Language In Movies

I remember watching the movie Fireproof when it first came out and generally enjoying it. It was very well-made movie with a good story and pretty good acting. It tackled some tough  subjects without being vulgar (porn) and of course dealt with a very important topic – marriage. Again, we enjoyed it, it was good.

But, there was this one scene in the kitchen when Kirk Cameron’s character get really, really upset. His wife has called out on some things and he’s just had it. Keep in mind that Kirk’s character is not a Christian at this point. He’s a Fire Chief who spends a lot of time in a Firehouse with some rowdy (and some not so rowdy) firefighters. Now I personally have never been a firefighter or spent time in a Firehouse, but, I have heard from some people who have spent some time there that things can get a bit rowdy or salty at times – especially language.

Heck, I’ve spent a lot of time in corporate America conference rooms and the language can get bad in there. Except, of course, the people dropping the F-bombs and such don’t think of it as bad. They pretty much just think of it as language – it’s just the way people speak, right?

Anyway, back to Kirk and Fireproof. In this scene, Kirk gets mad and is slamming things and yelling and even kind of forces his wife up against the wall as if he was really considering hitting her. But, you know what he didn’t do? He didn’t cuss. Not once. Not one objectionable word flew from his mouth. Huh?

It stood out to me immediately as wrong. This guy in this situation would have let some cuss words fly. It’s who he was. It would have been completely natural for him. But he didn’t.

So of course I went into critic mode and was all like, “well if you want it to be real and believable his character should have said something like this or that or blah, blah blah…” But then I read about how successful the movie was; that people were going back and seeing it again. Why?

Then it finally hit me. The writers wrote the story for their audience. They knew their audience didn’t want to hear that language – regardless – and they wanted to produce something that their audience would go see.

Pretty smart of them, I’d say.

But, I also still say that Kirk’s character would have cussed and that the scene could have been even more powerful if it was written in a way that words weren’t used to express his anger. Although he would have cussed, he also may have been smart enough to keep his mouth shut…as he broke her favorite kitchen appliance or threw something out the window, or just looked at her…and walked off. Something aside from using non-bad words in place of bad words.

Anyway, in summary, here is what I learned (or had reinforced):

  1. Know your audience and write in way that you think they will accept it.
  2. If you can’t use the right words, don’t use any words. Find another way to say it.
  3. People will overlook some stuff if the movie has a story people care about.
  4. There is no reason to use bad language in a story. Yes, people talk like that but you can tell a very compelling story without anyone saying anything.


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