Sunday 10 February 2008

Juno – an unexpected pro-life message

I went to see the much talked about low budget movie “Juno” this week and came away touched by the story and encouraged that Hollywood has produced a movie that at least implicitly is pro-life. Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (played by Ellen Page) is a geeky, funny and unusual teenager who has one-off sex with an equally geeky boy, Paulie Bleeker (played by Michael Cera), and the outcome is an unwanted pregnancy.

Her first reaction and the expectation of most people around her is that a termination is the only answer. She looks for an appropriate abortion clinic and sets out alone to terminate her pregnancy at 12 weeks. At the door she finds a Christian classmate acting as a lone picket at the clinic. Su-Chin (played by Valerie Tian) is standing with a placard proclaiming “All babies want to get borned” (sic). A lone Christian chanting to anyone who would listen that abortion is wrong. Juno speaks to her and tries to work her way past hoping her classmate might not realise why she’s there. As she slips by her classmate blurts out somewhat incoherently that her child would have a heartbeat and fingernails. “It has fingernails?” Juno replies, hesitates, and then walks in.

The abortion clinic is almost a caricature with a zany teenager at reception offering her forms to fill out and some free condoms. After an awkward exchange Juno leaves the clinic and returns home having decided that she couldn’t go through with the abortion.

The rest of the movie revolves around Juno working through the news that she is to have a baby with her friends, family and school-mates, and her efforts to choose suitable parents to adopt her child.

Many Christians will find things in this movie that that they don’t like. Like the language so typical of teenage life. Juno won’t be seen as the ideal role model for most Christian parents, but her recognition that she needs to live with the consequences of her actions, that she is unsuitable as a parent, and that her child should be placed in the hands of a couple able to take good care of him or her, is all positive. The wonderful character of Juno created by Ellen Page is the real strength of this movie, but it is also a wonderful screenplay that is well acted by all and well directed.

This is the fourth in a series of four hollywood movies in the last year that have had an implicitly pro-life message - “Waitress”, “Knocked up”, “Bella” and now “Juno”. In the three previous movies a married woman chooses to keep the child of an unwanted pregnancy with an abusive husband, a 20 year old decides to reject her mother’s advice to “take care of it”, and a single woman who is finding life tough decides against termination when a friend offers to help her. While none of these movies have been anti abortion, they have all had women who have decided against abortion and value the life of the unborn child above their own circumstances.

In the case of Juno, we see a young woman facing up to her responsibilities after having been confronted by the simple truth that her unborn child had fingernails and a heart beat at 12 weeks. The Pro-life movement has always argued that when woman are confronted with the facts concerning the unborn child as well as well as the details of what happens with an abortion, that there is a chance that they will be challenged to reconsider. It is refreshing to have a movie that subtly celebrates life, rather than the more common practice of promoting the right of women to choose what is done with their bodies, with no consideration of the unborn child. If you’re not sure whether this is for you have a look at the movie trailer first, but I’d recommend it as a movie that is memorable at multiple levels.


Paul said...

I also saw and loved the movie - with my 14 and 15 y o daughter and son, a good experience. I too noticed the tendency of hollywood to tell "keep the baby" stories, and I found myself contemplating the relationship between morality and the demands of the narrative form.

If telling the story of an unwanted teen pregnancy, opting for termination leaves not much of an entertaining story to go on with: either the character carries on as if nothing had happened, which would seem rather callous in a story (while quite common in life), or it screws the character up over a long period, which would just be depressing (also a common scenario in life). In the functional morality of story telling, truth will out, good will prevail, not necessarily because of goodness or truth themselves, but because it maps out a satisfying journey to an upbeat point of closure. Strindberg was never going to make it in hollywood.

Not that such thoughts lessened the enjoyment of it, or the quality of the experience... I particularly loved the study of contrasts between childish lightness on the part of the teenagers and the weightiness of life for adults. Watching the implications of life catch up with Juno despite her determination to avoid feeling anything complex about the experience was beautifully done, and a marvel of screen acting. In retrospect the story reminds me strangely of Austen, the way the emotional climax of the story involves the central character getting caught in their own ironic trap: Juno reminds me a little of Emma.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for these thoughtful comments Paul. Like you I also loved the way the screenwriter, director and Page (and other characters) managed to bring out as you put it the "contrasts between childish lightness on the part of the teenagers and the weightiness of life for adults". It was powerful to see a teenager portrayed (with usual limited experience of the world) weighing up the situation and the consequences of her actions and saying, "No, this is what I need to do." Let's hope and pray that such subtle narrative portrayals might lead to some real life wisdom from young and older men and women.

David McKay said...

Hi Trevor
I enjoyed the quirky music, which complemented the action well, I thought.

A nice movie. Thanks for your recommendation.

But what was the baby's name?

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi David, Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I loved the music too. Even loved the intro with its combination of music, and different types of images. You knew something of the character before the movie started. The baby's name? Good question.

Natalie said...

I loved the movie Juno as well, but the point I took away from it is that she made a choice -- not pro life or pro choice, just a choice. Because abortion is legal, she had a choice. If abortion were illegal, she would have had one less option. In her case, her family was supportive and the situation was such that adoption was a good choice for her. It is not the best choice for all pregnant woman in all situations. I can only hope that all women, into the future, will have the same ability to choose what is right for them, and that people won't judge it as right or wrong, no matter which difficult choice she makes.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Natalie, I really appreciate the fact that you made a comment and for the way in which you've expressed a view that is different to mine. I respect your right to hold a different view. I see her choice as a right choice because I see life commencing at conception. As a Christian I don't believe that I have the right to terminate a life for whatever reason. My hope is that more women (and men!) will see that life is precious and should not be terminated regardless of the circumstances that they face. Thanks for reading the post. I'm glad you loved the movie.