Bargaining for a Fuck with the MPAA

If you give two 'fucks', we can give you three seconds of tits. No? How about three 'bastards' for a 'fuck'...?

Arnie can contain himself no longer.

I was re-watching Roger Spottiswoode’s highly enjoyable Arnie Sci-fi actioner The 6th Day (2000) at the weekend, when I noticed what is possibly one of Hollywood’s most obvious examples of a ‘cherished fuck’ in a PG-13 movie. We all instinctively recognise these ‘fucks’, because a PG-13 movie is usually only allowed one or two without slipping into the less profitable ‘R’-rated zone.

For a movie like Goodfellas or Scarface, the makers have bitten the bullet and taken the rating, often because violent content was going to take the film beyond PG13 anyway: therefore ‘fucks’ are sprayed round indiscriminately like inexhaustible machine-gun ammunition. Once you’ve lost the kids, you might as well go for broke. Same with HBO, whose insistence on using the word in its adult shows even when it was jarring to the narrative first came to my attention in the six-year run of Dream On.

Instead, each use of the word ‘fuck’ in PG13 fare seems to be the result of a long and coffee-fuelled late night conversation in the border-patrol hut between PG13 and R. The context usually emphasises that the character is saying the word because he or she really really deserves to say it right now. Choices of cinematography and scoring often emphasise a PG13 ‘Fuck’, because it was so hard to get it in the movie and we’d all damn well better notice that it’s there.

Bearing that in mind, here then is the only ‘fuck’ in The 6th Day. To put it in context, Arnold Schwarzennegar is playing a helicopter pilot illegally – and mistakenly – cloned by billionaire science whiz-kid Tony Goldwyn, and so there are two Arnies running about at this stage in the movie :

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Ironically, the movie is actually in dire need of a second ‘fuck’; since Arnie’s line is so choice, the film-makers refer to it again in a later scene [SPOILERS] when a cloned Goldwyn ends up shot dead and lying on top of the previous Goldwyn clone. At this bizarre sight, Arnie quickly whips out a follow-up one-liner: “When I said that you should screw yourself, I didn’t mean for you to take it literally’.

Gilding the lily a bit, but it would have worked if Arnie had been allowed to say ‘fuck’ a second time. It’s particularly injurious as our hero is made to misquote himself . But who knows what it would have cost Spottiswoode, that second ‘fuck’? Would Arnie not have been allowed to blow off Michael Rooker’s left leg in the car-park sequence? Or would we have lost the plot-point of Arnie using Sarah Wynter’s severed thumb to gain access to Goldwyn’s labs? Perhaps the brief shot of Wynter’s arse in her first ‘regeneration’ scene would have had to hit the cutting room floor, or Michael Rapaport’s more intimate moments with his holographic girlfriend.

The way the MPAA will trade off a ‘fuck’ for a naked arse, a blown-off head for a ‘cunt’ or three ‘bastards’ for a ‘fuck’ throws the whole process into a comic light and proves how arbitrary it often is. I actually think The 6th Day, an entertaining SF/action flick, would have been better off foregoing its ‘fuck’ quota entirely, rather than making such a huge meal out of the one that it managed to negotiate; and that many other ‘borderline’ films of recent times, such as Die Hard 4, would be less annoying if – too cowardly to risk an ‘R’ – they didn’t try and masquerade as films for an adult audience. We can tell how precious those PG13 ‘fucks’ are because they’re so punctuated and built up, and this artifice draws us out of the narrative whilst failing to convince us we’re in the grown-up world.

Monday, 19th January, 2009