Two movies in the Hannibal Lecter franchise had their classifications changed by the Review Board.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) was dropped from R to M while HANNIBAL (2001) was increased from MA to R. The controversy surrounding the first film would eventually lead to the introduction of the MA-rating.
The Silence of the Lambs
Directed by Jonathon Demme / 1991 / USA / IMDb
On 9 January 1991, a 115-minute print of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was passed with an R (Occasional graphic violence, Assaultive coarse language) rating.
The applicant, Village Roadshow appealed the decision and won a reduction of the classification to M (Occasional graphic violence, Disturbing concepts).
January 25, 1991
Applicant: Village Roadshow Corporation Limited
Decision Reviewed: Classify ‘R’ by the Film Censorship Board
Decision: In THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, based on a novel by Thomas Harris, a serial killer is tracked down by a female FBI recruit played by Jodie Foster. During her investigation she wins the confidence of an even more dangerous serial killer, a mad psychiatrist held in a high security prison, who provides her with a valuable “psychological profile” of the murderer and information which enables her to identify him. Meanwhile the psychiatrist (Anthony Hopkins) escapes from prison after brutally murdering two guards, and apparently goes free. The other killer is finally caught, but not before he has kidnapped the daughter of a US senator and subjected her to a terrifying ordeal.
The activities of both murderers are peculiarly bloodthirsty, and audiences are spared none of the details of their atrocities. At no time, however, are the killers seen committing their serial crimes; the violence is depicted post hoc, being shown in photographs, or described verbally, or (most graphically) revealed during an autopsy, when the body of one victim is examined. The murder of the guards is also shown graphically, although much of the violence is out of shot. The film, directed by Jonathon Demme, is undeniably frightening and skilfully made. A majority of the Film Censorship Board considered its violent elements sufficiently disturbing to warrant a Restricted classification. They were concerned also by two uses of offensive language. The Board of Review, while acknowledging that the language was strong, considered it contextually justified; we were more concerned with the film’s violence, with the general implications of its theme, and its power to disturb young audiences.
The applicants contended that the individual elements of the film were neither excessive nor gratuitous; that the language was not assaultive; and that although the film dealt with powerful and bizarre ideas, it was unlikely to be harmful to young people of 15 or older. With all of this it was possible to agree, although members of the Board of Review had misgivings about the film. Some of us were troubled by the killing of the guards, others by the girl’s ordeal in the pit, where the killer keeps her prisoner, and where there was a tendency to linger with relish on the extremes of her suffering. In these moments the film went close to meriting an ‘R’ classification, but stopped just short, in our opinion, of doing so. The violence, being largely implied, was of the kind we considered in the police thriller COP, the subject of an appeal in 1988, in which the consequences of serial killings themselves were shown in clinical detail, although the killings themselves were not seen. On that occasion we determined that an ‘M’ classification was appropriate, and in all the circumstances we concluded that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS should be treated similarly.
This is an instance of the dilemmas that may be raised in the minds of censorship bodies by films or artistic and technical merit. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a more than usually literate and intelligent film with an element of compassion. The temptation to treat such films more leniently for purposes of censorship classification is notoriously strong; and all of us felt bound to ask ourselves whether we were justified in doing so. Are the qualities that make a “good” film more likely to ameliorate or to intensify the impact of its subject-matter? Will a “good” film be more disturbing than a rubbishy one with a similar theme? Very likely the answer is yes. But equally likely, the rewards of seeing it will be greater, and the responses set up in the minds of audiences will be more complex and subtle. There will, one hopes, be a compensating enlargement of the viewer’s experience. In this instance the Board of Review felt justified in admitting such considerations. We thought it unlikely that the film’s audiences would see it purely as a spectacle of gratuitous horror; the feelings of pity and terror evoked by the film may well stimulate deeper reflections. In our view the film fell just within the limits of an ‘M’ classification, though some of us also felt that it highlighted the need for an additional classification between ‘M’ and ‘R’, in which material of this kind could be readily accommodated. With these concerns in mind, we directed that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS be classified ‘M’ with consumer advice: “Occasional graphic violence and disturbing concepts”.– Film and Literature Board of Review report
At the time, the MA rating had yet to be introduced.
In May 1991, the 115-minute 35mm print was classified again with the same M (Occasional graphic violence, Disturbing concepts) rating.
The applicant, RCA/Columbia Pictures/Hoyts Video, released it on tape.
Introduction of the MA-rating.
The decision to lower the rating of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was controversial.
October 2, 1991
Two hundred and forty-one written and fifty-five oral complaints were received during the year.
…THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (24 Letters).
Most of those relating to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS concerned the ‘M’ classification assigned by the Film and Literature Board of Review.– Office of Film and Literature Classification
– Reports on Activities, 1990 to 1991
The Film and Literature Board of Review acknowledged this and opened a debate about the lack of a classification between M and R.
October 2, 1991
Although the Board heard fewer appeals this year, one proved highly contentious. On 25 January 1991 the Board determined that the ‘R’ classification (for Restricted Exhibition) accorded by a majority of the Film Censorship Board to the Jonathon Demme film THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS should more appropriately be ‘M’. The film, which was generally well received by critics, achieved some notoriety because of its bold treatment of themes of serial killing and abnormal psychology. The reasons for the Board of Review’s decision are set out in this report; despite a number of objections from members of the public, we remain of the view that our decision was consistent with’ M’ guidelines allowing strong depictions of violence provided it is contextually justified.
In recording our decision we argued that a separate classification was needed for violent films at the upper end of the ‘M’ scale. This suggestion was taken up during public discussions of the censorship issues raised by THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and as this report was being written there were indications that censorship authorities in some States were attracted to the notion of an ‘MV’ classification for exceptionally violent films within the ‘M’ range.– Film and Literature Board of Review
– Reports on Activities, 1990 to 1991
Their proposal of an ‘MV’ classification become the MA (Mature Accompanied) rating that was introduced in May 1993.
It would take over eleven-years for THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to be increased from M to MA. This took place in January 2005 with the submission of double-disc ‘Special Edition’ DVD.
Both the film and the extras disc were passed with MA (High level violence, Medium level coarse language) ratings.
MGM Home Entertainment Group was the applicant.
Disc 2 of a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – COLLECTORS EDITION DVD was classified w MA15+ Strong violence, Strong coarse language) in March 2007. Presumably, this contained extras and the change in consumer advice was not for the film itself.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment was the applicant.
They released it on Blu-ray in April 2009.
Directed by Ridley Scott / 2001 / USA – UK – Italy / IMDb
On 7 February 2001, a 131-minute print of HANNIBAL was passed with an MA (High Level Violence) rating.
United International Pictures was the applicant.
The classification was immediately condemned by the Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO). Formed in 1947, the ACSSO claims to represent the families and communities of children who attend government schools.
February 8, 2001
Rodney Molesworth, President of the Australian Council of State School Organisations.
Well, it certainly seems a little bit difficult to understand. I think that what we really need from the board is a lot more consistency. We seem to have certain evidence of government interference when there’s something that they have an interest in and there’ve been changes to the board. There’ve been some classifications which seem to be ridiculously strict and some which seem (like this one) to be quite dangerously lax.
I think that really we need some kind of inquiry into what’s happening with censorship in the country and some further input from the community about what community standards really are.– Questions over rating of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS sequel
– AM @ abc.net.au
February 8, 2001
The OFLC’s Des Clark though says he’d welcome a review, but he claims the way the board applies its guidelines is entirely consistent. Alison Caldwell has our report.
ALISON CALDWELL: Des Clark is the new head of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. While he himself hasn’t seen the film, he says he’s satisfied with its classification.
DES CLARK: What’s been applied in the MA 15+, mature accompanied in violence, is generally depictions of violence should not have a high impact. Depictions of high impact should be infrequent and should not be prolonged or gratuitous.
And that is what the Board has applied in this instance, in that there is a theme of violence throughout the film but most of that violence is not high impact and most of it is in fact not detailed. And in fact there are, as I understand it, two depictions in the film which are brief and do have a high impact but they’re not prolonged or gratuitous.
So that’s where their discussion has focused, on that section of the guidelines for MA 15+. And they weren’t of a view that it tipped over into the hard category. One board member did have that view, but that was only one.
ALISON CALDWELL: The Australian Council of State Schools Organisations today is calling for an inquiry into Australia’s classification guidelines.
DES CLARK: We’ve done research as recently as last year, where with focus groups of members of the community we’ve tested our classifications against the classifications given by the board, and in fact there is an extraordinarily high degree of consistency between community expectations and those of the board.
ALISON CALDWELL:What would you say about the fact that the marketing manager for the distributor of this film, he himself was expecting your office to give the film restricted classification?
DES CLARK: He’s the marketing manager. It’s a marketing statement, I don’t accept that that is in fact a genuine statement. If the film had gone R I expected there probably would have been an appeal, because nobody wants an R rating on their film.– OFLC comes under fire for HANNIBAL’S MA classification
– AM @ abc.net.au
The following day, Fred Nile joined the call for a review.
February 9 2001
The Rev Fred Nile MLC, Hon National President of the Christian Democratic Party and Member of the NSW Parliament, has strongly condemned the soft policies of the Federal Film Censors concerning the ultra-violent film HANNIBAL with its MA rating for children. The anti-violence campaigner, Rev Fred Nile MLC, said, “The community is shocked at the soft MA classification which the Federal Censors – the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), gave to the new ultra-violent film HANNIBAL.”
“It seems this Federal Censorship Office is being influenced by representatives of the anti-censorship lobby from AXIS (hard core porn move distributor) which it met with last November, and the Eros Foundation, (lobby group for the porn industry)”.
“The MA rating is meaningless as it has no legal enforcement powers, so that hundreds of 13 and 14 year old boys are being allowed to watch these violent and pornographic films”.
“If the Howard Government was serious they would amend the Censorship Regulations, so that children under 15 years are legally not allowed to enter the theatre to watch an MA, or M-rated violent, porn movie, with heavy fines for theatre owners who allowed children to enter their theatre”.
“SURELY THE RECENT BLOODY, BRUTAL MURDER OF A 3 YEAR OLD GIRL BY A 13 YEAR OLD BOY SHOULD SHAKE UP THE FEDERAL CENSORS FROM THEIR COMPLACENCY”.
“The Federal Censorship Office must urgently re-classify the HANNIBAL movie at least as an R-rated film only for adults,” urged Rev Fred Nile MLC.– HANNIBAL has crossed the Australian standards of decency
– The Christian Democratic Party
MA to be reviewed
The protests worked and soon the politicians were taking notice. Queensland’s Attorney-General, Judy Spence (Labor), made a request to Federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams (Liberal), for him to apply for a review.
Unfortunately, the Board were unable to before the film opened on February 14.
February 14, 2001
COMPERE: The film’s Australian distributors chose today, Valentine’s Day, to open this movie in previews. But there’s already intense debate about its censorship rating – MA15+ – which will let children see it if accompanied by an adult.
Why not an R? The Classification Board’s being accused of being out of step with community opinion on extreme violence.
REBECCA BARRETT: HANNIBAL is already shaping up as one of the year’s most successful films. But not it seems because it’s a good movie. Lyndon Barber, a film writer with The Australian, says HANNIBAL is one of the worst films he’s ever seen. He says it’s boring and pretentious, and there’s no suspense. To add to that, it’s also particularly gruesome. So gruesome in fact that Lyndon Barber walked out.
LYNDON BARBER: I realised that I just didn’t want to sit for any longer through a film in which somebody’s live brain, a live human being’s brain is exposed and then prodded, and then has a bit sliced off it and then is eaten. I could see what was going to come. I could hear the sound of the sizzle of the frying pan.
And it’s all in full view, and with very realistic special effects.
REBECCA BARRETT: Lyndon Barber believes the film is too violent for a rating of MA15+, and he’s not the only one. The Classification Review Board has been asked by the Federal Attorney General to review HANNIBAL’S rating urgently.
But the problem is the Board is part time, and its members are from all over Australia. Getting them together for a screening is proving difficult, but the Board is hoping to review the film by the end of the week, days after its Australian release.
The MA15+ classification means that under 15s can see the movie if accompanied by a parent or a guardian. The guidelines for that classification state that the depiction of violence should not have a high impact. But the Classification Board has added a consumer advice to that rating, of high level violence.
That begs the question, Why didn’t they just give HANNIBAL an R rating? Lyndon Barber believes the Board has flagrantly ignored the guidelines, saying they should be rejigged so they’re more in step with community opinion.
LYNDON BARBER: Community opinion is now much less concerned about sex than it would have been a few years ago, and is more concerned about extreme violence, and I think they should be more liberal on sexual and erotic content, and I think we need to certainly be more questioning about violent, ultra-violent content.
REBECCA BARRETT: The Eros Foundation agrees. It’s not often the sex industry criticises the Classification Board for not being tough enough when it comes to censorship. The Eros Foundation was planning to seek its own review of HANNIBAL’S rating before it was pipped at the post.
It’s still seeking legal advice because it believes the classification system was not applied properly. CEO John Davey says the Board needs to be more consistent.
JOHN DAVEY: I think the Australian community are saying that, in the research that we’re doing and certainly the research that the OFLC’s doing, that, you know, sex is okay and you know, explicit sex – it should be appropriately regulated. But violence isn’t okay. And that’s sort of coming up time and time again for us.
So what we’re concerned with is that the OFLC seems to be out of step with that position and the views of the Australian community.
REBECCA BARRETT: David Haines is a former deputy chief censor, who a few years ago made adult movies. He’s now a consultant on censorship and media regulation and believes there’s a double standard when it comes to the way the Classification Board deals with sex and violence.
DAVID HAINES: I’d actually like to see the guidelines made much more flexible. I think that’s what needs to be done. The Board members need to be given the opportunity to adjust their own views according to their reading of community standards, rather than having the standards of a group of fairly conservative politicians thrust on them.– Row over HANNIBAL film classification
– PM @ abc.net.au
MA to R-rated
HANNIBAL had been open for a week by the time the Classification Review Board met on February 22. They decided to increase the rating to R (High Impact Violence).
Following the ruling, advertising was amended to remove the previous MA (High Level Violence) classification.
February 15 & 22, 2001
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills NSW
Ms Barbara Biggins (Convenor)
Mr Jonathan O’Dea (Deputy Convenor)
Ms Joan Yardley
Ms Glenda Banks
Dr Robin Harvey
The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP
To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification “MA15+” with the consumer advice “High Level Violence” under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to the film and sale/hire videotape HANNIBAL.
DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION
The Classification Review Board decided to set aside the decision of the Classification Board to classify the film HANNIBAL “MA 15+” with the consumer advice “High level violence”, and to classify the film “R 18+” with the consumer advice “High impact violence.”
2. Legislative Provisions
The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that films be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the classification Guidelines. Relevantly, the National Classification Code (the Code) in paragraph 4 of the Table under the heading “Films” provides that films (except RC films, X films, and R films) that depict, express, or otherwise deal with sex, violence, or coarse language in such a manner as to be unsuitable for viewing by persons who are under 15 years, are to be classified “MA”. Para 3 of the table provides films (except RC and X films) that are unsuitable for a minor to see, are to be classified “R”.
3.1 Having received a request from the Queensland Attorney General, the Hon Judy Spence MLA, the Federal Attorney General, the Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP, requested the Review Board on 13 February 2001 to review the classification of the film HANNIBAL as a matter of urgency.
3.2 Five members of the Review Board viewed the film HANNIBAL.
3.3 At the request of the film’s distributor, United International Pictures (UIP), the Review Board postponed its meeting planned for 15 February to allow UIP sufficient time to prepare a submission to the Review Board. The written submission from UIP was received on 21 February 2001.
3.4 The Review Board met on February 22nd to review the film.
3.5 The Review Board heard oral representations from Mr Michael Selwyn and Mr John Dickie representing the distributor at its meeting of February 22nd.
4. Matters taken into account
In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following: –
(a) The applicant’s Application for Review
(b) The distributor’s oral and written submissions to the Review Board
(c) The film HANNIBAL
(d) The relevant provisions in the Act
(e) The relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended by section 6 of the Act and as endorsed by the State and Territory Ministers responsible for censorship matters.
(f) The current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes determined under section 12 of the Act.
5. Findings on Material Questions of Fact
5.1 In this sequel to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Dr Hannibal Lecter, the former psychiatrist who engages in cannibalism, has escaped and is now living a cultured life in Florence. He is pursued for revenge by Verger, who had been horribly mutilated during an encounter with Hannibal some years earlier. Verger enlists the aid of law officers to trace Hannibal, and their paths cross with that of FBI agent Clarice Starling.
The Review Board focussed on the scenes listed by the Classification Board in its report, but also made findings, as below, in regard to other scenes.
5.2 The Review Board considered the content cited by the Classification Board These were the following six scenes:
1) The stakeout in the marketplace in which policewoman Clarice Starling is cornered by a female drug dealer and her cronies, after much gunfire. Clarice is forced to fire on the female who is carrying a baby in a pouch. The female is shot dead. The sequence contains slow motion shots of falling bodies, and blood spurts. Splattered blood is washed off the baby.
2) The flashbacks which occur at several points in the film, but notably around 25mins, in which Verger, as a younger man, is seen swinging from a rope, and slashing at his face with broken glass given to him by, and at the suggestion of Hannibal. Verger peels flesh from his face, and Hannibal feeds the flesh to a dog. Verger is horribly disfigured as a result of the event.
3) Hannibal implicitly stabs a male who has been following him. The pursuer falls with flows of blood shown from his mouth and leg.
4) Hannibal renders unconscious the Italian policeman Pazzi, who has discovered his identity. He gags and straps Pazzi to a trolley, wheels him to the edge of the balcony, puts a rope around his neck, asking “bowels in or out?” Hannibal implicitly slits the officer’s gut, and pushes him over the balcony. Pazzi is hanged and his bowels fall out and are seen on the ground below, with the body swinging above.
5) Hannibal has been captured by Verger’s accomplices and taken to his farm where Verger plans to have Hannibal killed by his trained pigs. Clarice arrives and rescues him, shooting two guards who fall in the pig pen and screams are heard as the pigs attack. Verger is also thrown in the pigpen and is likewise attacked.
6) Hannibal drugs the law officer in the pay of Verger, and removes the top of the agent’s skull revealing his brain. He slices a piece of brain off, cooks and feeds it to him.
5.3 In reviewing these scenes, the Review Board found:
Scene (1) had high impact, with some elements of stylising which did not diminish the overall impact, and was prolonged
Scene (2) While scene 2 contained some elements of a stylised approach, it had high impact. The Review Board also found that this scene required an adult perspective in relation to the dialogue: “when you hang yourself it feels good”.
Scene (3) contained violence, but did not have a high impact
Scene (4) had high impact, and was prolonged, and had elements of gratuitousness
Scene (5) had high impact (despite some stylised elements) and was prolonged
Scene (6) had high impact and was prolonged.
5.4 In relation to other scenes considered by the Review Board, a majority of the Review Board found the scene in which he apparently cuts off Clarice’s hand with a cleaver to have high impact. The Review Board also considered that other scenes or threats of violence, such as the threat to eat the heart of Pazzi’s wife, Hannibal’s slitting the throat of one of Verger’s men, and picture galleries of Hannibal’s victims added to the general impact of the violent depictions in the film.
5.5 The Review Board also found that while some of these scenes, and the film as a whole, had elements that could be considered to be stylised, this did not diminish the overall high impact of the violence. Furthermore, most of the above scenes were portrayed as “real life” events and stylistic elements did not diminish this perception.
5.6 The Review Board also considered the themes of the film and found that the powerful portrayal of the serial killer as a “hero” without any credible alternate role models or an explicit or implicit moral resolution could be disturbing to adolescents in the age range of 13 to 16 years (even if accompanied by adults). The Review Board was also concerned about the theme of feeding of body parts from live humans to animals and people. It was considered that both these themes required an adult perspective.
5.7 The Review Board found that the film contained scenes of high impact violence which were not infrequent and which were sometimes prolonged and/or contained gratuitous elements. In addition the Review Board found that the film required an adult perspective in dealing with some of its themes. The Review Board therefore found that the film was unsuitable for persons under the age of 18 years and was appropriately classified “R18+”.
6. Reasons for the Decision
6.1 The Review Board based its decision to set aside the decision of the Classification Board, and to assign the classification “R 18+” to the film HANNIBAL on the content and themes set out in 5.2 –5.6 above.
6.2 As described in 5.3 and 5.4 above, the Review Board found that there were a number of depictions of violence that, in the view of the Review Board, had high impact, and some of these were, additionally, prolonged or had elements of gratuitousness. The Guidelines for violence in the MA classification require that such scenes be infrequent.
6.3 The Classification Board had taken the view that these scenes were “stylised”. The Guidelines permit depictions of violence with high impact to be more frequent if they are “stylised”. “Stylised treatment” is defined in the glossary to the Guidelines as being such that “the viewer is conscious of the unreality: examples include musicals, horror, animation, and fantasy”.
The Review Board took the view that the film as a whole was not stylised in that the characters and actions were realistic and the scenes were seemingly real.
In regard to individual scenes such as (1) –(6) above, the Review Board concluded that, while it could be argued that some scenes contained stylistic elements, in some cases these elements increased the impact.
For example, scene (2) in which Verger is mutilated, is depicted as a real happening, with stylised elements to convey that it is a flashback. The scene is set up to explain the cause of Verger seeking revenge, and was seen as a realistic depiction of an actual event, that is a key to the film’s action. In scene (3), the disembowelling of Pazzi is depicted as a real event, and the depiction includes a gratuitous closeup of Pazzi’s intestines on the ground. In scene (4) the filming techniques added to the chaos and scariness of the pig mauling and therefore increased the overall impact of the depiction. The depiction in scene (6) of the removal of the skull with the victim continuing to talk, was physically possible and was not considered unreal.
The Review Board concluded that, overall, it did not find the film or individual scenes to be stylised in a way that the frequency of high impact scenes was acceptable under the guidelines for the MA classification.
6.4 The Review Board considered that the portrayal of characters in the film contributed to a theme in which the viewer was invited to admire the culture and intelligence of the serial killer, despite the terrible crimes he had committed, and to empathise with his reasons for his violent behaviour. Adolescent viewers, at this point in their development, could be vulnerable to the ambiguous behavioural and emotional messages implicit in the characterisation of the film. The impact of this portrayal is increased in the final scene, in which Hannibal is seen to encourage a young child to eat a piece of human brain. This was perceived to be an attempt by the older man to corrupt the young child, with no sense of remorse or concern.
Further issues or depictions which require an adult perspective include:
1) the brief comment by Hannibal as Verger hangs and slashes at his face, viz “ When you hang yourself it feels good”. This was taken by the Review Board as a reference to the use of asphyxiation to produce heightened sexual arousal, which is an issue requiring an adult perspective.
2) the feeding of body parts taken from live human beings to animals or people.
6.5 The distributor argued in part that
a) the film was in the “horror” genre, and the violence was stylised. The film took a flippant approach and had an absence of menace
b) the Hannibal character was well known and his excesses would not surprise
c) in regard to specific scenes cited by the Classification Board, scene (4) (as in 5.2 above) was dimly lit, brief, stylised and in long shot; scene (5) had brief visuals, the action was chaotic and not detailed, and was unreal which lessened the impact; scene (6) in visual delivery did not live up to its conceptual strength, and was stylised.
d) The appeal was lodged before people had seen it, and that public concern had lessened after the film began national release.
6.6 In relation to these points, the Review Board took the view that :
a) see 6.3
b) HANNIBAL was likely to be well known among those who saw the thriller SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but that does not reduce the overall high impact of violence in this film
c) See 5.3 and 6.2, 6.3.
d) This is not relevant to the Board’s determination.
6.7 The Review Board concluded that the film contained depictions of high impact violence that were not infrequent, and which were sometimes prolonged and/or contained gratuitous elements. The treatment of these scenes and of the film as a whole was not considered to be stylised in a way that would make the high impact violence acceptable under an MA classification. Further the film contained depictions and raised issues which required an adult perspective. The film is therefore appropriately classified R 18+. The Board’s decision to assign the consumer advice line “High impact violence” is made having regard to the content and view set out in 5.3 and 6.2. above.
The Review Board’s decision is to classify the film HANNIBAL “R 18+” with the consumer advice line “High impact violence”. This decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant’s and distributor’s submissions, and after assessing the film as a whole against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes determined under Section 12 of the Act.– Barbara Biggins, Convenor
– Classification Review Board report
‘Liberal’ politicians speak-out
South Australian MP Trish Draper was a morals campaigner who made her name with the LOLITA (1997) case. She followed that with protests against SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975) and BAISE-MOI (2000).
Here she is revealing her involvement in the HANNIBAL case.
March 8, 2001
Many constituents in my electorate would be aware that recently the film HANNIBAL was reclassified by the Classification Review Board from MA15+ to R18+. I believe this is an important decision, reflecting the legitimate concerns of our community with regard to the ever increasing, unnecessary, gratuitous and graphic violence portrayed in films and other genres for the sake of entertainment.
We have enough violence in our society without trying to teach our children that violence is entertainment or a way of solving problems, particularly in the manner of that film. The reclassification of HANNIBAL to R18+ is a win not only for my local constituents in Makin but for our society right across Australia.– Trish Draper (Liberal)
– House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia
Soon after the decision, the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, spoke about the case at an Australian Film Institute forum in Sydney. In it, he claimed that …censorship is alien to liberal philosophies and traditions’ and that John Howard’s Government seeks ‘…classification policies, not censorship policies’.
This was coming from a member of a party that campaigned at the 1996 election to remove the X-rating entirely. When this proved too difficult, they instead tightened the guidelines, which massively increased the level of censorship of adult material.
May 14, 2001
The national scheme currently provides an opportunity for certain people to seek a review, which is effectively a reconsideration, of a classification decision.
Those entitled to seek a review of a decision under the Act are the original applicant, the distributor or publisher, the Minister and “a person aggrieved by the decision”.
For example, most recently I sought to review the decision of the Classification Board to classify HANNIBAL ‘MA’ in accordance with these provisions.
In accordance with the Act, I applied for review at the request of Judy Spence, the then Queensland Censorship Minister.
There was also concern in the community and the media about the classification and in the event, the Review Board classified HANNIBAL ‘R’.
Such a process is the exception rather than the rule, but it allows for reconsideration of decisions when appropriate and is part of the effective operation of the scheme as a whole.– AFI Forum, The Big C’s – Censorship or Classification
– Daryl Williams (Liberal)
In August 2001, Sony Pictures Entertainment received an R (High impact violence; Horror theme) rating for the DVD release of HANNIBAL. The addition of ‘Horror themes’ to the consumer advice was justified due to extras on the disc.
August 24, 2001– Classification Board report
This approach [the inclusion of extra material] gives the horror element a stronger focus. The additional consumer advice, more adequately informs the viewer of the content of the film.
Universal Pictures rereleased the DVD in March 2005.
Mistakenly, they put the original MA (High level violence) on the cover.
Back to MA15+
In July 2009, Universal Pictures Video submitted a 419-minute Blu-ray for classification.
Eight-years after being increased from MA to R by the Classification Review Board, it was now downgraded back to an MA15+. Only the consumer advice had been changed from ‘High level violence’ to ‘Strong violence’.
In December 2016, Channel Seven received a complaint about their screening of HANNIBAL.
December 19, 2016
At ~11:05pm on Friday the 2nd of December, your network broadcast the 2001 movie HANNIBAL on 7Flix.
I believe you have breached the code. Due to the movie on DVD being classified “R18+” with “high impact violence” (which was actually decided by the Classification Review Board following complaints in that year).
I had a teenage boy in the house at the time, who actually alerted me that he had been watching the movie in another room (of which I was unaware). He came to me and said “look at this, a man is getting his head cut open”. Which was deeply alarming and concerning. Hence, the instigation for my complaint/anger. It should be noted, I don’t have a parental lock set on any of my televisions, as I know R18+ programs cannot be broadcast on free-to-air television.
DETAILS OF MY COMPLAINT:
Channel Seven classified the broadcast as “MA15+” with “Strong Violence” & “Some Horror” (present in the top left-hand corner for ~10sec).
Two particular scenes upon what I ended up watching & my son had told me about, as well as the use of the Classification Review Board report of the movie, assisted me in determining my main concerns:
A man has his torso explicitly (but very briefly and in dim light) sliced open by a blade. He is then pushed off a balcony, whilst attached to a rope. When the rope slack ends, he is suspended in the air with his bowels explicitly splattering onto the pavement below.
This scene was high in viewing impact, particularly given the dark theme of the scene where an innocent man has been tied-up. It was also gratuitous and could be considered abhorrent by many. The classification review board also noted this scene as being high in impact and contributing to the R18+ classification.
At the end of the movie, a man is seated at a lavish dining room table, with a women (the protagonist) seated adjacent and another man (the antagonist) standing up next to the man. Thereafter, the antagonist proceeds to explicitly (but not graphically) slice open the top of the man’s skull, he then explicitly removes it. The man’s brain is explicitly exposed for the remainder of this scene. The man is also clearly medically affected, with his facial expressions, slurred and confused speech evident. The antagonist then explicitly removes a thin layer off his brain and cuts a portion of his brain off and cooks it on a frying pan, the man is then fed a piece of his own brain and eats it.
This scene was arguably the most graphic in the movie. It was high in viewing impact, gratuitous, likely to cause disgust and was more importantly unsuitable for a minor to view. It was also very uncomfortable to watch, taking into account the gross displeasure from the female protagonist beside him during the scene, but drugged, unable to move to help. The scene was lengthy, detailed and clear. The horror of the context and scene also increased the impact. The classification review board also noted this scene as being high impact and contributing to the R18+ classification.
In conclusion, I did not have any problem with any other element in the broadcast, which could all be accommodated in a lower classification (except the horror theme, but which was noted in the consumer advice). However the impact of the two specific scenes I mentioned was high in impact (at the R18+ level) and should not have been broadcast on free-to-air television. Adding to this, that no effort was made to edit/modify the movie from its uncut version and also seeing as the movie was classified R18+ (as shown in the report which is hyperlinked above).
I am also concerned at Seven’s classification department, that they were not able to determine the difference between content that is “strong in impact” (MA15+, allowed on television) and “high in impact” (R18+, not allowed on free-to-air television) in respect to this case.
Therefore I believe the broadcast did breach the code:
Due to the movie being classified R18+, which is not allowed on free-to-air television.
But also further supported by the two “high impact” scenes which I mentioned. Impact which is “strong” is the highest level allowed on free-to-air television.– To: Channel Seven
– From: Complainant
Channel Seven responded, and pointed out that the print had already been modified for screening by their in-house classification department.
As required by the Code, with regard to movies, the free-to-air television networks apply the same classification system as the Australian Government’s Classification Board. This generally means that if a movie is classified MA (Mature Audience) for cinema or DVD release, it will be MA for television. The Code further provides however that free to air television networks may edit a movie, so as to reduce its impact, and ensure it is suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at a particular time.
In the case of HANNIBAL, the film was modified for broadcast, so as to be suited to an MA (Mature Audience) classification, with consumer advice for strong violence and some horror. Material classified MA is suitable for viewing only by persons aged 15 years or over because of the intensity and/or frequency of violence, sexual depictions, or coarse language, adult themes or drug use. In making the relevant editorial decisions, our experienced Classifiers carefully reviewed the film in the light of both the Classification Board MA15+ Classification and Report, dated 6 February 2001, and the subsequent Review Board R18+ Classification and Report, dated 23 February 2001.
You are correct in your correspondence in asserting that two scenes were not edited although other scenes were cut. These two scenes were left unedited as signature scenes in a horror classic in which the horror element is evoked conceptually, while the depictions and style remain relatively restrained.
In the first scene you have described, a man’s torso is sliced open with a blade as he is poised on a mechanical chair on a balcony above a public square. As you pointed out in your correspondence, this is both brief and dimly lit. The effect of the downward slice of the blade is barely visible due to the extremely brief duration, and darkness of the shot. The cut is virtually implied and there is no blood detail. The man, silhouetted against the light and attached to the rope, is pushed over the balcony and tumbles as he falls. A shot of the pavement then shows objects from his pockets falling into frame, followed by blood and fleshy material. The man is then seen from beneath, dangling from the rope and swinging, in profile. While thematically strong, the actual depictions of violence are brief and/or implied and lack detail.
The second scene you have described is the famous dinner scene at the lake house. Taken in context, this scene, in its deliberately constructed style and pacing, is strong in thematic impact, while the depictions of actual violence are brief, even minimal. The scene unfolds slowly, almost lyrically, from the arrival of the victim Paul, to the waking of Clarice Starling in an upstairs bedroom. As Clarice makes her way downstairs she sees Hannibal stirring a frying pan with a wooden spoon, chatting politely with Paul. The mood at the table is surreal but calm, as an artful cutaway shows police cars speeding along the freeway towards the house. We then return to Paul who says grace, before another evocative shot shows a helicopter moving ever closer to Hannibal’s location.
Hannibal then removes Paul’s cap, revealing a thin line of blood around his skull. He carefully levers off the top of Paul’s skull, revealing his brain. The scene continues with Paul behaving in a slightly bewildered way, but apparently without pain or distress. Hannibal says “You see, the brain itself feels no pain, Clarice, if that concerns you.” in close ups of Clarice and Hannibal, she tries to negotiate with him to “stop now.” Hannibal removes a small piece of the brain which he fries in the pan. Paul comments, “that is good”. Again, close-ups of Clarice and Hannibal are shown in conversation. Hannibal then slowly wheels Paul from the room, as a line of police cars are seen in a dramatically stylised overhead shot, speeding towards Hannibal’s location.
While this scene is thematically strong, the depictions of violence are brief and meticulously constrained. In determining that the cumulative impact of the scene was strong, but not high, and thereby suited to an MA classification, our Classifiers gave due consideration to the Code’s Television Classification Guidelines which state, “the suitability of material for broadcast will depend on the context, frequency and intensity of key elements such as violence, sexual behaviour, nudity and coarse language, and on the day and time at which it is broadcast. It will also depend on such factors as the merit of the production, the purpose of a sequence, the tone, the camera work, the relevance of the material and the treatment; be it dramatic, comedic or documentary.”
HANNIBAL has become recognized as something of a classic. As with the ‘dinner scene’ in particular, it denotes a particular style in which the horror element is more conceptual than actual. Since this film was first classified in 2001, it has received wide recognition and acceptance.
We believe the film was appropriately classified MA and in full compliance with the Code. It was broadcast very late at night and into the early morning, and had warnings as to its content. It is intended that people use this information to make decisions about what to watch themselves, as well as those under their care.To: Complainant
From: Channel Seven
Unhappy with Channel Seven’s response, the complainant then wrote the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). They continued to claim that the film was R-rated, when in fact it had been dropped to MA15+ in July 2009.
January 9, 2017
In early December 2016, I emailed the Seven Network (via Free TV Australia) to raise concern about the 2001 film HANNIBAL that was broadcast on their multi-channel “7Flix” on the 2nd of December 2016 at 11:05pm.
The film was classified R18+ (following a review) by the Australian Classification Review Board in 2001. I believe the Seven Network did not edit (or as I have since discovered in their reply) sufficiently edit the film, to accommodate it in a lower classification suitable for free-to-air television, due to the “high impact violence” (some of which was gratuitous or over-the-top and prolonged in a realistic manner) the film contained, therefore breaching the code.
The two particular scenes I had serious concern about, was (1) the scene where an Italian Police officer’s torso is slit open and his bowels splatter on the ground below explicitly, after being strung up by a rope from a balcony. The second (2) scene I had even more serious concern about occurred at the end of the film, where Hannibal cuts open and removes a section of a man’s skull, revealing his brain with eerie detail, cuts a piece off, fries it and then feeds it to the man. I found these scenes to be high in viewing impact, somewhat over-the-top, hard to watch, prolonged (especially the latter scene) and rather realistic, as well as filming effects used to increase the impact and in the latter scene the distressed and uncomfortable mood/tone from the protagonist Clarice. I will admit that there were elements of stylisation and surreal that slightly decreased the impact, but minimally.
However I was not satisfied with their explanation and reasoning of the two scenes described above, with the Seven Network defending them as “two crucial scenes in a horror classic” and cementing that by saying “the film has become accepted over the years”. They also stated they believed the two scenes mentioned were no higher than strong in impact, which I, my family and the Australian Classification Review Board strongly disagree with.
I want resolution of clear issues:
1) Streamlined and more care given for classification, in that one organisation can’t find one scene to be ‘high in impact’ and the other not to be, especially when the code states that films for broadcast must follow the Australian Classification Board’s classification and guidelines.
2) To abolish the assertion that, just because a broadcast is late at night doesn’t necessarily mean minors and children will not be subject to the program. Classification provides a safeguard to children and their innocence. There is a reason why R18+ programs shouldn’t be broadcast on free-to-air television and it’s for this reason that minors (those under 18 years of age) need to be protected from confronting, confusing and offensive material. Many minors, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays stay up very late, particularly older teenagers, which backs this up.– To: ACMA
– From: Complainant
In their submission to the ACMA, Channel Seven detailed which scenes had been censored for screening and justified which ones were left untouched.
February 13, 2017
We provided the complainant with a detailed response in relation to [the complainant’s] concerns in our letter of 19 December 2016 and the comments made below are in addition to those we have already articulated.
The Classification Review Board gave the unedited version of HANNIBAL a classification of R18+ for cinematic release in 2001, following pressure from various Christian and community groups.
The Code provides that Films must be classified by applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. However notes that Films may be modified by a Licensee to ensure they are suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at particular times.
The film HANNIBAL was broadcast on 7flix with a classification of MA 15+ and Consumer Advice for strong violence and some horror. It was broadcast very late at night and into the early morning. The feedback from the complainant was the only complaint Seven received in respect of the broadcast, and the film has been previously broadcast with an MA15+ classification without complaint.
While we acknowledge that the content of HANNIBAL is very much at the higher level of what is acceptable for television broadcast, we consider the film was appropriately classified MA15+ applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.
The Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012 (Film Classification Guidelines) provide as follows in respect of material classified MA15+
– The impact of material classified MA 15+ should be no higher than strong.
– The treatment of strong themes should be justified by context.
– Violence should be justified by context.
The Film Classification Guidelines also provide that assessing the impact of material requires considering not only the treatment of individual classifiable elements but also their cumulative effect. It also requires considering the purpose and tone of a sequence.
The guidelines also emphasise the role of context, stating “context is crucial in determining whether a classifiable element is justified by the story-line or themes.”
Community attitudes to strong violence in film and television have changed over the 16 year period since Hannibal was given an R18+ rating by the Classification Review Board in 2001. Indeed, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, classified by the Board as R18+ in 1991, has subsequently been classified MA15+ for DVD release in various editions since 2005.
TV series classified MA15+ in Australia arguably include violence of a similar impact to HANNIBAL, including THE KILLING, THE BRIDGE, CSI, LUTHER, BONES and DEXTER. These programs are characterized by detailed verbal and/or visual depictions of crimes in which the victim has frequently been tortured prior to dying.
In particular we would argue that DEXTER is highly comparable to Hannibal in the complexity of its themes and the detail/impact of violence depicted. DEXTER, winner of two Golden Globe awards, is a US television crime series about a police forensic technician named Dexter Morgan who leads a secret life as a vigilante serial killer.
The New York Times of September 29, 2006, describes the lead character as a “smart, wittily self-aware homicidal maniac in the tradition of Richard Ill and Hannibal Lecter”.
The Classification Board gave each series a classification of MA15+ with consumer advice of “Strong violence and coarse language”, sometimes including drug use and themes as well.
Within the Board’s Guidelines, content classified MA15+ is “strong in impact”. By way of example, material the Board found to be strong in impact in relation to DEXTER includes:
– “numerous depictions of crime scenes with large amounts of blood and severed body parts visible”
– “Dexter drops plastic bags on the ground, implicitly full of body parts of a man he killed, in preparation to dump them. A bag breaks open and a dismembered hand with an open wound full of maggots falls out”
– As a boy Dexter and his brother witnessed the murder of their mother when she was implicitly killed by a man with a chainsaw, “a large amount of blood shown spraying onto her face … two young boys are shown sitting in a very large pool of blood”
– After Dexter “slashes a man’s throat with a knife, a close-up of Brian’s neck shows the wound begin to open up as a large amount of blood pulsates out. Blood is then shown spraying from Brian’s neck and pooling into a bucket”
– Dexter takes a man still alive to a warehouse where he “surrounds a room in plastic, tapes Chino’s body to a table with cling film and masking tape and cuts his cheek with a knife, resulting in blood flowing onto the floor. Dexter then picks up a knife with a long thin blade and plunges it into Chino’s chest through the tape, resulting in a large amount of blood pouring down Chino’s stomach onto the floor”.
Dexter’s crimes are frequent and cruel, with his victims being subjected to ritualized processes prior to death and always being awake to see their own demise coming.
If DEXTER is “strong in impact” (rather than “high”) then, we would argue, so is HANNIBAL.
The following cuts were made to the film, HANNIBAL for television broadcast:
– At around 01:18 a shot of a man whose throat has been slit by Hannibal is seen lying on the floor, with blood pooling under his head. This depiction occurs in the aftermath of the evisceration of the policeman Pazzi and is a part of the conclusion of that scene. It was removed as surplus to the narrative and for showing the wound in detail.
– At around 01:46 2 edits were made to remove depictions of Verger’s head being eaten by pigs.
As noted above, the Film Classification Guidelines provide that assessing the impact of material requires considering not only the treatment of individual classifiable elements but also their cumulative effect. These edits do reduce the overall impact of the film, in particular taking into account that violence within the film was already relatively low in frequency and duration, scattered with long low impact narrative sequences.
While the film is thematically challenging, we consider it fits within the “justified by context” boundaries of the MA15+ category – especially when considered in light of recent examples such as DEXTER.
The film has an intricately constructed narrative, with stylized camera work and elaborate editing. It has high production values and celebrated performances. The quality of the film and the cinematic techniques it employs were a factor in the decision to make minimal edits, as was its status as a well known “classic” of its genre. The infamous nature of the ‘dinner scene’ in particular, has reduced its thematic impact overtime.
Our experienced Classifiers carefully reviewed the film and exercised their professional expertise to bring the film within the boundaries of MA15+. In doing so, careful consideration was given to the scenes that were referenced as high impact in the original decision of the Classification Review Board. However, in the judgement of our classifiers, further cuts were not considered necessary, based on the current Film Classification Guidelines and their interpretation. A brief overview of their reasoning in respect of these elements is set out below:
(1) The scene in which Agent Starling shoots a woman carrying a baby. This scene was not cut as the detail of the encounter is crucial to the narrative and in establishing Clarice’s character. The scene portrays Clarice as having both a deadly focus and compassion – as well as very good aim. Before the woman has hit the ground the baby is heard crying (a normal baby cry) indicating the baby is alive and not in pain. In the view of our classifiers there was nothing in this scene that would be considered high impact violence in accordance with the current Film Classification Guidelines and their interpretation. It would sit comfortably within other M/MA classified police action drama films such as CRIMINAL MINDS, THE SHIELD, THE WIRE and LAW AND ORDER.
(2) This scene in which Verger recounts his encounter with Hannibal, which resulted in his terrible disfigurement: Verger’s disfigurement and wish for revenge is essential to the narrative. The scene establishes a prior event and also demonstrates Clarice Starling’s acute understanding of the nature of the relationship between Verger and Hannibal. The scene is stylized to the extent that the hanging and the cutting are blurred and/or obscured. Given the brevity, the stylized treatment and the context as a recollection of past events, our classifiers consider the impact of this scene was no higher than strong.
(3) The scene in which Italian police officer Pazzi is killed: This scene is very dark and much of the action is partially obscured. It was decided to keep the evisceration sequence intact as it is the culmination of events which commence from the moment Pazzi decides to seek the reward for Hannibal’s capture. The detail of what was implicitly Pazzi’s bowel/intestines falling onto the ground was gory, but no higher than strong in impact. Particularly when compared with a series such as VIKINGS, which commonly features strong/bloody violence and has been broadcast and approved for sale/hire with an MA15+ classification. As noted above, the depiction of another man lying with his throat slit has been edited.
(4) The dinner scene in which Hannibal removes the top of a man’s skull. This has been discussed in some detail in response to the complainant. While this scene is thematically strong, the depictions of violence are brief and meticulously constrained. The surreal nature of the events and the lack of pain or suffering by the victim (who has clearly been medicated) was considered to significantly reduce the impact the scene – particularly when compared to violence within other films and series in the serial killer genre where the protagonist is depicted as being gratified by causing fear, pain to their victims. Hannibal is a very contradictory character – he’s brilliant psychiatrist and highly cultured but also a cannibalistic serial killer. Although the dinner scene was strong in impact, it was very much a dramatic expression of the essential contradiction in his nature. In this sense, it wasn’t gratuitous. It was meticulously handled in a way that was quite understated and matter of fact. Lighting, music and other special effects are carefully selected to contrast the refined and almost romantic atmosphere with the actions that are occurring, which gives the scene a surreal quality.
In determining that the impact and cumulative effect of these scenes was strong, but not high, and thereby suited to an MA classification, our Classifiers were very mindful of the merits of the production, the contextual justification, and the relative infrequency of strong violence within the film.
For the reasons provided above, Seven submits that the film was appropriately modified for broadcast and classified MA15+ by our expert classifiers applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.– Channel Seven submission to ACMA
The ACMA’s final report was handed down in March and was a win for Channel Seven.
March 3, 2017
No breach of paragraph 7(1)(ga) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 [modify R18+ films]
No breach of clause 2.6.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 [suitability for broadcast]
The BSA and the Code require that films that are modified for broadcast are classified under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act), according to the National Classification Scheme (the NCS).
To assess compliance with the BSA, the ACMA considers the classification of the film (as it has been modified for broadcast) against the requirements of the NCS Guidelines in force at the time of broadcast. Previous classification decisions and the guidelines used to make those decisions do not apply to the classification of the modified film. This is because the guidelines have changed since the original film was classified, are applied at the time of broadcast, and because the film itself has been modified.
Clause 2.6.1 of the Code, prohibits material, including films, that is not suitable for broadcast. To assess compliance with the Code, the ACMA considers whether a modified film is suitable for broadcast by assessing whether the film can be accommodated within the guidelines for MA15+ in Appendix 1 of the Code.
These considerations involve asking:
Was the modified film classified appropriately, according to the NCS?
Was the modified film suitable for broadcast under the Code?
The complainant submitted to the ACMA:
‘The film was classified R18+ (following a review) by the Australian Classification Review Board in 2001. I believe the Seven Network did not edit (or as I have since discovered in their reply) sufficiently edit the film, to accommodate it in a lower classification suitable for free-to-air television, due to the “high impact violence” (some of which was gratuitous or over-the-top and prolonged in a realistic manner) the film contained, therefore breaching the code.
I believe the broadcast did breach the code:
Due to the movie being classified R18+, which is not allowed on free-to-air television.
But also further supported by the two “high impact” scenes which I mentioned. Impact which is “strong” is the highest level allowed on free-to-air television.’
The licensee responded to the complainant:
‘As required by the Code, with regard to movies, the free-to-air television networks apply the same classification system as the Australian Government’s Classification Board. This generally means that if a movie is classified MA (Mature Audience) for cinema or DVD release, it will be MA for television. The Code further provides however that free to air television networks may edit a movie, so as to reduce its impact, and ensure it is suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at a particular time.
We believe the film was appropriately classified MA and in full compliance with the Code.
In the case of HANNIBAL, the film was modified for broadcast, so as to be suited to an MA (Mature Audience) classification, with consumer advice for strong violence and some horror.’
Was the modified film classified appropriately, according to the NCS?
The classification of the film takes into account the context and impact of the six classifiable elements – violence, themes, sex, nudity, coarse language and drug use.
The ACMA considers that the following scenes contain the strongest depictions of violence and themes, and are the focus of the complaint:
The scene at approx. 76 minutes where Pazzi’s abdomen is slit open by Lecter and he is pushed from a balcony and hanged, his entrails spilling to the ground.
The climactic ‘dinner party’ scene (from 109 minutes) where Lecter removes and cooks a piece of Krendler’s brain and feeds it to him.
In these scenes, violence and the film’s themes of serial murder and cannibalism are inextricably linked. The scenes are essential for character and plot development and are contextually justified within the narrative and genre of the film.
In its response to the complainant, the licensee stated that the scenes were not modified for broadcast.
‘You are correct in your correspondence in asserting that [those] two scenes were not edited although other scenes were cut. These two scenes were left unedited as signature scenes in a horror classic in which the horror element is evoked conceptually, while the depictions and style remain relatively restrained.’
The ACMA considers that the impact of these scenes does not exceed strong.
Regarding the first scene, the licensee responded to the complainant:
‘As you pointed out in your correspondence, this is both brief and dimly lit. The effect of the downward slice of the blade is barely visible due to the extremely brief duration, and darkness of the shot. The cut is virtually implied and there is no blood detail. The man, silhouetted against the light and attached to the rope, is pushed over the balcony and tumbles as he falls. A shot of the pavement then shows objects from his pockets falling into frame, followed by blood and fleshy material. The man is then seen from beneath, dangling from the rope and swinging, in profile. While thematically strong, the actual depictions of violence-are-brief and/or implied and lack detail.’
The first scene uses the darkness of the night-time setting and cutaways to different perspectives of the scene to mitigate its impact. The audience anticipates and is prepared for Pazzi’s death because it is suggested in the previous scene, where Lecter shows Pazzi an artwork depicting the same fate for his ancestor. The scene is frequently intercut with footage of Verger’s men waiting for him outside and images of people wandering in the piazza. A phone conversation between Lecter and Starling, when Lecter answers Pazzi’s phone, also interrupts the build-up of tension in the scene.
Although the viewer sees Lecter slit open Pazzi’s abdomen, the cut is made through his clothing and is shown only very briefly with no wound detail or blood spray. After Lecter pushes Pazzi from the balcony, the contents of Pazzi’s pockets are seen landing on the ground below one by one before his entrails land beside them. This depiction is bathed in shadow, with very minimal blood splash and no close up of the viscera. The camera cuts away immediately thereafter, so the image lasts for a matter of seconds. A final image of Pazzi’s body swinging with the string of his intestine protruding is shown from a distance, is darkly silhouetted to conceal detail and is interspersed with a series of further cutaways.
The second scene is the ‘dinner party’ where Lecter removes the top of Krendler’s skull and feeds him a cooked piece of his own brain. The scene is less one of violence than a culmination of the theme of cannibalism – the point where Lecter is both satisfying his cannibalistic desires and exacting revenge on a person who has mistreated Starling. It is therefore contextually justified and serves as a parallel to the primary revenge narrative of the film.
Regarding this scene, the licensee responded to the complainant:
‘Taken in context, this scene, in its deliberately constructed style and pacing, is strong in thematic impact, while the depictions of actual violence are brief, even minimal.’
The impact of the scene is mitigated by elements that are only implied rather than explicitly depicted, including the sawing open of Krendler’s skull which is heard rather than seen. The surreal, dreamlike nature of the scene is enhanced by Starling’s and Krendler’s morphine-induced haze. Lecter is matter-of-fact and methodical throughout, and as he peels back the membrane covering the brain, it appears more akin to a medical procedure than an act of violence. Gentle classical music scores the scene, which is intercut with shots of a police convoy en route. The comic dialogue between Lecter and Krendler throughout provides levity and dampens the viewer’s sympathies for Krendler, who shows no fear or pain, including the remarks that the smell and taste of the cooked brain is ‘good’. Although the scene as a whole is approximately six minutes in duration, the focus is split between Lecter’s interaction with Krendler and with Lecter negotiating with Starling.
Both scenes depict acts of predatory violence. However, each is relatively restrained in various ways, whether by tone, lighting, the brevity of particular images, and the use of cutaways to other scenes or points of focus. The impact comes more from the sense of anticipation than the level of violence.
Two other scenes were edited by the licensee to reduce their impact. These scenes and the other instances of violence in the film do not individually or cumulatively exceed what can be accommodated at the MA15+ category under the NCS.
The themes of serial murder and cannibalism in the film are inextricably linked with the element of violence. The most impactful illustration of the theme is the dinner party scene described above, which is no higher than strong. The film also contains more moderate visual and verbal references throughout, such as when Starling and her colleagues discuss Lecter’s criminal history, and the closing scene where Lecter implicitly feeds brains to a child passenger on a commercial flight.
The ACMA considers that the thematic impact is commensurate with that of the violence, and does not exceed the MA15+ classification.
Other classifiable elements
The classifiable elements of sex, nudity, coarse language and drugs are also present in the film.
The ACMA considers that each of these elements is justified by the narrative context of the film and their impact does not exceed moderate.
Accordingly, the ACMA considers the film was appropriately classified MA15+ under the NCS.
Was the modified film suitable for broadcast under the Code?
The ACMA assessed the film against the particular classification requirements of MA15+ in Appendix 1 of the Code. Programs at the MA15+ classification are suitable for viewing only by persons aged 15 years or over. The impact of elements such as violence and themes at this level may be strong, though must be justified by context.
The two scenes in question both contain some detail but are restrained in tone and their impact is mitigated by the camera work, lighting and editing. Much of the violence is of a psychological nature with the scenes conveying a strong sense of threat and menace through dialogue and pacing rather than through the depiction of acts of violence.
In the scene depicting Pazzi’s hanging, the moments when he is slit open and pushed from the balcony with his entrails landing on the ground are brief and dimly lit. Although the moment shown represents a period of escalating tension and foreboding, the shots showing his body hanging are framed from a considerable distance, lack detail and are only on screen for a brief period. The scene is not prolonged or unduly horrific.
While lasting approximately six minutes, the dinner party scene does not contain prolonged depictions of violence. The majority of the scene focuses on the conversation between the three characters, with repeated close ups of Lecter’s and Starling’s faces. The scene is also interspersed with cutaways to the image of the police convoy. Lecter’s surgical cutting of Krendler’s skull occurs off screen. The depiction of Lecter using a scalpel to remove a membrane from Krendler’s brain is not excessive in either duration or detail. The slicing of the brain itself is only implied, as the shot cuts briefly to the small piece of fleshy matter in the frying pan. The depictions are not unduly horrific, given the narrative context.
The ACMA considers that the depictions of violence in these scenes are realistic, contain some detail but are not prolonged or unduly horrific.
Appendix 1 of the Code states that at the MA15+ level, the treatment of strong adult themes should be justified.
Serial murder and cannibalism are strong adult themes. Their treatment in the film is contextually justified, as both are critical to character development and plot. Thematic material has been carefully balanced by the tone and stylisation of the scenes, and by Lecter’s matter-of-fact demeanour and expository dialogue.
The ACMA considers that the film was appropriately classified MA15+ under the Code and was, therefore, suitable for broadcast.
The ACMA notes that the consumer advice of ‘Strong violence [and] some horror’ was provided to allow viewers to make an informed decision about viewing the film themselves and choosing whether the material was suitable for those in their care to watch.
The licensee did not breach paragraph 7(1)(ga) to Schedule 2 of the BSA or clause 2.6.1 of the Code.– ACMA Investigation Report No. BI-274