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Juno, Abortion, Etc.

Michael Schaffer nails several of the points that need to be made when Rick Santorum starts claiming Juno as a personal vindication. For starters, the trend of entertainments in which women decide to stick with their unwanted pregnancies is not a remotely new one. (I think much of the discussion about Hollywood and abortion earlier this year was driven by the coincidence that Waitress and Knocked Up happened to open just a week apart.) The reason is awfully simple: The unwanted-pregnancy-that's-carried-to-term storyline is a really easy one, a problem that can be made to solve itself at the end when the baby arrives and turns out to be wanted after all (in the case of Juno, by someone other than the birth mother, but the idea is the same). In addition to Waitress and Knocked Up, Saved! and The Opposite of Sex are two other recent films that followed essentially the same arc, concluding with loved ones gathered around the maternal bed and epiphanies all around. And there are many other films (say, Look Who's Talking or Riding in Cars with Boys) in which the shape is different but the overall message is similar.

Stories that end with abortions, by contrast, are hard to pitch as uplifting. Mike mentioned Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in which the abortion is definitely an emotional low point. An even better example is The Last American Virgin, another early '80s teen sex comedy, in which an abortion leads to what is almost certainly the most bitter, dismal conclusion the genre has ever seen. What romantic-comedy screenwriter wants to go there?

That said, I don't think Juno or Knocked Up are entirely devoid of political undercurrents, and as it happens Ross Douthat and I are up at bloggingheads today discussing these and a few other movies-and-politics intersections. As before, I talk way too fast, and Ross and I babble on at such length that our discussion of the ending of There Will Be Blood had to be cut short. Viewers can decide for themselves which of these shortfalls is most ruinous, but in any case, be forewarned: This is one Friday time waster that can waste a whole lot of time.

There is one point, though, that I meant to make but never got around to: If you're looking for conservative themes in Juno, arguably the clearest one is at best peripherally related to abortion. It's where the movie comes down, quite firmly I think, on the question of self-actualization vs. responsibility. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

One of Juno's sharpest elements is its treatment of the Lorings. When we first meet them, we are obviously intended to like hip, ironic, artistic Mark and to find reliable, earnest, domestic Vanessa annoying and/or pitiable. What's impressive is the way the film gradually reverses our early affections, but does so without ever really changing either character. Instead it  merely shifts our perspective, showing that the guy you want to swap mix tapes and spend afternoons watching horror movies with is probably not the guy you want to be a father for your child. In Knocked Up, the former abruptly, quasi-magically becomes the latter, allowing viewers to have their cake and eat it, too. In Juno (and, I think, real life), one not infrequently has to choose between the fun guy (or gal) and the responsible one, and it's a choice Juno does not hesitate to make.

--Christopher Orr