Juno: An Abortion Movie That Isn't About Abortion – Collider

Juno: An Abortion Movie That Isn't About Abortion – Collider

15 years later, Juno is still remembered for its unique approach to depicting abortion, divisive as it is.
It’s been 15 years since Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman graced our eyes and ears with the story of a 15-year-old Juno MacGuff (Elliot Page) who gets accidentally pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption. During these years we’ve discussed the soundtrack, the performances, and the dialogue that seems to have come from a mushroom trip. The film is even used in the Irish secondary school curriculum. However, an element of the film that hasn't been as easy to discuss but is now more relevant than ever is its portrayal of abortion. Juno is essentially an abortion film that actually really isn't about abortion. It doesn't staunchly state whether it's a “pro-choice” or “pro-life” story. It’s a movie that kind of just says, "hey, abortion is gonna be in this film, but we’re not gonna let it take up the entire narrative."
For those of you who haven't seen Juno in a while, let’s take a waddle down memory lane. Within the first ten minutes of the film, we’ve established that Juno, much to her dismay, is pregnant and it's "one doodle that can’t be undid." She rings her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), to tell her she’s pregnant and Leah doesn't ask Juno if she’s going to get an abortion but rather which clinic she is going to go to. They discuss it as if Juno is simply going to get her nails done (more on that later) and the discussion of the issue seems to be pretty painless.
To American audiences, this scene isn't anything revolutionary. In 2007, abortion had been around a long time and the future of its legality wasn’t in doubt like it is now. But to an 11-year-old me, this was revolutionary. Growing up in Ireland, abortion was a severely taboo and shameful topic. I can proudly say that we changed that in 2018 when we legalized abortion via referendum, but 2007 was completely different. Juno was one of the first films I saw that mentioned or referenced abortion, and I was blown away by how normal it all was. No mention of being sent away to a “boarding school,” no need to board a flight to another country, and no overwhelming sense of shame or fear. Looking back on the film, I would definitely say that Juno helped me understand abortion and the need for it to be legal, and how it can be a procedure that isn’t drenched in shame or guilt.
RELATED: 'Juno': Why Allison Janney's Brenda Is the Best Movie Mom
Now, of course, we all know that Juno doesn't end up getting the abortion, otherwise the film would be 20 minutes long. Juno gets freaked out by…nails. Juno seems to be feeling pretty good about her decision until she meets classmate Su-Chin (Valerie Tian) who is protesting alone outside the clinic shouting “All babies want to get borned!” Diablo Cody seems to be purposely making anti-abortion protesters out to be somewhat stupid, not using the correct grammar in their preaching statements. And yet, it's Su-Chin who sways Juno’s decision. She tells Juno that her unborn baby has fingernails, and once Juno gets into the clinic, it's all she can think about. An unsettlingly uncomfortable montage starts with the other women in the clinic using their nails in various ways: picking, painting, scratching, and biting. This causes Juno to run out the door faster than you can see “hamburger phone” and that seems to be her mind made up: She’s having this baby.
Some might say that this change of heart is all a bit too sudden and primitive, but I’d ask those people to think back to when they were fifteen. You think you’re on the cusp of adulthood, but you don’t realize that you are still light years away from having everything figured out. One comment, message, or fact can send your world upside down, and that's exactly what happens to Juno. Even if it comes from someone who says “borned,” it's so easy to be led astray at this age. The whole point of Juno’s character is that she thinks she has life all figured out, but by the end of the film, she knows she has a lot more learning to do. If early on in the film Juno was able to govern herself with a strict set of guidelines and be an immaculate decision-maker, it would take away from the authenticity that Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman have laced the film with. As Cody makes clear from the outset of the script, this film is not being made to deliver grand mediations on the bigger questions in life. It wouldn’t fit in the film to have Juno break down in tears to Leah or her parents, exclaiming why she needs to have this baby. That isn’t the style here. Juno changes her mind and life moves on, and there’s no time for a grand soliloquy on pro-choice or pro-life mediations.
The nail scene is also a reminder of how truly horrific getting an abortion can be. It’s an uncomfortable, frightening, and overall unpleasant experience. Yes, we want women to have the choice, but we also hope that no woman has to make the choice. The nail scene might be the film’s way of reminding the audience that just because abortion is legal, doesn't make it any less frightening, just like any medical procedure. The film would be doing an injustice if it painted the abortion clinic as Nirvana. We’ve all met those rude, disinterested employees who freak us out (although I will admit, I’ve never had someone tell me about their boyfriend's pie balls). Again, the film isn't trying to sway the audience but merely paints things how they are. Sometimes, especially when you're a teenager, the simplest things can completely skew your views, and sometimes, and this may surprise some people, young girls change their minds.
At the end of the day, Juno won’t be remembered for its portrayal of abortion. There are arguments for both it being a pro-choice and pro-life film. But there has to be something said for a film that introduces abortion into its plot without letting it monopolize the story. When you compare it to other films about unwanted pregnancies such as The Magdalene Sisters, it’s important for people to see that abortion can be portrayed with some level of normality. We see this more in current cinema such as last year’s Unpregnant which revolves around two friends reconnecting as one tries to get an abortion. But again, it's not “a film about abortion,” it's a film about friendship.
It's fair to say that Juno's stance on abortion is a weird one, as we're not used to films discussing an issue and not making it clear which side they're on. However, the representation of how abortion can exist, safely and illegally, and not have to be an invading presence in a narrative goes to show how it should stay legalized in American society. Take from it what you will, but I always viewed the film as letting people know that abortion doesn't send the world into chaos. The pro-choice movement is so-called because it's not about abortion but about choice. And that includes changing it last minute, just like Juno.
The road ahead is looking pretty terrifying for women in America, and I’ve never felt more empathetic since the long and arduous walk to legal abortion in Ireland is still ingrained in Irish women’s memories. I hope in years to come when Americans look back at this film, they will be able to look at the commonplace legal nature of abortion in the film and it won't be something of a bygone time.
Emma Kiely is a Features Editor at Collider. She is from Kilkenny, Ireland, and currently lives in Dublin. She enjoys horror cinema and mystery novels and series. She is happy to argue with anyone who thinks that the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films were not the best ones.
Sign up for Collider's newsletter for exclusive news, features, streaming recommendations and more

source

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.