In “Blue Valentine,” Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple, and we get to see them at very different stages of their life. We see them meet — cute kids excited by possibility — and then, years later, married, with a kid, worn down by reality. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, “Blue Valentine” went through a serious challenge when it initially received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, meaning it could be seen only by people over 17, a rating that’s a financial death sentence for any movie. That rating was later repealed, but when I spoke with Gosling in December, it wasn’t yet, and the 30-year-old actor had some inside perspective on what that rating meant to his film, and his confusion about why it was there at all.
“Well, I can’t make any sense of it,” he said. “They don’t give you enough information. I only know it’s because of the oral sex scene because I heard from somebody who talked to them. There’s no official statement, and there’s no real reasoning. You just hear it through the grapevine. The hearing takes place in private. It’s not recorded; you can’t really know. I’d love to hear the argument. I feel like we’re being held accountable for what we did, and I think they should be held accountable for what they’re doing. I’m confused.”
Frankly, the ratings board’s decision was confusing — especially when you consider that “Black Swan,” with a drug-fueled similar scene, got an R rating. Not only is it a double-standard, Gosling noted, but he found it hard to explain to people why the rating meant bad things for “Blue Valentine.” “What I think people don’t really understand is they think ‘So what, it’s an NC-17 film. You can’t see the film unless you’re 17. What’s the big deal?’ The reality is that if it gets an NC-17 rating, it can’t play in most major theater chains, and you’re not even allowed to take out ads on television. You’re really stigmatizing the film. In a way, you’re saying not ‘I don’t want kids to see it,’ but ‘I don’t want anyone to see it,’ unless you live in a big city and you have an art house theater. So it’s a very aggressive rating, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”
“But it is very much a double standard, it seems, because obviously you could reference other films, plenty of films where guys are receiving oral sex from women and that’s fine, or women in sexual scenarios that are violent, and that’s entertainment, but if they’re complicit or they’re receiving pleasure, or somehow if there’s love involved in the sex, it becomes pornographic. What else is confusing is the idea that it’s a film about, in a way, sexual responsibility. People are having careless sex, and she has a baby. She has to give up on her career plans and her life, and her whole life is affected by her choice. Everyone’s held accountable for their actions, which is pretty rare in terms of sexuality presented in film. Worst-case scenario, your kid sneaks in and sees that. What’s so bad — that a kid would see a man and a woman making love, or that there’s consequences for your actions?”