from "All the President's Men" to "Bully," "The Martian" and "Adventures in Babysitting")

*Substance Abuse (cigarette smoking triggered disputes iver the animated  "Rango" made by Nickelodeon; a brief glimpse of drug paraphernalia "Whale Rider" too.)

*Nudity (requires PG and above and brief nudity constitutes PG-13; in sexual context mandates R)

*Sexual Content (no sex scenes in G-rated films; no further guidance listed)

Film critic Roger Ebert long argued that the system places too much emphasis on sex while allowing massive amounts of gruesome violence. Ebert argued that the guidelines rely on trivial aspects (such as counting the number of times a words is used) rather than the overall theme , realism and consequences of the story.

Sampling the content of some European films illustrates the difference, too.  The so-called emergence of splatter/torture cinema raised eyebrows 'over there,' just as European films avoiding violence developed intimate relationships which were dubbed 'art' films in the USA.

Norms of a decade influence the system.

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

When the system began in 1968, the Vietnam war and the increasing radicals spawned from the 'hippie's" (make peace not war) movement were relevant.  Perhaps, reflecting a liberal turn toward 'free sex', PG (or GP) films did contain an occasional nude scene. Not a glimpse, either. "Vanishing Point" (1971) features Barry Newman as Kowalski , a Vietnam vet and former race car driver delivering a white Dodge Challenger against impossible odds. Along his odyssey to oblivion he strays upon a girl with long blonde hair on a secluded farm (Gilda Texter) riding nude on a motorcycle. In 1998, the film was re-rated as an R, likely for a DVD release.

After increasing terrorism (9/11)  and violent incidents in the United States, so-called torture cinema a.k.a. torture porn (perhaps, "Hostel," "Saw," "Captivity")  the pendulum by 2007 had turned due to overkill. The swing headed to Judd Apatow who had been debuting "The 40 year old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and "Superbad," which glorified sex but put the "F word" in double digits.

Nudity made more than an exploitative scene or two comes back with "Wolf of Wall Street" (2013) and the mainstream taboo smashing, "Fifty Shades of Grey."

During the dawning of the ratings age, so-called exploitation flicks ( violence, sex, bikers, horror) churned out double bills for drive in theaters and off the beaten path (42nd Street styled) cinema and in some cities "porn"  only venues. The privacy of home video and/or cable dented both audiences. The outdoor cinemas fell to expanding suburban business and the X-rated (sometimes still called burlesque) succumbed too courtesy of Blockbuster and adult product store rentals.


"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

That lengthy diversion was necessary to swing back to "Glass Crystal." The words of critic Ebert sum up the argument --- what's the theme?

Yes, a parental decision does occur with "Glass Crystal," but the decision should not be to assign the 'R' tag to a film that breaches the pool shark  hinted but interrupted sexual assault which bares no skin.

It's theme extends beyond the pool shark sexual diversion --- violence abounds including child abuse both physical,  emotional , and implied sexual molestation.  Angry and drunk characters kick and beat, bite and choke, along with moonshine drinking , cussing, and living together (per parent previews).

The review noted that this is a film that defines the need for parental guidance:  " Scenes of neglect, verbal and physical domestic abuse, a lack of providing protection or the necessities of life, and a moment of sexual abuse punctuate the memories depicted in this story of the Walls family."

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

But, the topic's framing prevails: Since it's a memoir, Jeanette's able to demonstrate how she overcame the pits of hellish challenges and held on to the meaning of family. Contemplate the draconian prisons of Charles Dickens  David Copperfield and  Oliver Twist as a substitute for the wretched living conditions and environmental endurance of the  family.

Like reviews, parental (and personal) perspectives vary. With the choice of "guidance" flows a consequence of responsibility to answer the child's questions about the material. You might be confronted with exposing life beyond Mary Poppins and Santa Claus by having to get specific and uncomfortable  explaining addiction, homelessness, sexual perversions, mental disturbances, and other conduct in this imperfect world (like drivers in trucks running down people) for which explanations are not easy.

"Glass Castle" Spawns Rating Issue by a few Moviegoers

FINALLY, as for that  $$$ raising  pool shark scene... I know someone who does not live now in WV who participated in a variation of the scene. I didn't see any of the teaching from her father nor observe a real deal 'rack 'em up.  But, in her case, the tables were turned --- she set up the 'let's try one for fun' , generally wearing a dress and high heels.  An overly confident dude saw this as an easy buck. She kept doubling the odds while putting them in the side pocket. She ran well too... likely more than one dude wasn't too happy when turning over all the green in his wallet to her.


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