If you read the IMDb synopsis for Cleanflix, it says, “When a small Utah-based edited movie company is caught sanitizing Hollywood’s copyrighted material, the film industry strikes back with a devastating blow.” That constitutes only a small part of the story told in this film. Far from being a court docudrama, Cleanflix examines some pretty big questions, such as, do people have the right to expect anyone to change a message to suit their fringe group’s perception of what is moral? Increasingly since Cleanflix was released in 2009, we have seen extremists on both the right and the left making this kind of demand. More importantly, what effect does the insistence on being sheltered from “objectionable” ideas have on a person’s mind?
Some of the interviewees of Cleanflix think they know the answer to the second question. Their answer would seem to be the right one if you go by the anecdotal evidence we have by the end of the film; however, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to humans and their ways. Maybe that’s why my husband and I have watched this movie about five times. Every time we see it, I get something different out of it.
The story begins in 1986, when a Mormon elder or bishop or something declares from the pulpit that Mormons are not to watch R-rated movies anymore. Evidently this guy is considered a prophet, so a lot of people went along with this demand, in public anyway. Cut to the year 2000, and these people are starting to feel like they are being left out of the cultural zeitgeist or whatever because they can’t go see The Matrix and they can’t rent Titanic. So this one dude with dead eyes decides to start editing all the sex and violence out of popular Hollywood films and renting the copies out. Soon there are umpteen stores that rent these sanitized videos all over Utah. And voila! Cleanflix and its various copycat companies are born.
Pretty soon a bunch of big Hollywood directors find out these folks are chopping up their movies and making money showing them to other big old babies who are afraid they’ll see a real boob or some fake blood, and boy are the directors pissed! This is not their artistic vision! But before the Director’s Guild can sue them, someone from Cleanflix sues them pre-emptively! And then that guy drops out of the suit, which the other Cleanflix dealers all lose, and they have five days to sell their crappy movies and get out of business before the Hollywood machine hands them their asses. The people who like these poor mutilated Frankenmovies ask, “well, why can’t we just buy the airplane or TV edits?” And Hollywood says, “Because you can’t.” And that is that.
Incidentally, this is what pissed my husband off most about Cleanflix: the idea that Hollywood wouldn’t sell the Mormon video stores TV edits of their films because they don’t want to pander to right wing Christians, but any old thing Scientologists want to do in Hollywood is just fine. This is not because he is right wing; he is not, or we wouldn’t be married. But for the hypocrisy.
But wait, there’s more! The rest of the film focuses on this one creepy guy named Daniel who decides to keep renting the sanitized films thinking he can make some more money off this venture using a loophole that lets schools have edited copies to show to kids. But Daniel goes to all the news outlets and brags about how the people want these cleaned up movies and he is going to give them to them, and he really makes this all about himself. Then Daniel turns out to be less than moral by almost anyone’s standards, and he does it in a really spectacular way. So for the rest of the film Daniel gets what he wants: it’s all about him. It foreshadows what a creep this guy is, and pays off in a big way at the end.
And that’s when one of the several Mormon or ex-Mormon filmmakers interviewed implies that this is just what happens when people are repressed. If you never see any sex and violence, you’re going to end up being sexually inappropriate and/or violent yourself, by that logic. But does that mean social justice warriors are going to end up in blackface, burning crosses on people’s lawns? It’s an interesting question. The idea of being really offended as a libertine heathen left winger is a relatively new one, whereas conservative people have been painting fig leaves over genitals for hundreds of years, and then going into the back of the sanctuary and touching an altar boy. We don’t know what deciding never to expose yourself to anything you disagree with is going to do. But we do know that you don’t want to be like Daniel.
But more than that I’m just angered by the countless interviews with people who are proud to say they do whatever they’re told, and who believe that God as a thing gives a shit whether you see Kate Winslet nude. I mean, He/She/It created Winslet to look like that naked, and you think it was so you could go in and digitally paint clothes on her?! As if something or someone who is all-powerful would care about something that petty, rather than how people treat one another, specifically in this case whether you steal what’s not yours and re-sell it for a profit. God gave humans a big brain with the ability to make scientific discoveries for a reason, and it’s not so we could create the technology to edit the word “cock” out of The Big Lebowski. Technology, medicine, science, all that stuff, they were put here to ease human suffering. And no one’s suffering is being eased because they couldn’t watch The Matrix. Parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy, well, maybe.
P.S. I do not have a problem with Mormons. I have a problem with fundamentalists, and people on both ends of the political spectrum who can’t think for themselves. They are dangerous.