We live in an age that is the oddest combination: we allow everything and anything to be said or done in public while we feign a kind of Elizabethan prudishness about it all. No swearing on TV, we’re American! Isn’t that Charlie Sheen a mess? But what’s he saying now, I wonder?
At a time when mainstream movies are inching toward more and more explicit sex -- not sexiness, mind you, but sex -- Melissa Leo can’t say “fuck” on the Oscars.
This was brought home to me the other day when I picked up a DVD of the 1969 John Wayne version of “True Grit.” To my surprise, that movie is rated “G” -- that is, for general audiences, just like the kind of movie Disney used to make.
Given that the Coen brothers new version is not so much a reimagining of the Charles Portis novel as it is a simple remake of the Henry Hathaway movie, I wondered what it was rated. The answer: PG-13.
Both movies are virtually the same. I can remember one outright cuss, the ever acceptable “son of a bitch”, which is uttered in both versions. There’s no sex in either movie. I would venture to say that, aside from one shot of Moon’s fingers getting cut off in the Coen version there is exactly the same amount of violence, and about the same amount of blood. The Coens ratcheted way down their penchant for grisliness. I will say that old Rooster Cogburn’s drinking is overplayed in the Wayne version.
To my eyes, the Coen brothers version is actually tamer. Think of this: The hanging scene in the 1969 version takes place in a town square, not in the barren, dusty landscape in the Coen version. In Hathaway’s movie, people are singing hymns as the men get lined up for the noose. There are kids on swings. There are families parked in their buggies to watch the afternoon entertainment. There’s a boy selling peanuts. This version is much more disturbing than what the Coen brothers did with it, and yet this version is okay for kids, apparently.
So why does this version, in what we would often think of as a much less permissive time, receive a G rating and the new one, released in the freewheeling world of Internet porn and R-rated TV, get a PG-13?
I don’t think it’s marketing, because people don't any attention whatsoever to ratings any more. We just live in a time when we no longer know what is acceptable, and what is not.