Friday, January 25, 2008

A Missed Opportunity

The movie Juno is receiving lots of "Oscar buzz" these days. It's a sweet, quirky tale of a teenager, Juno, who turns up pregnant after a sexual encounter with her sort-of boyfriend (played by Michael Cera). I heard star Ellen Page (nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress) being interviewed on NPR the other day, and she was asked whether the movie was making a political statement about the abortion debate.

Ms Page quickly denied that there were any "political" implications to the fact that Juno briefly considers getting an abortion, but then decides to let the pregnancy continue as she seeks appropriate adoptive parents for her child. Page's response seemed to pass muster with the NPR interviewer, and the conversation continued in other directions.

But I wonder if Ms Page was entirely accurate in her response. It depends on whether one understands "politics" in a broad sense or in a narrow partisan manner. If politics is defined broadly, as dealing with how citizens live out their deepest convictions in the hurly-burly of the polis, Juno is most certainly making a political statement about abortion.

One needs to ponder the scene in Juno where the pregnant teen visits an abortion clinic. In the parking lot of the clinic she encounters one of her school-mates, another young woman who carries an anti-abortion placard. She engages Juno in a conversation about abortion, encouraging her not to make this "choice." Juno is not easily won over--and she proceeds toward the clinic door. In a last-ditch effort to dissuade her, Juno's friend calls to her: "Your baby has fingernails." Juno shrugs as she enters the clinic.


As she sits in the waiting room of the clinic, Juno suddenly sees fingernails everywhere. She has fingernails, all the other persons in the waiting room have fingergails. Juno even hears fingernails, wherever she turns.

And it is enough to make her flee from the waiting room, to continue her pregnancy to its natural end. It is as if realizing that the little one has fingernails humanizes her fetus, makes her realize that she carries within her body the miracle of budding human life.

If that's not "political," I don't know what is.

And, it would seem, that this is precisely where the political debate over abortion rights in America has, largely, turned. Anti-abortion forces have had limited success in achieving government regulation of the unlimited abortion license that has been the law of the land these past 35 years. But they have achieved greater effect in changing the climate and raising consciousness regarding the humanity of the unborn. The "billboard people" have made it harder and harder to view an unborn child as a thing (or, as Juno puts it earlier in the movie, "a sea monkey!")

All of that--all of that is "political" in the best sense of the word. Too bad that actress Page ducked the NPR interviewer's question, missing an opportunity for a fuller, richer conversation.

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