It’s great that films like Bella, October Baby, and Doonby get made. But sometimes movies have pro-life scenes, or overall pro-life messages, without even meaning to. Oops!
In this hipster classic, Juno‘s titular character is an uber-quirky teenage girl (Ellen Page) who gets pregnant by her even more quirky, adorably awkward boyfriend (Michael Cera). She decides to give the baby up for adoption, but first, she visits an abortion clinic.
The screenwriter, Diablo Cody, has publicly stated that she didn’t intend the film to contain a pro-life message, but…well, it sort of does. Yes, the lone pro-life protester outside the clinic is portrayed as ridiculously dumb, but the inside of the clinic is worse. The workers are dead-eyed and look right through the protagonist, offering her flavored condoms and not much else. As she sits in the waiting room, sounds around her begin to coalesce into a heartbeat – like her child’s.
Intended or not, if I were a scared pregnant teenager and saw this movie, the last place it would send me running for help would be an abortion clinic.
Rob Roy (1995)
This biopic tells the tale of Robert Roy MacGregor (Liam Neeson), a Scotsman fighting for his land despite owing money to a sadistic nobleman (Tim Roth). When the nobleman rapes Robert’s wife (Jessica Lange), she doesn’t tell her husband for fear that he will try to fight the rapist and get killed. (That rapist is pretty badass with a sword.) But she gets pregnant, and she has to tell Rob about the baby – and the rape. In an emotional scene, she confesses that despite knowing the child might be her rapist’s, she “couldn’t kill it,” referring to the baby. To which Rob Roy responds, “It’s not the child that needs killing.”
I wrote about this scene in a piece for the Live Action blog about a year and a half ago to explain why the sin of the father is no justification for punishing the innocent. Rob Roy is not a film about abortion, but when it comes to illustrating the simple argument against accepting abortion in the case of rape and incest, this aspect of the story – and the simple, one-sentence response of an 18th-century Scottish commoner – does it perfectly.
Later in the film, as they are discussing what to name the baby, Robert MacGregor suggests the name Robert if it’s a boy, thereby claiming the child as his own. This is a more fitting course of action than the one that would be recommended as healthy and responsible today, and it makes you wonder how much more civilized we have really become.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
CAUTION: HERE BE SPOILERS!
Frank (Leonardo Dicaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) had big ideas about leading a fabulous, interesting life. Instead, they are stuck in the suburbs with two kids, and Frank’s unfulfilling job is going nowhere. At April’s urging, they make grandiose plans to move to Paris, but then they find out she’s pregnant. As the dream of Paris begins to fade, April, in an act of desperation, performs an instillation abortion on herself. There is a moment after the abortion, after she emerges from upstairs, pale and shaky, when she looks somewhat triumphantly, hopefully, out the picture window at the sunlit street. She then hemorrhages and dies. The film ends with Frank sitting alone in a park, watching his two surviving children play.
Before I knew what I was “supposed” to get out of Revolutionary Road, I felt disgusted by the ending. Yes, I pitied April, but not because she didn’t get everything she wanted right when she wanted it. I have dreams, too. Many of us do. We are given them for a reason. We are supposed to work towards them with passion and integrity. We are supposed to be creative about how we reach them, not destructive. We are supposed to see family as the whole point of life, the reason we strive for better things, our ultimate blessing…not a series of regrettable mistakes. The fact that April could see her children only as obstacles to her dream life doesn’t make me think family is repressive; it makes me think April was a sick, sad woman.
The film is supposed to be about how stifling “normal” life can be and how unfair it is to expect all women to be fulfilled by family life. We are supposed to be horrified by April’s desperate act and pray that we never return to the sad, scary, repressive days of “back-alley” abortions. We are supposed to feel grateful for Roe v. Wade and the family planning section at Walgreens so that we are never punished with babies we don’t want and stifled by a society that doesn’t let us spread our mighty wings and fly off to Paris. Hurray for condoms! Huzzah for abortions!
But that’s not what Revolutionary Road said to me. Instead, it made me even more horrified by abortion, and saddened for the women who choose it.