Imagine if a movie, a social critique about cruelty to animals, depicted the literal burning and beatings of dogs and cats. Would it be morally convincing for filmmakers merely to replace the usual disclaimer “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” with a post-production protestation, “Oh but our whole point was to show that it’s wrong”? Obviously not. Besides, in the case of Cuties, there was an easy way around the artistic challenge that the script presented. Why didn’t they cast young adults who could be made to resemble minors?
Defenses of the film tend to start with the complaint that critics haven’t watched the film, but my complaint with those defending it is that they have watched it and yet still pretend there isn’t a major ethical problem. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes that “‘Cuties’ is a film of the center, and it’s aesthetically of the center — it depicts the unconsidered without advancing to the realm of the subjective, and it doesn’t allow its young protagonists much discourse, outer or inner.” Only a true intellectual could — when faced with the writhing, leather-clad bottoms and spreading legs of little girls — utter such besides-the-point nonsense.
I hate to say it but it’s not in the least bit surprising that this is a French film. In the 1970s, key thinkers of the French intelligentsia — Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Satre among them — published an open letter in Le Monde, a leading French newspaper, defending three men who had been charged with having sex with children under 15.