Monday, January 24, 2011

No Strings Attached [2011]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (2 stars) Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

"Wouldn’t it be nice ..." – Beach Boys

No Strings Attached is a fantasy, a daydream, a “thought experiment” asking the age old question “Is it possible to get away with having sex without consequences (that is, ‘with no strings attached’)?”

And I don’t think I’m exactly “ruining the ending” here in revealing that after having a good deal of fun with this transgressive day dream, the movie brings its characters (and the audience) safely to back to the conclusion that, “No, it’s not possible.” What a surprise (and what a relief ;-)

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s _a whole lot of transgression_ in this picture.

The Catholic Church teaches that there is always a procreative dimension and a unitive (relational) dimension to sex (see CCC #2366).

The whole premise of NSA’s version of this age-old “daydream” depends on contraception. Here the Church, acting _exactly_ as a “Good Mother” should, reminds her children (in as much as they willing/able to hear) that contraception (to say nothing of disease prevention) is _never_ fool-proof. Why isn’t it fool-proof? For the same reason that humanity destroyed two space shuttles, poisoned ½ of Byelorussia with Chernobyl and watched with horror the wreck of BP’s Deep Oil Horizon spew untold millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last year. People make mistakes. Now add hormones marinated with alcohol, and “you just try landing a space shuttle, while ...” So the Church _exactly_ as a Good Mother tells its kids, “Don’t get involved with anyone ‘in that way’ unless you could see yourself having a kid with that person and then if you can see that why not just get married then” (See CCC #2360-61 and CMT below). So there ;-).

The daydream played out in this picture assumes that no babies will be created and no diseases spread. But then _it’s a daydream_, not a legal disclaimer on a medicine bottle, after all ;-).

Then as something of a fairly important and arguably propagandistic sidebar, the movie also presents a milieu in which there is no longer any difference between homosexual and heterosexual sex, that it’s all the same as long as the parties are willing.

Now this is a youth oriented movie and I’ve been told by many people of all ages that the younger people are the more accepting of homosexuality and that issues with homosexuality are by-and-large “hangups of older people.”

Referring above to the basic teaching of the Church on sex that it has a procreative and unitive (relational) dimension, it’s probably safe to say that the Church will probably never look at homosexual and heterosexual sex as “being the same" (see CCC #2357). However, the Church, again as a Good Mother, _has believed her children_ when they say that they have clear homosexual inclinations, and she has declared that she wants homosexuals to be happy (see CCC #2358). To be honest, she has not figured out yet how exactly to do that. The status of Catholic teaching on this matter is reflected in CCC #2359.

To be sure, she’d _probably_ counsel her children “who aren’t sure about their inclinations” to “not do anything they may regret” because as with _anything_ in the sexual arena, actions do have consequences, often unforeseen. Among them, honestly, 30 years from now, it might not be nearly as "cool" or transgressive to play in this area and unless one was more or less sure about one's orientation beforehand, one may find it difficult to explain to loved ones many years later why one dabbled in this area before. This may not be a problem 30 years from now. Then again, it may be. So Good Mother Church counsels above all, please, please be careful, because ultimately she does want you to be happy (see CCC #2358-59).

Very good, so these are _two areas_ (contraception, homosexuality) that the Catholic Church would have real problems with this movie (see the CNS/USCCB review)

Surprisingly though (or perhaps not so surprisingly) in the last area, that exploring the “relational dimension” of sexuality, Hollywood (the maker of this movie) and Good Mother Church are in happy agreement. Here _both_ agree that it’s ultimately _impossible_ to engage in sex without it provoking feeling toward the other person, that there is _no such a thing_, even on a relational level, as “sex without consequences.”

And it shouldn’t really be too surprising that Hollywood would come to this conclusion. Even if Hollywood’s industry is based on “dreaming,” its dreaming ultimately comes from the human heart, and its movies are made by and then presented to human beings. (This is actually exactly where the Church wishes to be as well. See GS #1). So there is ultimately a “sappiness” to Hollywood's productions that Good Mother Church would both understand and appreciate.

No Strings Attached is a fun movie. It winks far more than it shows (as one would expect of a movie with actors of such caliber as Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher). It’s made in a story-telling tradition that dates back to Shakespeare (“A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream”, “Loves Labor’s Lost,” and “All’s well that Ends Well”) and even back to the Bible’s Song of Songs (which is a series of bronze-age bubble-gum love poems which don’t exactly focus on the “procreative dimension of sexuality” either but glory in the feeling of being in love).

Yes, kids, certainly, _don’t_ do any of what's shown in this movie at home. It's _just a story_, a fantasy, a daydream. (And I don’t see _any_ reason why a kid or a young teen should see this movie).

But to those college-aged adults and above who will go see the movie (and laugh along with the story), it should become clear as day as you watch that “the day dream” doesn’t work, that there’s no such a thing as “sex without consequences," and that it’s ultimately impossible to have sex with someone you don’t come to love. Either that, or one or the other is going to get hurt. And since this _is_ a Hollywood production “it all ends well.”

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1 comment:

  1. * The actual teaching of the Catholic Church on contraception is more fundamental than I gave above. Even if contraception (and disease prevention) could approach 100% effectiveness, what does "contraceptive failure" signify? A child produced is _always_ a _child of God_ not not an accident, not a failure, not a "spawn of Chernobyl" to be avoided/grieved or even destroyed. Hence the Catholic Church rejects the whole contraceptive mentality that conception is something to be feared.