Last weekend my roommate and I were settling in to watch Splice on HBO. (I should warn you that this post will give away major plot points of the movie in case you were planning on watching it. In which case I should also tell you it’s a TERRIBLE film.)
If you’ve ever watched a movie on a pay-television channel (HBO, Showtime, etc etc) you’re familiar with “content descriptors.” I didn’t know that’s what they were called, but you know: “This program contains Adult Language (AL), Adult Content (AC), Graphic Violence (GV), Nudity (N), etc etc.” These have been around since 1994 so I’ve grown up with them, which was why I was really surprised to see that before Splice I warned not only about AC, V, and N, but also RP—Rape. The RP rating is described as follows:
This denotes the film or program may contain graphic scenes of forced sexual intercourse, depicted in a realistic and often violent, but fictional nature. Any program that contains such content is not suitable for children under the age of 18, or anyone who objects and/or is uncomfortable with scenes containing rape. The use of this content descriptor is strictly exclusive to films that are rated “R” or television series rated “TV-MA”, but is rarely used unless the program contains scenes of rape.
In theory, this is a super idea. It’s basically like a trigger warning, which I know a lot of folks would appreciate—they’re excited to sit down and watch a cheesey sci-fi thriller, they didn’t necessarily expect there to be rape involved, and with the RP rating they get to decide if they can deal with that.
HOWEVER, the problem with the RP descriptor is with its use. Or rather, its lack of use. I really cannot for the life of me remember seeing an RP rating before, and I watch a lot of cable TV. Correct me if I’m wrong, but True Blood, Game of Thrones…HBO has a number of shows (and movies) with explicit sexual violence that don’t get this rating. I tried to find a list of when that rating has been used, but one doesn’t seem to exist.
So what is different about Splice that it actually merits an RP? (description of the rape scene follows). Well, about 20 minutes into the movie I figured it out and was immediately really frustrated. Splice gets a rape warning because the rape in Splice is not only explicitly violent and forced (the woman was running from her attacker, the attacker pins her to the ground, etc), but the perpetrator is not entirely human. Dren is a mixture of human and animal DNA who, within the course of the film, switches genders from female to male, and with that transition becomes extremely strong, animalistic, and aggressive (yeah, I know). At the time of the rape, Dren is looking more animal than human, has sprouted dragon-like wings, and rapes the female protagonist with a venomous tail after having killed three other male characters.
Basically, it couldn’t be much more disgusting, violent, or removed from reality. So I have this theory. Maybe it’s super cynical, and the RP descriptor is used far more often than I think. But something tells me that somewhere in an office is a group of folks sitting around discussing what descriptors need to be used for a given film/program, and when it comes to rape there is a discussion going on about whether or not a given act of sexual violence is “actually forced.” You know, as in “well, is it really rape-rape?”
What do you think? Is the RP more common than I think? Is there an argument to be made for art being “open to interpretation” and not labeling experiences? (But in that case, why do we get to define “violence” right?) I’ll keep my eyes open for other “RP” uses, but I’d love to hear if you see it anywhere. (Update: see comments for info on the lack of an RP in an HBO show just last night)