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June 05, 2007

Abortions in Film

Dilan Esper made an interesting point in the thread on Knocked Up. "The problem isn't that "Knocked Up" doesn't present the "choice" well," he wrote. "It's that there's no movies out there-- at all-- in which a lead character has an abortion and that choice turns out to be absolutely right. And that's despite the fact that in real life, most abortions DO turn out to be the right choice, whereas many choices to have a child-- especially when said child is the product of a one-night stand with an iffy male-- turn out to be very tragic ones."

Hederman replies, "Not sure how anyone could overlook one of the seminal movies for Gen X. Fast Times, Say Anything, 16 candles, Fast Time at Ridgemont High. All staples of the Exers and Stacy's abortion was a huge plotpt in FTRH." Amanda mentions High Fidelity, where we learn that Laura had an abortion at some point in the past. Other examples?

June 5, 2007 in Film | Permalink

Comments

As mentioned in the prior thread, Jennifer Jason Leigh gets an abortion in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It is definitely portrayed as the correct choice and her character lives happily ever after.

Posted by: mark | Jun 5, 2007 1:17:29 PM

That was weird. I think your post changed in between my reading it and then commenting.

Posted by: mark | Jun 5, 2007 1:19:11 PM

Also I don't think you can play surgery for comedy. When does that happen ever?

Surgery whether it is an abortion or a triple bypass is generally grim but necessary and hardly the stuff of light-hearted comedic summer movies.

Pregnancy has the mixture of discomfort and joy that makes it nearly perfect for making jokes.

Posted by: ellenbrenna | Jun 5, 2007 1:24:05 PM

Eraserhead.

Posted by: Petey | Jun 5, 2007 1:27:24 PM

Also I don't think you can play surgery for comedy. When does that happen ever?

Surgery whether it is an abortion or a triple bypass is generally grim but necessary and hardly the stuff of light-hearted comedic summer movies.

Pregnancy has the mixture of discomfort and joy that makes it nearly perfect for making jokes.

Posted by: ellenbrenna | Jun 5, 2007 1:28:36 PM

It's not exactly a protagonist benefitting from an abortion, but both "Vera Drake" and "The Cider House Rules" had protagonists who were largely heroic in that they helped women out by performing abortions.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Jun 5, 2007 1:32:32 PM

Not a movie, but I think Clare's abortion in Six Feet Under was depicted sympathetically as the right choice.

In Citizen Ruth, it is strongly suggested that having the baby was the wrong thing to do. There's a tender scene of Ruth and the baby shortly after it's born, but then at the end she's running off and sniffing glue again.

Posted by: JasonR | Jun 5, 2007 1:39:31 PM

Solaris isn't a happy movie involving abortion, but it is a big issue for both main characters and they treat it realistically and soberly, etc.

Plus what ellenbrenna said. Plus what someone in that other thread said - abortion doesn't push the story in a different direction the way pregnancy does. Abortion maintains the status quo, which doesn't give the story any conflict to build on.

Although I am starting to want to see this mythical abortion comedy more and more with every post.

Posted by: twig | Jun 5, 2007 1:41:27 PM

... and god willing, it would be a musical.

Posted by: twig | Jun 5, 2007 1:42:29 PM

... and god willing, it would be a musical.

Posted by: twig | Jun 5, 2007 1:42:31 PM

Following up on ellenbrenna, I think it is important to note that an abortion is not great for drama, as well as comedy. If you are a writer/filmaker and your character gets pregnant, and she gets an abortion, well, that's the end of the story. But if she has the baby, with all the drama, tension, humor, stress and so forth -- then you have a story.

In a sense, legalized abortion has made stories about getting an abortion inherently undramatic (or unfunny in the case of comedy). Vera Drake and Cider House Rules are about pre-legalization abortions. And of course, one of the great American novels of the 20th century -- Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is about the same topic.

So, the fact that there are few abortions in movies/books is not necessarily a sign of Hollywood's unwillingness to touch the subject. It's just not that interesting in a society that still (although increasingly under attack) has legal abortions. Now if Roe is overturned, that would be a different story.

Posted by: think twice | Jun 5, 2007 1:44:46 PM

Following up on ellenbrenna, I think it is important to note that an abortion is not great for drama, as well as comedy. If you are a writer/filmaker and your character gets pregnant, and she gets an abortion, well, that's the end of the story. But if she has the baby, with all the drama, tension, humor, stress and so forth -- then you have a story.

In a sense, legalized abortion has made stories about getting an abortion inherently undramatic (or unfunny in the case of comedy). Vera Drake and Cider House Rules are about pre-legalization abortions. And of course, one of the great American novels of the 20th century -- Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is about the same topic.

So, the fact that there are few abortions in movies/books is not necessarily a sign of Hollywood's unwillingness to touch the subject. It's just not that interesting in a society that still (although increasingly under attack) has legal abortions. Now if Roe is overturned, that would be a different story.

Posted by: think twice | Jun 5, 2007 1:44:59 PM

My first-date movie with my eventual spouse was Une Affaire des Femmes, about a woman who performs abortions illegally in Vichy France. She gets executed in the end.

Not a good choice of first-date movie.

Posted by: Ryan | Jun 5, 2007 1:55:50 PM

It's a double-post bonanza.

I did think of the mythical abortion comedy: Citizen Ruth. Of course, the protagonist was kind of a loser, so not much like the woman in 'Knocked Up'. *shrug*

Posted by: twig | Jun 5, 2007 1:56:36 PM

Again, The Last American Virgin, 1982.

For about half of the flick, it's a typical 1980's sexploitation buddy movie...then it stops trying to be a comedy takes a somewhat realistic and sad turn.

As for Knocked Up, I feel that it's more about the characters and their relationships than about 'the choice'. Others will differ in their assessments.

Posted by: grape_crush | Jun 5, 2007 1:56:38 PM

Hmm. Does the self-abortion in The Butterfly Effect count? Because that was portrayed in a very positive light - preventing Ashton Kutcher's very existence . . .

Posted by: Kevin | Jun 5, 2007 1:57:19 PM

"In Citizen Ruth, it is strongly suggested that having the baby was the wrong thing to do. There's a tender scene of Ruth and the baby shortly after it's born,"

Uh, I'm pretty sure Ruth ended up having a miscarriage.

Posted by: Carl | Jun 5, 2007 2:06:08 PM

"Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that's unholy and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael! I wouldn't bring another one of you sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son Michael! A son! And I had it killed because this must all end!"

Pretty good decision, all things considered.

Posted by: bobbo | Jun 5, 2007 2:14:39 PM

Those movies discussed aren't Gen X movies, but even if they were- it's not like there are a lot of them - are there?

Posted by: akaison | Jun 5, 2007 2:24:15 PM

"And that's despite the fact that in real life, most abortions DO turn out to be the right choice, whereas many choices to have a child-- especially when said child is the product of a one-night stand with an iffy male-- turn out to be very tragic ones."

Good point. I'd mention Bad Timing.

Posted by: Steve | Jun 5, 2007 2:28:34 PM

Not a movie, but Prime Suspect (I think season 3 or 4) had a plotline involving Helen Mirren's character, a top-flight homicide detective, terminating a pregnancy and exploring the aftermath tension as to whether or not she'd be able to investigate a child murder (if memory serves--it's been over a decade since I saw it). As it turned out, Dame Mirren's character was more than capable of handling her job.

Posted by: litbrit | Jun 5, 2007 2:39:33 PM

I'm pretty sure that in an episode of "Spenser For Hire" (80s detective show), his girlfriend had an abortion and it was portrayed as the right decision. I Googled it and couldn't find anything, but I'm pretty sure; I remember being surprised that they didn't use the usual controversy-avoidance mechanism (iscarriage).

Posted by: Rob | Jun 5, 2007 2:47:05 PM

Does Godfather Part II count? Michael certainly didn't like it, but he was kind of crazy at that point.

Posted by: Royko | Jun 5, 2007 2:56:40 PM

Not quite the same thing here, but in Caddyshack, Maggie is quite distressed when she believes she has gotten pregnant, and tremendously relieved when she finds out she really isn't, in a way that suggests that she was thinking about making the tough decisions. Interesting that her character is Irish, too.

Posted by: sprocket | Jun 5, 2007 2:58:24 PM

While I am generally sympathetic to ellenbrenna's point, I would like to point to M*A*S*H as an example of "surgery played for comedy."

As to Esper's original claim, are there a ton of movies out there in which a woman gets an abortion and it turns out to be the wrong thing for her? Not just something she's conflicted about, but wrong? I can't think of one off-hand.

I don't think that it's dishonest or politically charged to show women who decide on abortions as being conflicted or unhappy about having to make that choice, as long as the stock corollary is not, "And then the rest of her life was ruined."

Posted by: Michael B Sullivan | Jun 5, 2007 3:02:06 PM

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