Let me tell you about the time that my dad’s then-girlfriend found herself cajoled into taking a friend and I to see “The Silence of the Lambs,” which I think we all assumed was just a run-of-the-mill horror movie. In those pre-18 years, my friends and I were always conspiring to trick adults into taking us to R-rated movies, or at least into buying our tickets before leaving us at the theater, to save us the trouble of pretending to go see “DuckTales: The Movie” and then sneaking into “The Exorcist III” instead. (BRAD DOURIF FOREVER, you guys.)
Anyway, back to “The Silence of the Lambs.” I spent most of the film confused and not really scared at all, probably because “The Silence of the Lambs” is not really a horror movie so much as it is a creepy psychological suspense movie requiring an adult sense of paranoia to really work, whereas my friend and I were hoping for something more along the lines of the long-lived and terribly obvious “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise of gore.
I probably would have forgotten the experience forever if not for one particular memory of my dad’s girlfriend sort of flailing -- like, literally flapping her arms as though she was being attacked by invisible bees -- at the climax of the “Goodbye Horses”/”I’d fuck me” scene, which I won’t describe just in case there’s folks out there who haven’t gotten around to seeing this movie in the past twenty years.
I am still not sure if my dad’s girlfriend’s frantic arm-waving reaction was involuntary, or an intentional effort to distract us from the screen, but to be honest I had no idea what was going on in that scene anyway. As a fairly sheltered kid, everything about Jame Gumb baffled me. I can’t say the same for the friend I brought along -- her father had the largest and most diverse porn collection I have ever witnessed in my life, even to this day, and she would give visiting friends tours of his stockpile when her parents weren't home -- but if she understood things better than I did, she wasn’t sharing her knowledge with me. (And total diversion here but -- did you guys know that not only does a “Silence of the Lambs” musical adaptation exist, but the creators made a Lego video of the hilarious lotion-in-the-basket song, and you can watch it on YouTube? YOU’RE WELCOME.)
While the finer points of “The Silence of the Lambs” came together for me not too long after having seen the film, there were other movies I loved as a kid that I genuinely did not contextualize for years. My mom was an early adopter when affordable VCRs first arrived in stores -- unfortunately for her, she threw her support behind Betamax and obviously that didn’t work out so great -- and for ages she owned exactly two movies: “The Making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’” and “Flashdance.”
I loved “Flashdance” enormously, even though there was at least one part she always made me turn away from while she fast-forwarded; years later when I finally got to see that scene I was disappointed to find it was just a few shots of bare-ass ladies in a strip club, because, hey, it turns out THE MOVIE IS ABOUT A STRIPPER. That was a little surprising. For all the dozens of times I had seen it, it wasn’t until I caught “Flashdance” on cable as an adult over a decade later that I realized Jennifer Beals’ character was already a dancer -- I thought she was a welder who made up dance routines for fun in her spare time. Like my friends and I did.
But without a doubt, the most dramatic example of a movie that I loved as a kid but didn’t fully appreciate as an adult is 1987’s “Dirty Dancing.” As a romance story that is itself about the loss of innocence, “Dirty Dancing” is both sweet and knowing, and parts of it can still make my dusty old heart swell.
But it was only when I impulse-bought the 20th anniversary DVD a few years ago that I realized that the movie’s whole plot hinges on an illegal abortion and class divisions, and that the film treats the abortion issue frankly, but with an impressive degree of nuance -- I genuinely doubt that this film could even get made by a major studio today. (It was also only as an adult viewer that I realized what “The Fountainhead” was, and why Baby reacts in disgust when Robbie offers the book to her -- as a kid I always thought it was, like, a sex book, or something.)
I asked the rest of the xoJane staff for their own recollections of stuff they saw as kids and didn’t understand -- or probably shouldn’t have seen, and there were a few common threads.
Emily: Some moments from Grease I didn't really understand as a kid: "a real pussy wagon," "you'll be getting lots of tit," that Rizzo was maybe pregnant, and the reference Rizzo makes to "gang bangs." Seriously, why are all kids allowed to watch this movie?
Olivia: "I can't participate in any physical activity that involves balls flying by my nose." "There goes your social life." Ugh, that and every other sex/drug reference in "Clueless."
Julieanne: Yeah, my mom explained what abortion was to me because of "Dirty Dancing." Also I saw "Look Who's Talking" before I knew was splooj was so that was... confusing.
Daisy: “Stand By Me.” Somehow my friend and I got our moms to take us when we were in 3rd grade. They didn't bother to check the rating (awesome parenting!).
Jane: I made Charlotte watch “Grease” with me at age 6 so I could teach her about the word pussy and what happens when a condom breaks, etc etc, just FYI. Also, on my 6th birthday, my dad showed me and my friends a bunch of Andy Warhol short films with nudity and cross-dressing and drug use in them (as I recall) and the other parents got mad.
Somer: “Grease,” definitely. My mom always dragged me to movies that were probably not the best choices for kids, like “Yentl” and “Out of Africa.” I remember falling asleep at the movie theater a lot, plus “Gremlins” gave me nightmares for weeks (I was eight). “Ghostbusters” scared me, too, but I also thought Sigourney Weaver as Zuul when she's floating orgasmically above her bed was, like, super cool and that's what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Kate Conway: I love “A Christmas Story” with my whole heart but somewhere around the age of 15 I watched it again and was, like, "WOW, HOW RACIST CAN SOMETHING BE WITHOUT ME NOTICING?" Also the entire Allison Janney scene in "10 Things I Hate About You." I think I first saw that movie when I was about 10 and I Did Not Get It. Throbbing manhoods!
Mandy: "Grease 2" actually. My mom TOOK AWAY our HBO because of me and the other neighborhood kids singing, "Reproduction / Reproduction / Baby give it to me now." And I believe another key line: "Make my stamen go berserk." Also "Xanadu" watched as an adult seems like the most coked-up cokey cocaine-fueled wonderland of '80s twitchy-ness ever. Finally, I would like to say that I wasn't allowed to watch "Popeye" as a child. Because of the violence. So these three facts are why I am the way I am.
Gala: Ugh, I saw "Child's Play" at age SIX. I was at my friend's house. I also saw some crazy tentacle hentai when I was 13, at another friend's place. In the words of Charlie Brown, good grief.
Intern Rachel: When I was younger I was obsessed with "The Sound of Music" but it was a recorded VHS version. I did not find out until I was 17 that my (very Jewish) parents had "accidentally" stopped the tape before Rolf outs them to the Nazis and up until that point I thought it was a glorious love story that ended with some singing at a concert.
YOUR TURN. What were your favorite (or not-so-favorite) age-inappropriate movies as a kid? Also remember that time I saw Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” about a million times before I was 12? THAT was an education.