Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Lars von Trier‘s Nymphomaniac are being released this month. The movies are controversial for very different reasons, but they’re both indicative of the hot-button topics and issues that seem to always outrage some sector of society. Creationists are outraged and demanding equal time on Fox’s Cosmos reboot. And there are idiots pissed at Disney because they somehow think Elsa from Frozen is a lesbian because she’s doesn’t end up with a man at the end of the film, and it’s part of Disney’s “pro-homosexual” agenda. So when you’re dealing with people attached to Biblical literalism, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that those same people get upset with Noah for artistic license and an “extremist environmental agenda.”Nymphomaniac‘s sexual content automatically made it controversial. The film, which is of a woman recounting her sexual experiences from birth to the age of 50, depicts various sex acts, some of them violent, and some of it non-simulated. But Von Trier, whose list of films include Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, has a long history of courting controversy. Five years ago, the Cannes Film Festival’s ecumenical jury gave Von Trier’s Antichrist an “anti-prize” and called it “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.” Nymphomaniac is likely to engender some of the same criticisms.
So I thought I would revisit a topic I’ve touched on before: controversial films. Which films have been lambasted and created controversy (from either the left or right side of the spectrum)? And did the movies deserve it, or was it all an overreaction?
Given the arguments over some of these movies, it’s also as good a time as any to discuss the way these films are treated by the MPAA. Earlier this year, the head of the MPAA, Joan Graves, brushed off some lingering criticisms of the organization. The ratings for films (G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17) have long been a source of contention among filmmakers, since the standards can be very subjective with no accounting for context, and how well a film is distributed, marketed and attended/sold can be affected by the arbitrary ratings.