Movie-buff and political junkie that I am, I am always looking for the underlying political or social commentary in the movies I see. This is usually maddening to my wife or anyone else I go to the movies with as I become irritated and moody by the subtext of the movie plot, instead of the actual plot. Now that I am watching movies with my kids it is even worse. The modernist and post-modernist drivel that gets thrown their way in current “children’s movies” is often infuriating.
But I am intrigued by the off-beat and non-conformist (at least to Hollywood ideology) themes of two recent comedies (both decidedly not children’s movies). One is in current release and is receiving some critical acclaim: Juno. The other was a sort of gross out comedy hit from last Summer: Knocked Up.
Both are comedies about a girl or young woman who gets pregnant out-of-wedlock. They are certainly not family-friendly and both depict different aspects of the cesspool our culture has become. Whether it is Knocked Up’s man-child “community” in which Seth Rogen thrives with his buddies playing video games, smoking pot, and repeating or the sickening parent-free high school culture Juno’s protagonist inhabits, both movies reveal a world that is funny (to me, at least) and quite repulsive. But, that’s just it. Neither movie is trying to depict this world as fun or cool. Neither is a place you would want to be or participate in. That fact alone is enough to distinguish these comedies from countless sex comedies in movies (think the American Pie movies) and on TV (Friends). But, that’s not all.
Surprisingly, both movies have strong pro-life themes. I am not saying this simply because both of the female characters choose life. That is the usual abortion cop-out that Hollywood gives us. The female character anguishes over her decision to keep or kill her child. Ultimately, she decides to keep her child but only after her right to kill it (i.e., her choice) has been affirmed in a meaningful way that is not threatening or judgmental to women who have decided to kill their babies.
Both Knocked Up and Juno take a moral view on the question. The characters do not choose life because they have thought about it and decided that it is the right thing to do for them in this particular case. Instead, it is simply the right thing to do. It is a moral choice that has consequences.
In Knocked Up, as one of Seth Rogen’s man-child buddies tells him that what his girlfriend needs starts with an “A” and rhymes with “smortion,” another buddy is shocked. He declares that he would be killing an unborn child. Needless to say, we rarely hear abortion described as such by anyone in a movie who is not a religious fanatic. The female lead, a young professional woman played by Kathryn Heigl, tells her mother about her unplanned pregnancy and that she wants to keep her baby. Her mother is less than supportive. She urges her to instead “take care of it” and “have a real baby later.” Coming from the unborn child’s grandmother, this statement is chilling and it is meant to be.
In Juno, the lead character, a sixteen-year-old, has scheduled her appointment with the local abortion clinic, having given little to no thought to her “choice.” Before she walks in, she meets a lone protester that she knows from school (again, not a religious fanatic but a peer that she knows). The protester tells her that her baby wants to live and actually has fingernails. This seeming trivial fact starts haunting Juno as she sits in the clinic waiting room. Instead of a clean and comforting bastion of freedom and the rights of women, the clinic has the personality and feel of a post office. Juno receives the type of respect and concern usually reserved for cattle in a slaughter house. As she watches everyone in the clinic waiting room tap, chew, or paint their fingernails, she comes to an epiphany about what she is about to do. She flees the clinic and is determined to have the baby.
Both movies highlight ultrasound images of the babies as they are carried to term. In Knocked Up, the couple will have a go at being married and raising their baby. In Juno, the pregnant teenager has found a suitable set of parents to adopt her baby. Juno has probably made the wiser decision, but it is a more reality-based movie than the pure comedy of Knocked Up.
I doubt that either movie was made by a pro-lifer intent on making a political statement. The themes in both movies are way too subtle for that. Nevertheless, they both offer a peak into what might be changing views on abortion in the culture at large. Recent polling data suggests that young people are more pro-life than their parents even if they are less conservative or traditional about other things (homosexual relationships for example).
Whatever it means, it is refreshing to see abortion dealt with in this way. The facts are on our side. Science is on our side. The excuses and rationalizations for why babies should not be protected outside and inside the womb are rapidly dwindling. Any help is welcome, even if it comes in the form of Knocked Up and Juno.