In 2154, when “Avatar” takes place, it is possible that tobacco use will no longer exist. But if movies are still around, there will still be arguments about what they should be showing, and to whom. Such arguments are built into the medium and our complicated bond with it. We want movies to acknowledge what is real, but also to improve on reality, to give us a vision of a perfect world in which everything is permissible — a world that’s sexy, dangerous, scary and smoky and safe for children too.
I basically don’t think the ratings system should exist. The guidelines have become so absurdly arbitrary that newspapers routinely run capsule reviews oriented at parents that interpret those ratings. One of those reviews played a critical role in my being allowed to see Romeo + Juliet in 1996. Parents who care about what their children see are doing additional research anyway. Parents who don’t will take their kids to pretty much anything: it bothered me to see the toddlers somebody took to see The Lovely Bones at a screening I attended, but they weren’t even borderline, their escort just could not have cared less what the movie was rated. If they’re not being used or still useful as a guide to content, they’re just an exhibit hall for hypocrisy and inconsistency, and should be retired.