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In Defense of Sex and Violence in Movies

I saw Les Miserable. I absolutely loved it. For me, it was nothing short of brilliant.

I did read one blog post by a Catholic Wife who was concerned about Fontaine's descent into prostitution and how it was somewhat vividly portrayed. Most times I'd agree with what Catholic Wife said but not in this instance.

Here's a snippet:

Les Mis, as a movie, was poisoned by both significant and subtle exploitation of sexuality and the human body; and what could have been a beautiful story purely portrayed left a bad taste of “it was ok, but…” It’s a genuine tragedy since so many Catholic themes are presented throughout the rest of the film, including God’s saving grace, the welcoming charity among religious communities, the difference between allowing your heart to be softened by faith versus hardened within it (Valjean vs. Javert), and a monsignor who shows remarkable compassion and mercy. Thank God I can find this actualized elsewhere.

So what, you’re going to write off the whole movie based on 2 brief scenes and some low-cut dresses? Yes, I am. We live in a time when too often people do the opposite by writing off sexuality in media for the sake of a good story, a funny sitcom, or a drama that gets you hooked. But at what cost am I willing to be entertained? Is it worth letting my soul’s guard down to see “A Heart Full of Love” so sweetly performed? No. Please note that I’m well aware that this film could and will draw others to God, to Christ, to the Church, but my suggestion is that, for those of us who already hold dear the aforementioned Catholic themes, seeing the movie in-theater is inadvisable because the sexuality is unavoidable.
What she says seems perfectly legitimate. But I disagree to a point.

To me, there's a different between sex and violence in movies and glorified sex and violence in movies. There's no way anyone could watch Fontaine's descent into prostitution and feel that there's anything attractive about it. It's horrifying. And it's supposed to horrify you. For me, I think one should harbor a healthy horror at prostitution.

I'd think the movie Pretty Woman is much more dangerous than seeing Les Mis. The movie "Pretty Woman" glorifies prostitution and that's terrible. But Les Mis, I believe, shows it as awful, cruel, and soulless.

I think the same thing about Django Unchained. That's violence for violence sake. It's a cinematic search for the coolest kill shot.

But let's recall that The Passion of the Christ is one of the most violent movies I've ever seen. I mean, it's hard to watch.

I think what we have to watch out for is the glorification of sex and violence. I think in order to see the glory of self sacrifice and love we must also see the damage of a life without love can do.

I took my thirteen year old to see it and I made her close her eyes during that thirty seconds where Fontaine prostitutes herself. So I agree with Catholic Wife that it wasn't necessary because my daughter was still hit with the great message of the film which is all about grace and self sacrifice and love. But I don't see that scene as titillation either. It is an ugly side of life that I chose not to expose my daughter to. But the message is absolutely beautiful and probably the most pro-Catholic movie I've seen in years.

*subhead*Les Mis.*subhead*

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johnny b said...

I thought the movie was exceptional except for the scene mentioned above and the Santa snippet. NOT necessary and left my wife and I saying Why was that even in in there?

Dymphna said...


bill bannon said...

Didn't see the movie but "Will and Grace" without ever showing sexual contact on TV did more to undermine God's law on gay acts for secular mankind than anything I can think off. "Two and a Half Men" shows very little sexual contact but again is destructive of God's way through humor not through explicitation of the body. The Song of Songs in Scripture is more explicit in a sense than both those TV shows and Jewish men had to be above 30 years of age in some periods just to read it, but it is inspired by God and does not further a sinful orientation. Matthew's basic point is correct....it's not always simply whether
there is physical exposure.

Gabby said...

I didn't think the scene was exploitative in any way. It didn't make it look like fun, it didn't make it romantic or pretty. It portrayed her despair, her revulsion and pain and, ultimately, her love for Cosette, since Fantine believed this was her last resort to provide life-saving medical services.

Dymphna said...

I read Catholic Wife's commentary and I'm somewhat mystified. Did anyone actually read Les Miz is high school? Fantine was prostitute and a fornicator before that. Her part of the story wasn't pretty. As for the Master of the House scene, the Thenadier's were murderers, child abusers and robbers. Was anybody expecting a Disney film just because it's a musical?

Father Christensen said...

I too read Catholic Housewives review and thought it went too far. I'm disappointed that she closed the comments on the post - I would have loved to see this conversation happen there. I agree that the Santa scene was inappropriate and unnecessary; other than that, I think the film was wonderful. It portrayed prostitution as the horror that it is, as well as the sin of pride, greed, and violence. It glorified all the right things: love of God, self-sacrifice, love for the poor, purity, love for true freedom from oppressive governments, etc. I think as a whole, it is a great film. I am telling friends, family, and even parishioners to go. It will move them to greater holiness, even if there is one unnecessary and inappropriate scene.

Gabby said...

I've wracked my brain but can't remember noticing a Santa scene during Master of the House. It obviously didn't register.

Fr. Larry said...

I have to agree with Catholic Wife and johnny b. I had to close my eyes during those two scenes. I do not need to see sin in order to know how to avoid it. I liked the fact that I could actually understand most of the the lyrics, but left the movie ambivalent about its value. How much rat poison will you accept in your cookies before you won't eat them?

aquinasadmirer said...

A wise priest said this in a homily I heard:

Did anyone have to commit a mortal sin to make the movie?

If yes, then you shouldn't be rewarding it with your money.

I haven't seen Les Miz. I'm curious how it would hold up to father's test.

Peter and Nancy said...

Thanks for your comments here. I agree that Les Mis may be inappropriate for younger teens because of the scenes mentioned here -- but the themes of redemption are so powerful. There is simply no comparision with movies such as Pretty Woman, which presents a deceptive, cleaned up, glamorous picture of prostitution. (An antidote to that movie is seeing some actual mug shots of women ensnared in prostitution -- along with the fact that the *average* age when a girl in the USA enters prostitution is 13 . . . God help us.) Les Mis is worth seeing and reading precisely because it deals with very real evil, and with God's overcoming love, compassion, and redemption. I also couldn't help thinking of the porn industry, and the actors and customers ensnared in that form of sexual sin.

Xopher said...

I thought it was notable that when the prostitution scene happens, Fantine is lying inside something that looks like a coffin - a fitting metaphor for the spiritual and psychological death that prostitution causes. The image communicates this death visually in a way that a thousand words could not.

RosaMystica said...

What about the mixture of religious and political themes? Was no one else confused/alarmed by the vision of heaven as revolution at the end? I didn't have a problem with the prostitution scene - it was portrayed as it is, ugly and evil. But the view of revolution as the path to heaven? I came home and looked up Hugo to see if this was an accurate portrayal of his views, and apparently it is. I loved the movie, but felt that this confusion of ideals was problematic.

Brandon Jaloway said...

This is very interesting. I just listened to the entire unabridged audiobook. The book barely (to my mind) even mentions that she became a prostitute. It definitely does not invite anyone to think about her as a prostitute, much less DESCRIBE any of the parts of her life as a prostitute.

Brandon Jaloway said...

"...we must also see the damage of a life without love can do. [sic]" But must we SEE the sins being committed? Victor Hugo didn't seem to think so. And there were parts of the book that were very unpleasant and disturbing but he never SHOWED the sins being committed.

Dirtdartwife said...

RosaMystica, I wasn't alarmed by the religious and political themes throughout the movie. The religious themes were awesome because it spoke the truth about God's grace, mercy, and love for all sinners. The political theme, I felt, was that people need to rise up against a tyrannical government that has obviously shown no mercy, no love and has caused people to become very destitute. People need to have courage, faith and convictions to be able to overthrow such a government and considering out political plight in this country today, I found it to be inspiring. Then seeing the people at the end, standing on their barricade, ready to fight, showed me the Communion of Saints. We're all in this together when we stand on Truth.

Sophia's Favorite said...

I think the issue is actually "Is melodramatic angst-wallowing, like you see in Fantine's story, necessary in fiction?" Which is more of an aesthetic question than a moral one.

Of course, without the over-the-top, borderline Grand Guignol, there is no Les Mis, so there is that.

LarryD said...

Just saw the movie. If I had blinked during the sex scene, I would have missed it.

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