Thursday, May 03, 2018

15 rated films with male-to-female usages of the c-word

This blog is rated 15 for implied very strong language and descriptions of domestic violence and brutality.

About twice a year, I’ll curiosity-watch a film purely because Mark Kermode has gone in on it in his reviews. Last year, I watched Ron Howard’s The Dilemma for this precise reason, and Kermode was right; it was a tonal mess with jokes that went down like a lead balloon.

My first curiosity-watch of 2018 due to Kermode’s scathing comments was Madonna’s W.E. And again, the Good Doctor’s opprobrium was not misplaced; it was rubbish! 

The film has a dual plot of Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who King Edward abdicated the throne for, and a bored Manhattan housewife in the 90s who becomes fixated with their life story. It really is as dry as it sounds.

However, I don’t consider any film watched a waste of time if it contributes to my understanding of the BBFC’s decisions. W.E., whilst fairly harmless for the most part, was rated 15 for very strong language and scenes of domestic violence.

In one scene, the two classification issues merge, as a husband slaps his wife and calls her a f_cking c_nt.

This got my BBFC nerd impulses flowing, because Gone Girl (as tame an 18 as you’ll find, given how difficult it is to get 18 these days) was rated 18 for two scenes: the gory mid-coital murder, and the scene where Ben Affleck pushes Rosamund Pike’s head against the wall and calls her the same thing the abusive husband in W.E. called Abbie Cornish.

In the BBFC podcasts, they’ve said that with regards to the c-word, it’s allowed in 15s, but aggravating factors that may take a film to 18 include male-to-female usages, racist uses (hence why This is England was rated 18. Read the BBFC’s well-argued case study on why they classified this film 18 rather than 15 (and insodoing, meaning the principal actor in the film couldn’t watch it) here), power imbalances and when the word is accompanied by violence or threat.

So with W.E. fresh in my mind, here is every 15-rated film/TV episode I’ve seen where a man calls a woman a 'c_nt', ranked from what I consider acceptable at 15 to the most contestable decisions. 

Note: these are just the films I’ve seen that contain male-to-female usages of the c-word. I’ve been reliably informed that Xavier Dolan’s Mommy contains one such use, but I haven’t seen the film, so can’t assess it.

Further note: there are several 15-rated films where men refer to women as 'c_nts' but the woman isn't in the scene (eg, Caleb Landry Jones calling his on-screen sister one in American Made). I consider the impact significantly diluted if the woman being called the word isn't actually there to hear it, and thus, I am discounting these scenes from my rankings.

Most OK at 15:
01. Frank 
In this band comedy, the c-word occurs in a heated confrontation between Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’s character has been hostile to him all film. The usage is mitigated by the fact that in the immediate next scene, they’re shown shagging, which alleviates the strength of the term considerably.

(This film isn’t very good, by the way. I only watched it because I went through a Domhnall Gleeson phase, where thankfully, I did see some good films, like Ex Machina. (My DG thirst was so strong, that I included him in my babes of 2015 movies a record three times!)

After my DG phase I had my Miles Teller phase, and then my Chris Pine phase. I’m currently going through an Aneurin Barnard phase, which is why I watched this rather dreadful horror movie, Citadel. The price of being a fangirl, man. #thestruggleisreal).

02. W.E.

As mentioned, the delivery of the c-word is prefixed with ‘f_cking’ here in an argument between a frustrated housewife (Bright Star’s Abbie Cornish) and her emotionally abusive husband, who hits her as well.

Whilst this scene was challenging to watch, the use of the c-word is what the BBFC would say is ‘contextually justified’ in that the scene is necessary to convey Cornish’s character’s discontentment with her stifling life, which is a possible motive for why she becomes so obsessed with Wallis Simpson, as a form of escapism.

03. Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck’s crime thriller, set in Boston (obviously) follows a cop played by Casey Affleck (again, obviously) searching for a child who’s gone missing. The c-word in this film is delivered from a male druggie to another female one, with gun threat. As with W.E., the usage is prefixed with the f-word.

The usage of the c-word here is mitigated by the fact that he’s a druggie, desperate for drugs and the woman on the receiving end may or may not have kidnapped a kid, and thus, the audience aren’t that sympathetic to her, despite the verbal abuse she receives.

04. I, Tonya

This black comedy, which Allison Janney won an Oscar for this year (Lesley Manville was robbed!) was rated 15 for exactly the same reason as W.E., very strong language and scenes of domestic violence. The usages of the c-word were a little more impactful, however, hence why I’ve ranked this lower down than W.E in terms of suitability at 15.

Unlike W.E, where there are two scenes of domestic violence in the film, one at the start involving Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) and her first husband, as well as the aforementioned scene involving Abbie Cornish, all the domestic violence scenes in I, Tonya are when Tonya (Margot Robbie) gets slapped about.

Sebastian Stan calls Margot Robbie the c-word twice in I, Tonya, once with gun threat and both with domestic violence. Both uses are prefixed with the f-word, rendering the scenes aversive.

What’s more, even though Abbie Cornish getting slapped and verbally abused in W.E was unpleasant to watch, by then in the film, she’s established a bond with a kind Russian security guard (played by the delicious Oscar Isaac), so, even though she’s getting beaten up, you as the audience are acutely aware that she has a Prince Charming who’s going to take care of her. In I, Tonya, Tonya had no-one apart from her abusive husband, which is why I found those scenes of domestic violence more hard-hitting.

I guess the usages are mitigated by the fact that the rest of the film is a fairly standard 15, so rating I, Tonya 18 for those two scenes alone would have been a tad draconic. And, as in W.E., the usages are definitely contextually justified in that this is Tonya’s account of what her gritty life was like (and hence why skating was so important to her).

Incidentally, I, Tonya is the third film I’ve seen where Margot Robbie’s been slapped about by a man (she was punched by Ben Affleck in Suicide Squad and Leonardo DiCaprio hit her in The Wolf of Wall Street). Hopefully poor Margot doesn’t suffer any such scenes any more!

So now we enter the region of uses of the c-word which I consider questionable at 15.

In this unfunny comedy, Jonah Hill’s sausage calls Kristen Wiig one under his breath. Again, his usage is prefixed with the f-word. He actually says it to Seth Rogen’s sausage (who’s Wiig’s character’s boyfriend in the film), after she’s shown him up in an argument.

I guess the potentially mitigating factor is that he says it in her presence, about her, but to Seth Rogen’s character, rather than directly saying it to her. The BBFC deemed this usage of the c-word ‘non-aggressive’, hence justifying its usage at 15, but I found it quite aggressive. After all, passive-aggressive still contains the word 'aggressive' in it.

All depends on whether a man or a woman is watching, I guess.

06. Orange Is the New Black season 5 episode 10, ‘The Reverse Midas Touch

Orange is the New Black is a show which seriously tests its 15 rating, what with its no-holds-barred sex scenes, strong, aversive scenes of prison violence and torture, upsetting rape scenes, depictions of drug use, and industrial language, to name but a few issues.

It’s long been noticed by BBFC aficionados that OITNB gets let off very easily by the BBFC, with several episodes surpassing precedent of what one is used to in a 15-rated TV show.

For example, read this exchange I had with the BBFC questioning why OITNB’s episode ‘A Tittin’ and a Hairin’ was only a 15 when it showed the same character getting raped twice, when another Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why had episodes that were 18 which only showed one rape scene.

All in all, the BBFC have been extremely lenient with this show, and season 5 episode 10, ‘The Reverse Midas Touch’ epitomises this.

In this episode, one of the prison’s guards has kidnapped a group of women and duct-taped them so they can’t break free. The character, Piscatella, is a massive misogynist, and he calls them all kinds of names, before injuring a few of them to show he’s serious.

This episode is basically a litany of all the things the BBFC claim get a show/film an 18: gendered violence, Piscatella torturing an inmate with sadistic relish, and the focus on the fear and terrorisation of all the women who the prison guard has rounded up, and their tearful, terrified faces as they’re defenceless and he has an arsenal of weapons.

If this wasn’t enough, Piscatella calls an inmate the c-word when she’s at a vulnerable position (physically weak, tied up, in tears, photo-ed above).

He calls Vause a ‘dirty c_nt’, followed by him breaking her arm. The cumulative effect of the violence, threat and his visceral hatred for the female prisoners really comes out in that moment, and it’s a powerful, disturbing scene in a show which is no stranger to disturbing moments.

This male-to-female usage of the c-word was mitigated … by the fact that Netflix bribe the BBFC to systematically rate OITNB 15 no matter what content it has? Aha.


The next movie I’ll watch purely to see if my thoughts align with the Good Doctor’s is Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Kermode’s review of this film is comedy gold (actually funnier than 99% of Hollywood movies, no word of lie) and Kermode’s perception of Snyder as a vacuous Californian might have grounds, as Jesse Eisenberg revealed in this interview that when he met with Snyder to discuss playing Lex Luthor, they met in a gym, of all places.

Sucker Punch also has Abbie Cornish and Oscar Isaac, which bookends this blog post rather neatly. What’s more, it was the fourth most complained about film to the BBFC in 2011, after Black Swan, Hanna and Twilight - Breaking Dawn part 1, so it could inspire another BBFC blog! (Because I don't have enough of them, amirite?)

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