Michelle and I watched Juno last night. It was surprisingly good. I don’t know why it was surprising, but it was. A wonderful storyline to have for reference in your brain. Spoiler alert. Don’t keep reading if you haven’t seen the movie.
There are all kinds of ways the “accidental teen pregnancy” storyline can and has played out, and the one that Juno explores seems strange. And then, you realize, it seems strange that it seems strange: What if people could just be reasonable and loving, and not get hung up on making moralistic judgments about other people. Like most utopian story lines, it sounds like a recipe for boredom. What made it interesting to me was, first, the characters are atypical. Maybe not so atypical in reality, but certainly atypical for characters you see on a movie screen. And second, all those other possible story lines about teen pregnancy – all the negative and societally reinforced ones – are so strongly ingrained, that having them not take place when I expected them to was jarring. I kept feeling like it was going to veer off into misery and sadness, and it has a lot of opportunity to do so, but it never does, largely because the characters are almost all strong, and good. And I think that by itself was a strong statement about how actually, it’s pretty hard to keep the storyline (in real life) from veering into negative territory. The movie certainly isn’t about how it’s okay to have sex and get pregnant in high school. Which is something it was criticized for by the pro-lifers.
On the other side, Juno does decide to have the baby, after going to an abortion clinic, and being very creeped out by the experience, and the clinic is certainly portrayed negatively. Which the pro-choice camp criticized the movie for. I was initially a little bothered by this, but after the movie had played out entirely, I didn’t feel like it was a failing. Nobody I know is actually pro-abortion. Nobody wants to have an abortion, but sometimes it’s the best option. It just happens that, in this story, there is another option: giving birth, and letting someone else adopt the baby. Now, you could say that that option is always there, and technically, it is. But when the social stigma that accompanies going through a pregnancy in high school is worse than getting an abortion, people will often choose abortion. And of course just having the baby is quite a physical commitment all by itself (though, from a purely biological point of view, probably it’s safer and easier at 17 than 37…). So if you want to avoid abortions, given that people are going to have sex, and occasionally get pregnant in high school, you can either make getting an abortion harder, or make going through pregnancy in high school easier. And Juno seemed to me a kind of imagining of what it would be like if the suggestion that many right-to-lifers make (have the baby and let us adopt it) were actually more plausible in practice.
Ultimately, I felt like it really was a good thing to be able to imagine. It is another option, and a potentially good one, if we can get over stigmatizing girls who get pregnant. But we’ve got a long way to go.
The movie also does a good job of making fun of a lot of other prudish debate in the US. Blue condoms on bananas in sex-ed (and what, exactly, does “sexually active” mean, anyway?). Admitting the high school students (even girls… shock, horror) are horny, and capable of “doing” something about it… for better or for worse. Our ideas about what marriage means (or doesn’t mean). Our ideas about ambitious women and stay-at-home dads, and who is supposed to be involved with children. The discomfort associated with inter-gender friendships… especially inter-generational-inter-gender friendships.
I think an important counterpoint to the storyline, regarding adoption/abortion, is provided by the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Which is a very personal portrait of one woman’s abortion in Romania, during Ceauşescu’s reign, when abortion was strictly prohibited – under pain of death. There may not be many people who are actually pro-abortion, but outlawing it is far worse.