Monday, January 7, 2008

At Least the Older Ones Sleep Through the Night

Gather 'round, mothers of young children.  But first, pour yourself a glass of wine.  I've got some bad news.

You know how you tell yourself that as soon as Sam and Sally sleep through the night/stop nursing/start walking/give up Pull-ups/pick up their toys/stop throwing their toys/start sharing their toys/toddle off to school, it's going to get a lot easier?  Well, honey, I hate to break this to you, but it's not.  Oh sure -- you'll get to sit down more.  But easy?  I'll let you judge for yourself.

Picture this.  My guys and I are in line yesterday at a fast-casual restaurant for a little light lunch after church, and the following conversation (the transcript of which contains a few editorial comments) takes place:

Billy:  So last night, after work, I went by Circuit City to use the rest of my gift card.

Me:  That's nice.  What'd you buy?

Billy:  "Last Tango in Paris."  (Glances thoughtfully at menu.)  I think it's Brando's best work.

Me:  (gasping sound, hand waving, eyes bugging)

Billy (indignantly):  What?  What's wrong?  Roger Ebert gave it four stars!  

Me:  Billy!  You're kidding!  That movie's an X!

Billy:  Not anymore.  Now it's an NC-17.  And I'm 17-and-a-half.  (A 17-and-a-half-year-old who's grinning like a 7-and-a-half-year-old who just learned a new bad word.)

Me:  Who would sell a movie like that to a kid your age?  (A kid who can't yet grow sideburns.)

Billy:  Circuit City is not a sleazy store.  It's a chain! 

Me:  What were you thinking!

Billy: What's wrong?  It's just a story with images.

Me (to Bob):  Can you believe our son watched "Last Tango in Paris" last night?

Ben:  Shhh!  There are people I know in here.

Billy:  It got an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Besides, it's Brando's best work.  (Again with the Brando. That's supposed to persuade me this was okay?  The thought of Marlon Brando naked is almost as horrifying as the thought that my son watched a movie in which Marlon Brando was naked with a woman.  I hope she got paid a lot.)

Me:  Just how many movies have you seen Marlon Brando in?

Billy (grin ever-so-slightly diminishing):  Two.  "The Godfather" and "Guys and Dolls."

Waitress:  May I take your order?

Despite my sudden nausea, I manage to squeak out an order, and we proceed to our table.  Perhaps this would be an appropriate point to explain to you young folk that "Last Tango" was quite the scandal when it was released in 1972.  It was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, who is an artsy director who's made lots of "stories with images" that are rated NC-17.  Here's a plot summary from the Internet Movie Database:  "A young Parisian woman begins a sordid affair with a middle-aged American businessman, who lays out ground rules that their clandestine relationship will be based only on sex." Oooooh-kay.  Roger Ebert did in fact give it four stars, describing it as "one of the great emotional experiences of our time."  Pauline Kael wrote that "Bertolucci and Brando have altered the face of an art form."  Some amateur reviewer on IMDB wrote that it "offers more than just the average 't & a' the genre has come to be known for." Well, that's a relief.

Back to the table.

Billy:  I don't get what the big deal is.  Lots of kids my age were out drinking and doing drugs last night, and I was home watching a movie.

Me:  That's a very good point, and I'm proud of you that you don't do those things.  But "Last Tango"?

Billy:  (growing frustrated)  People in this society are just too uptight about films.  (Warning:  When Sam and Sally get to be teenagers, they'll quit calling them movies and start calling them films.  And PG-13s will be the least of your worries.)

Bob (finally!):  I never saw it so I don't know that much about it.

Billy:  It's about lust as a devalued counterpart of love.

Ben:  It's about SEX!  (Another of the things you'll have to worry about in a few years is what Sam talks about in front of Sally.  And I don't mean whether there's a Santa Claus.)

Me:  Oh my God -- you didn't watch it, did you?

Ben:  No.  But Billy, would you please start keeping the volume lower?

Bob (changing subject):  Have you guys written those Christmas thank you notes yet?

Billy:  We'll get on it as soon as we get home.

Me (sarcastically):  Great.  "Dear Uncle George and Aunt Mary, Thank you for the gift card.  I used it to buy a really dirty movie."

Bob:  Were they the ones who gave you the gift card?

Billy:  No, it was Uncle Joe.  (Single-with-no-kids Uncle Joe.) 

Bob:  Well, that's different.  You can go ahead and tell him.

We went home, and I went online to learn more about the movie, which I can assure you I have never seen.  It was all very disturbing.   Billy and I had a long talk about the difference between being mature for one's age, which he is, and being grown, which he's not, and the difference between loving sex and the depraved, depressing acts that it seems Last Tango is known for.  I praised him once again for being the kind of kid who's not out drinking and doing drugs on the weekend.  But I also pointed out that there are lots of movies that got 4 stars from Roger Ebert and 80% Fresh ratings from Rotten Tomatoes that aren't rated NC-17, and that if he is really interested in seeing quality "films," he could try some of those as well.  Meanwhile, I learned a little more about this newfound reverence for Bertolucci.

It seems that during Billy's 5-week stay in France last summer as an exchange student, his host family took quite a liberal view of what was appropriate viewing for teenagers.  They introduced him to Bertolucci.   I learned, in fact, that he watched "The Dreamers," a more recent Bertolucci movie, with the grandmother of the family.  "The Dreamers" is also an NC-17.

"It was rated '12 and up' in France," Billy said.

"No way," I said.  "12?"

"It must work kind of like the exchange rate," Bob said.  "Or dog years."

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