Classifying Breaking Dawn
What does the possibility of the fourth Twilight instalment being rated PG-13/12A tell us about contemporary film classification and the levels of ‘explicit’ content viewers today are comfortable allowing children and young adults to watch…
One of the most regularly debated issues when it comes to cinema has always been the way in which films are rated and classified to protect audiences from what is deemed harmful material for certain age groups. The BBFC takes sex, violence, drug use, language and many other factors into account when deciding what certificate to give to a film (with context being of particular importance), with US regulatory boards being just as thorough in their decision making. When it comes to graphically violent slasher films and dark, gritty realist films it is often fairly obvious when a film should be given an 18, or NC-17, certificate. What is more difficult, however, is certifying films for a younger, potentially more vulnerable audience, and this predicament has raised its ugly head with the upcoming November release of the fourth Twilight movie Breaking Dawn: Part 1. With lead actor Robert Pattinson commenting earlier in the year that he fears the film will be given an R rating thanks to its content, exactly how much Vampire romance is too much for the franchise’s younger fans?
The basic Twilight storyline – for anyone who has somehow managed to avoid it – is basically girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a hundred year old vampire, girl (Bella Swan) becomes embroiled in awkward love triangle with aforementioned vampire (Edward Cullen) and her best friend (Jacob Black), who happens to be a werewolf (and sworn enemy of the Cullen Vampire clan) but she is so completely in love with Edward that she abandons all thought of her friends and family and focuses solely on a relationship with him. Now, this series (based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer), in terms of the message it arguably sends out to young girls, is problematic as it is. Essentially, at just eighteen, Bella becomes completely fixated on Edward, to the point that when he temporarily breaks up with her, she does nothing but sit staring into space / screaming into her pillow in her room for three months (yes, months. Not days, months). Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like that particular sequence in the second film (New Moon), it is cleverly filmed and works really well with the music it is set to (‘Possibility’ by Lykke Li). However, cinematically interesting or not, the storyline here really is quite troubling. Bella stops seeing her friends, she lies to her parents and she deliberately puts herself in ridiculously dangerous situations in an attempt to lure Edward back to her. This would all be well and good if the film then progressed to show that this is perhaps not the wisest of ideas, but instead, with each film, the obsessive and all-consuming nature of their relationship intensifies, and it becomes more and more apparent that being (and staying) together is the only thing that matters to Bella and Edward.
Now, until this next film, all of this could just about be excused by way of the genre – fantastical vampire romance drama. All three of the previous films were (in cinemas, if not DVD) rated 12A in the UK, and PG-13 in the US, and the over-the-top obsessive romance could be likened to the ‘darkness’ of the later Harry Potter films – not necessarily what every parent may want their children to watch, but within the context of the genre, it won’t really come as a huge surprise in terms of content. Breaking Dawn, however, is something else altogether. From Bella waking up covered in bruises following her first night of literally bed-breaking passion as a married woman, to Robert Pattinson performing a ‘caesarean section with his teeth’ in a horrific birth scene which almost kills Bella, the film (much like the book) is set to include several scenes of either sexual or violent, almost horror style, material. This then creates an obvious problem – can this film justifiably be given a PG-13/12A certificate? While the franchise has, over the past couple of years, attracted a wide age range of viewers, a lot of these fans are girls in their early teens, and this sort of material is hardly appropriate family viewing. Rating the film 12A will allow pre-teen children to watch the film with parents or older siblings, and if the film is as graphic as the book is, this is not the sort of storyline I would imagine most people would be comfortable letting their ten year old child have access to. The problem is, however, if the rating is raised to a 15 and R, the franchise will certainly lose a large percentage of its audience… what a quandary…
Breaking Dawn: Part 1 will be released on November 18 2011, with Part 2 due to follow in 2012. We can only wait to see what the classification bosses will decide. The most likely scenario? The film will retain the PG-13/12A rating that the previous movies in the series were given. There are enough other films of the same rating which include obvious sex references or scenes of a violent nature to prevent the MPAA or BBFC from singling out this particular film for a higher classification. Regardless of the final decision, however, the subject matter of Breaking Dawn certainly raises some interesting questions about what sort of material contemporary audiences are comfortable with the younger generation being able to watch.
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