Thursday, January 31, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Cinema these days seems to be obsessed with movies about issues. How else to explain the glut of films that have come out about war, terrorism, third-world poverty, and now, to my great surprise, abortion. Previously, this was practically untouchable as a theme. Now I can barely count on one hand films that have been released in the last few years dealing with this subject. These include Citizen Ruth, Lake of Fire, Bella, Juno, and now most recently, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Each of these takes a different tact. All of them deserve watching: Citizen Ruth for its comedy and for showing up much that has been ridiculous throughout the years concerning this issue; Lake of Fire as the best documentary chronicling in a fairly unbiased way the passion and argumentation on both sides; Bella as a good indie film whose dialogue was kind of wooden for which, however, the camera work made up; and Juno, a film I loved and thought did a great job of telling the Baby Boomers that our generation would no longer deal with abortion the way they did. We are beyond the modernist rhetoric of Cartesian autonomy and Lockian "rights" language, at least in this film, and prefer to situate the issue of teen pregnancy and abortion in a wholly different context. Props to them for making that film.

And now 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Remember that scene at the end of Children of Men when Clive Owen, the young mother, and the child walk between the long line of soldiers during a spontaneous cease fire? The evocation of the Holy Family was clear, and all I could think of during that powerful scene (the rest of the movie was mediocre) was of the experience of Eucharistic adoration. For those who have ever experienced such a moment during worship, the reverence and awe on the faces of the soldiers as all sound ceased was breathtaking. They were looking at the salvation of their race.

4 Months has such a scene. Yet it is by far a better movie. When the New York Times review explained that it was a pro-abortion film showing how bad illegal abortion was in communist Russia in order to point out the benefits of our "freedoms" in the United States, I knew I had to see it. What was confirmed for me when I saw it (it was released simultaneously in select theatres and On Demand) was a lot that post-modern reception and interpretation theory have said about the "death of the author." A text is not complete on its own. It remains open to those for whom it was written, but not just for them, but for the open-ended future along with whoever may one day see or read it. Their interpretations, regardless of authorial intent, make up part of the text. The fusion of the textual horizon and the readers horizon make up the interpretative content of texts. However, genuine receptivity on the part of the reader is required. The reviewer for the Times went in with his or her own presuppositions, and he or she found what was looked for. I went in with those same expectations: to see a pro-choice film.

When I was young, I can remember one time when my mom miscarried. I remember at our little funeral looking down on my 5 month old sister in a little box made out of plywood that my dad had made. She was just bigger than the size of my hand, lying so beautiful and quiet on the bottom. I went over against the wall and cried my first true tears of sadness, experiencing my first sense of loss. I have never forgotten that vision. In 4 Months, there is a scene at the end where the main protagonist, the friend of the girl who she helps procure an abortion, goes to the bathroom of the hotel room. Her friend has discharged the 5 month old fetus killed with a saline injection, and it is lying on the floor of the bathroom, she says. So her friend, who made up what was lacking in the abortion fee by sleeping with the abortionist, walks slowly toward the bathroom. The camera shot is positioned from within the bathroom, and all light is on the door and her face as she comes in. She slowly sinks to her knees, her face inexpressible in its sorrow and pain. She is experiencing the reversal of Bethlehem, a little helpless child in a meek and lowly place, except it is dead. The camera slowly pans down to the mess of head and hands and feet on the floor, lying in a pool of blood. She stuffs it in her purse and goes to dispose of it. That scene alone for me made the movie. It also convinced me that this is truly a pro-life film. Decide for yourself. I will be watching it again.

Markel, SJ

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