Case in point. About a year ago, we were at a show in an arena. A man was standing with his three year old daughter by the railing on the stairs that overlooked the below section. The little girl kept climbing on the railing, while the father was on his cell phone, not paying attention. All the adults were sitting on the edge of their seats watching this, waiting for the girl to fall through the railing, imagining her plummeting to the below section to her death. While everyone watched, one man out of at least 200 onlookers, got out of his seat, walked up to the little girl and swooped her up in his arms and handed her to her father and said, “Watch your little girl!” The father, annoyed that he had to put down his cell phone, took it as a complete blow to his ego, and started to yell at the guy and told him to keep his hands off his daughter. If you can fathom this, the father was angry that someone else was protecting his daughter. Instead of thanking the stranger for keeping his daughter out of harms way, he started yelling at the guy. It almost came to blows. My friend ran to get security who came and calmed the situation down. But at one point, it was almost as if the father was going to put his daughter on the railing again just to prove a point.
One man was a hero, and I told him so. He did what the rest of us wanted to do but we didn’t have the guts to get involved. The other man, the father, should not have had children because he didn’t know how precious his little girl was and took it all for granted. In an instant, his whole world, and his little girl’s world, could have changed. Which raises the question, at what point is it okay to step in to protect children from their own parents.
This weekend, I went with a friend to see the movie, Precious. Wait, let’s back up for a moment. Before that, I had seen interviews on TV with the actors of this movie and knew the context before considering going to see it. It wasn’t in my top ten movies to see because of the subject matter. Typically when I go to the movies, I want to be entertained. I either want to laugh, be inspired in some way, or cry. A movie is an escape for me from my everyday life and I generally don’t like coming out of the theater more depressed or upset than when I went in. So I’m not the type to go see slasher movies or gang banger movies. But the friend that I was going to the movies with had Precious on her “must see” list. Since it was her turn to pick the movie, it was one of the choices for the evening. I thought I was in the clear when it wasn’t playing anywhere locally. But as luck would have it, it was playing in Hartford and I happened to have a babysitter for the entire evening. Without a good excuse, all things were pointing in favor of her dragging me to go see it. How bad could it be, right? If I go to this movie with her, then I get to pick next time and then we can go see The Christmas Carol, something a little more up my alley. Fair enough. I conceded.
I knew that it was going to be a deeply disturbing movie. The main character, Precious, is an obese, illiterate teenager who endures life in Harlem. She survives incest and molestation by the hands of her father, with the outcome producing two children. The movie centers around her tumultuous relationship with her mother and what she does to try to better her life. That much I knew before going in. Lighthearted, it wasn’t going to be. But I’m an adult and I could take it. I kept telling myself that other people had sat through it so it couldn’t be that bad. No big deal. It’s just a movie. I’ll watch it then forget about it. I’m in it for the popcorn.
When we got to the Cineplex, the theater that the movie was playing in was packed and all the stadium seats were taken. We ended up grabbing two seats up front where it was less crowded. During the previews, even the seats up front rapidly started filling up. Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is, a packed theater indicates that a movie is good. I started to feel better about being there, under the notion that it must be a good movie if so many people were there to see it.
The last preview played. My friend and I settled into our seats and waited for the show to start. The true horror of the evening, something I had not anticipated, was just about to begin for me.
“Precious.” A word meaning dear; beloved. It also means having high cost; valuable; or excessively delicate.
In the dark of the theater, in walked a mother and her two children who sat in the row diagonally in front of us. I sized the boy up to be around my daughter’s age, 8-9years old. The girl was probably 4 years old. I looked at my friend and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Isn’t this film rated R?” I was in complete disgust, but was giving the mother the benefit of the doubt that surely they wandered into the wrong theater and will figure it out soon enough. They’ll leave once the mother figures out the horrible mistake she’s made, that this wasn’t Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
The movie started. In the first five minutes there is an onslaught of bad language and physical abuse which takes place between Precious and her mother. I looked at the boy’s face that was in front of me. He was looking back and forth at the screen, and then looking at his mother. I interpreted this to mean he was looking for some kind of reassurance from her or some kind of acknowledgement that it was okay that he was watching this violent exchange. I witnessed the shock on the little boy’s face during the flashback scenes of the character’s father raping his teenage daughter. It was bigger than life on the big screen. The mother sitting in front of me, ignoring her son while he paid close attention to every gory detail, was wrapped up in the movie so much that she never glanced once at either of her children to see how they were handling it. The details of each scene permeating these children’s precious minds, and was no doubt shaping the way they will think in the future, but to what end is yet to be determined.
I tried my hardest to ignore that they were sitting in front of me but couldn’t. I was totally preoccupied with these tiny little people absorbing this information into their brains and visualizing what kind of messed up lives they must have to be in that theater. I had a growing contempt and fury for the mother, with her three-inch hollow puffy gold, over-the-top square earrings, and her hair weave. What stupidity and selfishness on her part. To subject her kids to what was clearly adult content to satisfy her own immediate need made me quiver with anxiety coupled with hatred.
At every horrifying clip in the movie, at every violent action, at every sexually revealing segment, I watched the boy’s face, his mouth gaped open, his wide-eyed whites of his eyes glistening in the dark, in shock like a deer in headlights. He didn’t speak, but rather was transfixed on the movie screen. The little girl, three quarters of the way through, lost interest and started playing with her hair band. Thank God! Thank God for the act of boredom to act as protection. The mother, absolutely oblivious to the fact that this might harm her children, sitting there engrossed in the movie, shoving her face with popcorn. I question if she even knew her kids were there at all.
Unlike most of the other people in the theater, who were openly gasping at the constant abuse the character endured in her life, I was totally absorbed in listening and watching the victimization through the eyes of the children in front of me. Yes. The movie was disturbing. There is no doubt that the characters symbolize the non-perfect world of growing up in a rough neighborhood, and being subjected to things that children should not be subjected to. But what is worse? Watching a movie on the big screen where actors are merely portraying cringy moments of a mother continuously choosing not to protect her child, and acting out how she subjects her child to the horrors that life has to offer? Or sitting directly in back of a mother who would bring her grammar school-aged children to watch a movie like that? I watched, like I did the movie, a mother who did not protect her children and offered no consolation to her children, right in front of me. It was art imitating life! And it took everything in my being not to open my normally big mouth.
When the movie first started, I still was giving this woman in front of me some type of benefit of the doubt in my head like, “well, this is just the beginning and maybe it’s not as bad as the critics and tv shows made it out to be. Maybe there is a redeeming message that this mother wants her children to learn and I’m being too hard on her.” As the movie unfurls, however, the answer to all my doubts is an unequivocal NOT! Without giving away the end, I would say in the last 1 minute of the movie there is a redeeming moment. However, does one subject their child to 108 minutes of pure evil to get to the one minute of redemption?
I wanted to say something to this woman when the movie ended but my friend said don’t bother. She was probably right.
Ironically, the same thing happened to me when I went to see the The Passion of the Christ. Again, I was prepared and ready to be horrified. What I wasn’t prepared for was to watch the movie through the eyes of the child sitting in front of me whose parent thought it would be a good catholic lesson for his child to see the blood and gore of scourging! I was completely disgusted at the parent then as I was this past weekend. I want to scream from the rooftops to these parents, “What are you thinking?” With a follow up question of “Where do you send your children to school so I can make sure my kids don’t come in contact with your kids, who will inevitably need help due to your lack of being able to make proper judgments!!!”
Was the movie, Precious good, you ask? Who knows. I know two children and I are 3 people in the world that didn’t think so. Although, under other circumstances, I might have thought so. I should have come out of the theater talking about the tragedy of what I just saw on the screen. But instead found myself discussing how some people should not have kids and how terribly irresponsible it was for that parent to bring her children to the theater to see an R-Rated film.
A part of me feels like a failure in the respect that I said nothing to the parent in front of me in the theater. I said nothing. And in my silence, like all the other people in the theater, we condoned her bringing her children to an R-Rated film. I don’t know how many, if any at all, people in the theater were bothered by it like I was. But I assure you that nobody said anything to her about it. There is a fine line between being a coward and being rational. I rationalized it, thinking that as parents we have the right to make decisions for our own kids. But I think I was wrong. I should have spoken up. I could have complained to the management of the theater. But I didn’t, due to my own fear of retribution. I didn’t because I didn’t want to cause a scene
My Kaneclusion is that having kids is precious. Their minds are precious little sponges that absorb everything. What parents put into those sponges is what those children will become. In the computer world we have a saying “Garbage in Garbage out.” In the movie Precious, the character is told from the day she is born that she is nothing. In the movie, of course, she improves her life overcoming the insurmountable odds making something of herself. But in real life, is that really the case for children who are abused, tormented, belittled, and left to the evil of the world with nobody protecting them? It begs the question, if you ever witnessed a mother treating her daughter the way that the character did in this movie, would you have the gumption, the nerve, the moral fiber to stand up, jump in and protect the child being abused. If you asked me that question last week, I would have said, “Hell yeah, I would get involved.” But I didn’t, did I.
I hope that if you go see this movie, if there are kids in the audience, that you remember this blog. Maybe you will have more courage than I did to act. Let the benefit of my hindsight lead you to complain to the Theater Manager. R-Rated is not Parental Guidance. It means Restricted. Period. Wished I had thought of it while I was sitting there, missing a movie I never wanted to go see in the first place.