I was recently on the phone with the person who wrote this post and when she told me her reasoning for letting her 10-year old see The King's Speech, an R rated film, I had one of those, "Yes!" moments - and quickly determined I would take my own 11-year old child to see it.
My husband and I recently took our 10-year-old son to the movie, The King’s Speech. We knew that it had been given an R rating because of two scenes with several expletives, but I had seen the movie a few weeks earlier and knew that my son had to see it!
My son is extremely bright, but has dysgraphia (looks like bad handwriting but is not quite so simple) and some visual-spatial issues. He has had to work hard to develop strategies to deal with these deficits. He often complains that it is unfair that he has these problems and that he has to work so hard. In his mind, every other kid is lounging around at home playing video games, watching TV, and generally having a good time. He contends that no one else has such a burden -- he feels alone.
When I saw The King’s Speech for the first time, I realized that it had a powerful message to anyone who has ever had to struggle. Here was a man who had a very obvious problem -- stuttering -- and he could not hide it or from it. The advent of radio and his position as a member of the royal family demanded public speeches on his part. His ascent to the throne as war clouds gathered over Europe was totally unexpected and unwanted, but he had been brought up to do his duty. Bertie, the prince/king, saw several therapists and worked extremely hard all of his life to be able to speak clearly and smoothly. His ability to do so was vital in a speech that would convince his countrymen to enter the war against Germany rather than on the side of their longtime ally. Stuttering with the accompanying long pauses would have been devastating to the cause.
The successful treatment of Bertie’s stutter was unorthodox for the time. Indeed, the relationship between the two men was groundbreaking given the rigid class system of interwar England. Lionel Logue, his therapist, noted that Bertie (and most stutterers) did not stutter when singing or when extremely angry. Thus, two scenes involve intense anger and words that one does not use in polite company! There was really no way to accurately portray the deepening trust between patient and therapist or the growing desperation of Bertie’s situation without using a few four-letter words.
In taking my son to this movie, I had to prepare him for those two scenes (as we do not generally use such language around him). I explained that he would hear words that some people would call bad. I further explained that I did not think words, in and of themselves, were bad, but that there were inappropriate contexts to use these words. I noted that in the movie, he would see that these words were only used when the King was with his therapist and never in public or even other private settings. In my opinion, in most situations, people should use a larger vocabulary to express themselves and need not be vulgar, but when one is extremely angry, these vulgar terms sometimes capture the emotions that one is feeling in the moment.
For example, the term sh*t makes me think of the feeling that you have when you step in dog poop on the sidewalk. The excrement is all over your shoe, and you usually have nothing with you to even begin cleaning it. Moreover, you are probably on your way to an important meeting. The anger, frustration, desperation, vengefulness, sick-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling, shame, embarrassment, and loneliness in that moment cannot be summed up by “Oh, poop!” or “Darn!” Expletives bring us to our basest place and allow us to vent those same feelings. Just as we don’t generally express those emotions in public, we should not use those words in public, but there are times and places when those words are the best at capturing our feelings.
I explained all of this to my son. He asked what the various words meant, and we explained them matter-of-factly. He laughed a bit, and was curious about the fact that they were largely scatalogical or sexual. He also agreed that these words didn’t really have a place in everyday life -- “don’t people have better ways to say what they mean?” was his question. He talked about a few classmates who bandy those words around on the playground and how he thought those students were not really fun to be around.
Most importantly, my son walked out of the movie inspired by a true story about someone who had a problem despite his status and worked to overcome it and did. This week, my son has railed against his therapies far less than usual and has agreed to some intensive keyboarding and other work during the summer. I think he realizes that we value him as a brilliant scientist and lovely little boy and that we will do anything to make his dreams come true. He understands, for the first time, that hard work may not pay off immediately, but that it will eventually. I am so glad that I did not let a few four-letter words stand in the way of that powerful message.