Most movie fans remember the first R-rated movie they watched. If you have trouble recalling this formative experience, you probably had awesome parents who let you watch Commando when you were three. But that’s beside the point. A couple hundred R-rated movies later, we cannot help but miss the visceral reactions our younger selves felt as we saw explicit images on the screen, images that opened the door to terror, sexuality, and humor which our virgin eyes and ears had never been exposed to.
Bear with me as I guide you through my first encounter with an R-rated movie. When I was five, I found myself wandering around a house full of much older kids (like seven or eight year-olds). Oh, and this house happened to be in Denmark, a country where kids know what condoms are before they’re potty trained.
The Dane babysitting called all the children over for a movie: Alien. Oh cool, I thought, this is probably like E.T. The movie began, and before I know it, John Hurt’s stomach popped open as he gave birth to the eponymous creature.
The nightmares flooded my evenings, prompting the purchase of several dream catchers and a nightly ritual that helped to keep the creature out of my dreams. Saying that Alien changed my life is an understatement. Three or four years later, I still found myself showing off to friends as I recounted the bloodiest movie I had ever seen. Gore, nudity, and profanity became the standards for what constituted a good movie. Questioning older kids about the most explicit films they had seen led me on an R-rated movie spree.
But as the years advanced, the novelty of R-rated movies began to wear off. The shock and awe of those first couple R-rated movies fades as our brains become desensitized to hours of formulaic porn and Hostel-like torture series. And it’s a pity, because that first-time thrill is an essential component of cinema’s allure. (https://romantichoneymoonisland.com/)
Following Alien, it’s rather easy for me to trace the increasing numbness that eventually consumed the kind of thrill that had me talking about a movie for weeks; Gremlins, The Omen, Predator, Child’s Play, and Event Horizon defined the type of nightmare-inducing movies that I grew out of at the onset of puberty. Quickly, raunchy comedies and sex-heavy anything filled the void left by the horror films, but they lost their edge after three or four years of exposure.
The nostalgia for those moments of lost innocence may be overwhelming, but there is a silver lining: a new, more mature sense of movie going. As the mind continues to yearn for novelty, our mind finds that novelty in the intricacies and subtleties of movies.
This is where the newly matured, observant viewer begins to appreciate clever screenwriting and stylized imagery. Dr. Strangelove becomes more than a black-and-white talkie. Rushmore takes the place of the fuck-laden dickathons that used to spawn tears of laughter. And Alien is appreciated as a groundbreaking shift in sci-fi as its place in the genre becomes more evident.
One of the many beauties of cinema is its ability to combine multiple layers and mediums into a compact, two-hour emotional roller coaster. Different aspects of a film appeal to different people, but even more curious is a film’s ability to evolve over multiple viewings. Take E.T. At many points in the film, it would not be unlikely to find a child viewer shielding his or her eyes from the grotesque alien as the mother of the child simultaneously holds back tears.
The hunt for that ever-dwindling sense of novelty does not even require viewers to look into unexplored territory; as with E.T., finding new meanings and appreciations in previously viewed movies is itself a source of adrenaline—no beheadings or fellatio required.
The point is, with a little self-education, a little bit of patience, and an openness to try new things out, you can re-kindle that intimate relationship your childhood self had with an off-limits film.
Before I let you go, though, I have a little piece of advice: don’t show your toddler Alien. I’m sure my shrink would concur.