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Juno And The Culture Wars

Ross Douthat has written a post on "the politics of Juno" and out here in California the movie and its subject matter are certainly a topic of endless conversation. Ross writes:

However, the crucial decision isn't cast as a Dead Poets Society-style validation of nonconformity for nonconformity's sake; it's cast as a case where being a nonconformist happens to be the right thing to be. And while Juno may not be moved by thoughts of her embryo's "hallowed rights," exactly, she certainly seems to be moved by the unremitting grossness of the abortion clinic (complete with a pathetic-seeming girl receptionist who tells her that they need to know about "every sore and every score") - and more importantly, by the declaration, from a pro-life Asian classmate keeping a lonely vigil outside the clinic, that her child-to-be "already has fingernails."

One of the difficult things about film criticism is that Hollywood filmmaking is such a massive process (and team effort) that assigning intent to various "artistic" choices becomes a complicated task (the same is true of other forms of art, but usually to a lesser extent). So, for instance, maybe the director put the camera in a certain place because he was trying to show the emotional distance between two characters--or maybe there was bad weather that day and thus the director had to shoot the scene from that angle. Still, I suppose the finished work is all we have to go on--and must be judged accordingly.

However, I think Ross' post is an example of looking a little too hard for "meaning". It might be too simple to say that if the Juno character had gone through with the abortion there would have been no movie to make, but it's worth keeping that fact in mind. As for the abortion clinic, I don't quite see how it was "unremittingly gross." Moreover, Ross calls the female receptionist "pathetic-seeming" because she is played for laughs and throws off a sassy greeting to our heroine. It seemed to me that every character in the movie was played for laughs--and all of them had individual lines as bad clever as "every sore and every score." It's true that the Asian classmate comes across well, but so what? Making the pro-life person in the film as goofily sympathetic as every other character is not a political statement. And defining Juno as a political film is a bit of a stretch.

--Isaac Chotiner