Marc Forster's Oscar-winning drama, Monster's Ball, was first released theatrically in February 2002, with Halle Berry going on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress; the only African American woman to do so to date.
Her co-star in the film, Billy Bob Thornton, plays a widower named Hank. Hank and his son Sonny are correctional officers on Death Row, but Hank later quits his job after Sonny commits suicide following his
inability to cope with the execution of a convicted murderer named Lawrence Musgrove.
Berry plays Leticia, the wife of Lawrence, who meets Hank at the diner where she works. After Leticia's young son is killed in a car accident, Hank and Leticia become close, with Leticia all the while unaware of Hank having a hand in the execution
of her husband.
German-born Swiss director Marc Forster brought a European sensibility to Monster's Ball, particularly regarding the frank depiction of the film's sex scenes. This didn't pose a problem in most countries, where Forster's original uncut version
was the version that was widely released (with this cut meeting with the full approval of Thornton and Berry). After screenings at various films festivals, Monster's Ball was submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board in the
United States for a theatrical rating. Unsurprisingly, given the MPAA's long track record of holding a firm line when it comes to the depiction of sex on celluloid, Forster was forced to cut the film down for an 'R' rating after his original cut was
rated 'NC-17', a rating -- as we have previously discussed in the series -- is seen as the "kiss of death" for mainstream films in America. Two scenes were edited in the States, and we'll be looking at the differences between the original uncut
version and the 'R' rated version in this article for Cutting Edge.
Cuts to avoid an MPAA NC-17 rating
Cut Scenes: Motel room
The first scene altered for the MPAA is a scene towards the beginning of the film, when Sonny has sex with a prostitute in a motel room.
For an 'R' rating, the sight of the
prostitute leaning on the table was shortened in order to remove the sight of her turning her body towards the camera, which brings the shadowed sight of her labia briefly into view. The removal of this footage also resulted in the sight of Sonny pulling
down his shorts and preparing to penetrate her being deleted, causing a slight jump cut in the 'R' rated version. Subsequently, the extended over-shoulder shot of Sonny entering and thrusting into the woman was re-edited by cutting back to the rear view
of Sonny standing behind her, and the side angle shot of Sonny thrusting into the prostitute a few seconds later was also shortened to reduce the number of thrusts from eleven to seven. The difference in overall running time is just over two and a half
Cut Scenes: Hank and Leticia
The majority of the MPAA cuts made to Monster's Ball concern the passionate sex scene between Hank and Leticia. This is a crucial scene in the film for its two main characters,
both of whom are lonely, broken and repressed, and desperately striving for a positive, physical human connection. Indeed, Leticia's insistent and repeated use of the phrase, "make me feel good" hammers home the yearning she is feeling.
Numerous cuts were made to this sequence, which somewhat diluted the intention of the filmmakers. As co-writer Milo Addica later stated in his audio commentary for the film:
"When we wrote this, we really had this
whole animalistic, kind of, two people grabbing and touching and sweating and fucking the living shit out of each other, doing whatever they can do to extract some kind of good feeling from it. It wasn't a typical 'love making scene', this is more about
two people really getting it on and both Halle and Billy Bob are completely committed, involved and I thought it was fantastic."
For an 'R' rating, the main cuts began with the sight of Hank penetrating Leticia from behind, with two
shots being shortened or deleted outright to reduce the sight of Hank's thrusting. Additionally, a brief long shot of Hank in front of Leticia was removed, along with the sight of the couple kissing and Hank moving Leticia to a prostrate position on the
Immediately following this, sight of Hank and Leticia having sex in the mirror was trimmed in order to remove the end of the shot as the couple comes into focus. The 'R' rated version only contains the first part of the shot, where the pair are
out of focus. The subsequent medium shot of Hank thrusting into Leticia was also shortened as well.
Another cut was made to remove sight of the camera tilting down Leticia's body to Hank lying on the floor as she grinds slowly atop him. She then puts her hand on Hank's neck and face, before we cut to her hands in the birdcage, which is followed
in the uncut version by another shot of Leticia grinding atop Hank. This shot was also removed from the 'R' rated version, and the subsequent sight of Leticia further straddling Hank was shortened to reduce the instances of thrusting from five to three.
Seconds later, after the couple are seen to kiss and embrace, the long shot of the pair seen through a doorway was replaced with alternate footage of Leticia's hands in the birdcage.
The remainder of the sequence was further cut to reduce sight of the couple writhing, including the sight of Leticia's bare buttocks as she is seen straddling Hank. After the multitude of changes made for the MPAA, the 'R' rated version has a
difference in running time of around 57 and a half seconds.
Following the necessary changes made to satisfy the MPAA, Monster's Ball was classified with an 'R' rating for:
"Strong sexual content, language and violence."
R Rated Version on DVD
Unrated Version on DVD
The 'R' rated version ran for around 60 seconds shorter than the uncut version and was released into American theatres and later on DVD.
Uncut and MPAA Unrated home video releases
original uncut version was later released as an unrated edition by Lions Gate on DVD as part of its Signature Series in December 2003. This same unrated version was later released on Blu-ray in the United States by Lions Gate on November 4th, 2008,
although the cover art erroneously indicated it was the 'R' rated version.
In Britain, Monster's Ball was considered in a more rational light by the BBFC, for whom it posed no problems. The Board awarded the original uncut version with a '15'
rating on Match 20th, 2002 for:
"Some strong language and sex."
Writing in their 2002 annual report, the BBFC sensibly commented that:
award-winning US film Monster's Ball contained at least one sex scene which might have justified an '18' certificate had it occurred in a film offering sexual thrills as the primary pleasure. Carefully placed in a serious and moving drama, and clearly
intended to provide insight into the characters involved, their emotional states and their complex relationship, the scene was judged to be acceptable in the context of the film as a whole at certificate '15'."
The Region Free US Blu-ray is recommended for those seeking the uncut version in high-definition.
For fans of Monster's Ball who wish to own the uncut version, they can purchase the Region Free American Blu-ray disc which, despite sporting an 'R' rating, contains director Marc Forster's original uncut version of the film. As well as being visually
uncut, this version also has a more refined sound mix -- the sound in the 'R'-rated version was not able to be properly mixed in the manner that director Marc Forster intended.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Five, Episode 58: Monster's Ball