MOVIES: My Last Word on Bad Words
by Phil Boatwright

“Words are what men live by – words they say and mean” -- John Wayne in The Commancheros.

Well, I’ve ridden this pony about as far as it will go. I don’t like crude, obscene or profane language in my entertainment. Along with the Bible’s instruction about not using such deleterious exclamations (“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” Ephesians 4:29 NIV), I also don’t find it clever or worthy of those paid to communicate on screen. But I’ve said it all before. And it doesn’t seem to be making a difference. Not that I ever expected moviemakers to pay heed to my outrage. I was, however, hoping that after 27 years of reviewing films from a spiritual perspective, my constant examination of the media’s use of profanity would sprout a movement in the Christian community to end our support of films that are irreverent to God and dispiriting to society.

Labor Day, a new film by Jason Reitman, has just been released in theaters and I was pleasantly surprised that vulgar verbiage was avoided by the screenwriter/director.

In the film a 13-year-old boy and his reclusive mother are approached by a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help. He convinces them to take him into their home and later it is revealed that he’s an escaped convict. Though we are never certain if he is a true threat, fate seems to have him there to rescue mother and child, both in need of someone to care for them.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Joyce Maynard, the author of the book Labor Day is based upon, and since the film avoided objectionable language, I asked her how she felt concerning the excessive use of obscenity in movies.

Joyce Maynard: “I would never say I wouldn’t use dialogue like that. Some people talk like that. It’s part of life and I’m not an advocate of censorship. I think if we want to represent the whole world, some people don’t talk the way we want our children to talk. But I felt no need with this story. I was raised by people who love language. And it seems too easy to resort to obscenity when expressing frustration. I’d rather rediscover language and think of all the ways a person can convey feelings.”

I understand Ms. Maynard’s desire to represent the speech patterns of different characters, but no matter the genre or their position in life, people in movies all seem to incorporate objectionable language when expressing themselves. They all sound alike. Certainly you don’t hear such abuses in animated films aimed at kids, which raises a question: If cursing is inappropriate for children, what makes it okay for adults?

Obscenity (indecent language) and profanity (the misuse of God’s name) have become entertainment colloquialisms, staples in the screenwriter’s pallet. Such language seems to have lost spiritual significance not just to moviemakers, but to most moviegoers.

The power of the tongue can uplift: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances,” Proverbs 25:11.

Or, devastate: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” James 3:8.

What truly saddens/angers me is the misuse of our Creator’s name in most films. Ever hear movie characters utter in consternation, “Oh for Buddha sake”? So why is the name of the sinless Son of God nothing more to moviemakers than a mere expletive for relieving tension? In the PG-rated remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, obscenity is avoided, but the writer/director/star, Ben Stiller, thought nothing of having the bad guy misuse Jesus’ name. Imagine that, the filmmaker determines to avoid bad language, yet allows the profaning of Jesus’ name. And that film opened on the day we celebrated Christ’s birth.

The Christian, who is instructed to think on things such as “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely,” should find words that abuse the soul to be reprehensible. Obscenity and profanity shouldn’t be tolerated or merely dismissed. This acceptance doesn’t signal evolution, just deterioration. For after reception comes participation.

Though a rose is a rose, a word is more than just a word. Words have power because they reveal inner character. But as I said in paragraph one; I’ve stated this argument more times than John Wayne rode a horse. So, I guess I should set keyboard aside rather than continue the denouncing Hollywood’s proliferation of offensive words.

Yeah, right. If I may borrow another line from Duke Wayne (The Searchers): "That’ll be the day".

Click HERE to read Phil Boatwright’s review of the PG-13-rated Labor Day.