filmreelThis past weekend, my family sat down to watch Cloud Atlas, a 2012 movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.  Some reviewers have disliked this film so much they’ve put it on their “Worst Ever Movie” list. Others, like Roger Ebert, loved it:


I think you will want to see this daring and visionary film, directed byLana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski. Anywhere you go where movie people gather, it will be discussed. Deep theories will be proposed. Someone will say, “I don’t know what in the hell I saw.”


Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt afterwards!  I still don’t know what I think about the movie except that I am still thinking about it!  I must say, however, that this is a movie for adults and not for children.  There’s violence and sex and profanity and everything else you would expect in an R-rated movie.  Of course, these days, there is plenty of those things in PG-13 movies as well.  In fact, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania wondered if there was much difference between the two ratings:

We hypothesized that violent characters engage in other risk behaviors equally often in films rated appropriate for children over 12 (PG-13) and Restricted (R)-rated films.


In a study published last week in Pediatrics, the authors found:

With very few exceptions, PG-13 and R-rated movies had the same levels of risk behaviors co-occurring with violent content both throughout films and within segments. On average, violent content accounted for almost 30% of films’ segments. Of the segments with violence, 40% featured violence co-occurring with another risk behavior. The mean number of segments containing violence with tobacco, alcohol, or sex did not vary by movie rating (G and PG, PG-13, or R).


The authors question the validity and reliability of the ratings system:

The similarity in levels of co-occurrence between PG-13 and R-rated movies is troubling, and yet it is consistent with research on the questionable effectiveness of the ratings system as a tool to shield youth from inappropriate content. The reliability and validity of the movie ratings system are problematic, and its usefulness for parents limited. Furthermore, “ratings creep,” the phenomenon of finding more explicit content in movies with lower ratings (ie, PG-13) over time, has been noted for sexual and violent content. Given that an R rating for movies is associated with less revenue and that violent content is related to movie sales, “it is not surprising that today many motion picture companies push the envelope at the PG-13 rating but edit content as needed to avoid the restricted rating.”


Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide which movies (and TV shows, internet sites, and music) are appropriate for their children and teenagers to consume.  The ratings system for movies currently in place is not perfect, but it is a tool that parents should still use to help determine what content will leave a lasting impression — both good and bad — on their children, with violent content potentially having the ugliest impact of all.