The following is a True Story…
For the first time in our lives, Jane Redwood and I walked into a movie theater and paid to see a rated “R” movie.
The name of the movie? True Story.
Growing up as a faithful JW, viewing an “R” film was an unthinkable act of poor judgment and defiance of an organization which believes that Satan lies behind the entertainment industry, music and even the internet. Especially the internet.
In 1980 and 1982, the Watchtower magazine specifically called out rated R movies as inappropriate for Christians. The 1980 article quoted Ephesians 5:3,4, stating:
“Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy [clean] people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting,” most of which are featured in such films. (wt 1980, 6/15)
I was baptized in 1984; hence the pressure to avoid any entertainment from the “world” was unbelievably intense at that time, along with the belief that we were at the very end of the last days, the final culmination of this wicked system of things with the JW doomsday clock ticking since 1914.
Not only were R movies taboo, even many “unrated” or PG-13 films were considered “questionable for Christians.” One night, I invited a group of JWs over to my apartment to watch Schindler’s List. This is a very important film, with no “satanic” overtones, sex or other themes which one would find offensive to God. In fact, in view of the sanctity of life, one would surmise that this movie would have great meaning for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who maintain that they are peaceable people (leave the violence to God) and who suffered at the hands of Nazi persecutors. Yet less than an hour into this movie, one overly sensitive sister stood up and said “We can’t watch this – we are going home.” This was incredibly disruptive to our gathering. In an effort to simply keep the peace I removed the movie from the VCR and inserted something more sanitized.
For myself, Avoiding the big R went well beyond the simple avoidance of great films such as “Schindler’s List” or “Rain Man.” It dug deeper into my life and executed control at every turn, even in relationships. One evening, while visiting the JW girl I was dating, we decided to venture out to Blockbuster Video to select a movie. My girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s date selected the movie, and yes, it was rated R. My heart raced, as this was a serious infraction of the JW lifestyle, and up until this point in our relationship, I was unaware that she would make such a choice. I don’t recall the movie (perhaps I would have liked it), but I objected, they resisted, and as I recall we watched something else. But the damage was done.
I could not see a compromise in the situation. Either you are a JW or you are not. Which is it going to be? I would not compromise, and the tension this created shocked my girlfriend and was likely a wake-up call for her as well. But not in a good way. I knew that this was the end. We were not on the same page. We broke up shortly after the “R” movie incident, and a few years later she was disfellowshipped. I suppose she watched one too many R rated movies.
Rewinding back to my early teens, I recall another incident which raised my blood pressure in a similar way. We had just moved into a suburb congregation on the premise of finding better “association”. I was close to baptism, absorbing every publication, even beginning my life-long hobby of collecting every “theocratic” book I could obtain. Surely all of the young Jehovah’s Witness kids my age would share my enthusiasm for truth and avoid all wrong influences, right? Wrong. Even as an isolated geeky, Rubik’s cube solving introvert, I was still exposed to the parallel universe of the “double life”. I didn’t get out much, but when I did I had hoped to find some consistency in my life. When you are exposed to multiple standards as a child, you are left confused and bewildered.
On this particular night while the adults associated upstairs, the young people gathered downstairs, centered around a television. The son of this family was several years older than I. He and the older kids were engrossed in a movie, which was of no consequence to me at all. I didn’t care – I was just happy to be out of my house and somewhere else. I didn’t want any drama; but the drama came anyway. Someone discovered that the movie being viewed was a rated R movie, and that was the end of that. It’s funny how you don’t remember the movie, but you remember all of the chaos and fallout from the decision that someone made to violate the “rule” and watch this movie.
I have found in life that history does indeed repeat itself, and the same double standards which saturated my childhood are present with today’s youths. Just a few years ago my wife was looking at a Facebook post from a young girl who used to be in our congregation. The girl posted that she had just seen a particular movie… yes, it was a rated R movie. My wife sent her a message asking if she knew it was an “R”, and within moments her comment was deleted and my wife “unfriended” – never to be Facebook friends anymore. Again with the question – are you a Jehovah’s Witness or are you not? If you are, you should be happy your fellow JWs are looking out for you. If you are not, well then be honest with yourself, do you really belong in this organization?
We return to the year 2015 and the movie True Story. This was the first time we walked into a public theater and handed over money in exchange for a ticket with a capital R embossed on it. At home, our first infraction since leaving the JW organization was to watch the movie Capote, which was the brilliant film centering on Truman Capote and the story of his novel In Cold Blood. Ironically both films have parallels: the vicious murder of 4 members of the same family, the intense connection between author and criminal, and the resulting book.
True Story is a movie which most Jehovah’s Witnesses will never see. This is unfortunate, as the issues which unfold inside this film are that which JWs need to understand. One issue is journalistic integrity. There are consequences when a writer and publisher print something which turns out not to be true…or is misleading…or is only partially true. Remember, Jehovah’s Witnesses are publishers.
And here is something you may not know – the killer in True Story was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and married a Witness woman. (he was 19, she was 26). The film is not about the JW connection; however the fact that he was a Witness is very clearly stated at the outset of this film.
This film may not be for everyone. Murder and sociopathic behavior are not pleasant topics. When we plunk down hard earned money to view a film, we expect to be entertained, or perhaps learn something. I learned quite a bit from this movie.
In the end, I learned that R is just a letter in the alphabet, and I no longer allow an organization to control my thoughts, my words, or even my letters.