"But when Christ came as high priest...He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God."
-Hebrews 9:11-14


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie Review: Juno

Greetings!  Welcome to the first of (hopefully) many movie reviews by Al+El.

My name is Elizabeth, and the movie I am reviewing today is Juno.

I’ve been eager to watch the movie Juno for a long time, ever since it first came out.  Although I was not allowed to see it at the time (with very good reason, which will be seen later), I knew lots of people who did, and over the years I’ve heard many and conflicting opinions of this movie.   Initially, I was surprised that the pro-abortion/liberal media didn’t persecute Juno, because of what I thought was its pro-life message.  After watching the movie, however, I can see how wrong my original impression was, and why the pro-abortion party would not make such a hype over this movie as they might over, say, Bella.   

Juno is not your everyday girl who finds herself in a situation which is, sad to say, something of an everyday occurrence in our culture:  she’s 16 years old, still in high school, and facing an unplanned pregnancy.  Confused and unsure, she confides in her best friend, Leah, who suggests a visit to the abortion clinic to “get rid of it”.  On her way inside the clinic, Juno spots a girl from her high school protesting outside the clinic.  The girl immediately attempts to change Juno’s mind, but nothing seems to get through to her until the girl squeaks desperately, “Your baby has fingernails!”  Puzzled by this new idea of her baby’s humanity, and turned off by the brashness of the lady at the front desk of the abortion clinic, Juno recants and decides to keep her baby.  She is, however, determined not to raise the baby herself, and thus sets off to find the perfect adoptive parents for her unborn child.

My initial reaction to Juno was a wish that it wasn’t so crass, and possessed more charm.  In the uptake, Juno is rather a charming movie – it possesses unique and endearing characters, moments of dry humor, and a certain quirky-cutesy edge.  It is essentially the story from Juno’s perspective, that is, the perspective of a cynical, laid-back, witty, and confident teenager.   There is much to admire in her personality, much to love.  (Her pipe made me fall in love with her instantly, if only because I also am in possession of a pipe and chew it on occasion.)  She is an acute and unique individual, refreshingly original, and possessing a free and undaunted spirit.  In short, she is “an old soul”.  But what is sad and disappointing about her are those streaks of raunchy humor and disrespect – particularly for the older generation – that darkly color her otherwise sunny nature.  This is reflected in the film.  In context, a little taste of juvenile crudity is to be expected, but the amount of dirty humor presented to me was a bit shocking – all the more so because this was the way in which the filmmakers presented a story about the beautiful choice of life. 
The overall message of Juno is a negative one (and most likely the reason for its acceptance among the liberal side of the media): Juno fails to take her pregnancy as the price – or penalty – of her immoral behavior, and instead seems to flaunt her baby bulge with pride.  This is not so terrible in itself, but I think the crux of the problem lies in Juno’s angry, accusatory words to Paulie, her on-and-off boyfriend: “Do you regret that we did it?” (i.e., had sex).   What Juno is saying here is that she does not regret what they did, and she is mad at Paulie for not feeling the same way.  Perhaps we should consider the scene in which this encounter takes place.  Paulie has just told Juno that he has asked another girl out to the prom, and emotionally, Paulie and Juno seem to be drifting apart.  So is Juno merely feeling dumped by Paulie?  Are her built up frustrations and hormones from her pregnancy manifesting themselves?  Or do her words present a deeper insight into her character, and the character of the film?
It is surprising to me how many people (even good Catholics) seem to fail to look beyond the endearing charms of Juno and see how many things are disturbing about it.  (Don’t even try to pull that trite “Oh, it’s just a movie” excuse.)  The film is about serious occurrences, and the attitudes of its characters need to be considered.  Some of the most crucial points in the movie, as we saw in the last paragraph, revolve around Juno’s commentary.  At the end of the film, she tells the viewers that she and Paulie “got started early” – that is, growing up, having children together.  But the fact is that neither one of them grew up.   Juno didn’t learn anything from her unplanned pregnancy.  Instead, her final words suggest that she rather liked growing up early and entering into a “serious” relationship at 16.  (However, neither she nor Paulie mention the future possibility of marriage.)  Juno’s last bits of commentary suggest that she would do it all over again.  Let me just mention here that the only reason the whole thing happened is that Juno and Paulie got bored on a Friday night while they were hanging out.  How spontaneous – how immature.  And how sad.

So far, I have only mentioned Juno and Paulie.  What about the adults?
Unfortunately, the adults presented in Juno are in want of extreme character reform.  Juno’s father, Mac, hardly seems to know what’s going on in his daughter’s life; her stepmother, Bren, while presented as being uptight and no-nonsense, barely challenges Juno’s screwy behavior (although she is very supportive of Juno during her pregnancy – beautiful unconditional love!); the hopeful adoptive parents-to-be of Juno’s baby are, on the one side, insecure, and on the other side, “messing around” (or unfaithful), and both are hoping for the perfect child to fit their eggshell perfect life; and various other high school teachers and parents are made out to be flirting with the students, or silly to the point of being idiotic, or just plain juvenile.  Out of all these, Bren seems to be the most solid character, for although she is the stepmother of Juno, she seems to take better, firmer disciplinary action than Juno’s actual father (if you can really call it disciplinary).
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that Juno has such an urge to be grown up, and yet is unwilling to let go of her immature habits – such as disrespect for her elders.  She is seriously lacking role models in her life.  However, there are moments of connection between Juno and some of the adults.  She has something of a heart-to-heart talk with her father Mac.  She develops a cautious friendship with Vanessa, the anxious but gentle prospective mother of Juno’s baby.  Her stepmother Bren supports her during her pregnancy with words of wisdom and prenatal vitamins.  During some of the connections, though, the bizarre attitudes of some of the characters and the filmmakers become apparent.  Juno’s friendship with Vanessa’s husband Mark – founded on a mutual love for punk rock and horror movies – takes a sour turn when Mark begins dissolutely falling for Juno and ultimately decides to leave Vanessa.  (Juno rejects him with horror, but in this lies another negative element.  Bren had warned Juno not to visit Mark alone so often, and Juno blew her off.)  At an earlier point, Juno is having an ultrasound done, and the technician makes an insensitive remark about teen mothers raising children themselves.  Bren responds indignantly and shuts the technician down, but one can’t help feeling during the scene that the filmmakers are merely making a bow to the pro-abortion party.
It seems apparent throughout Juno that the filmmakers want to please both sides: pro-abortion and pro-life.  They were afraid of making an overtly pro-life movie, so they made it pro-sex and pro-immaturity instead.  Attempting to produce a happy medium, they failed to fully satisfy both sides.  But perhaps this was their goal.

In conclusion…
…there are two major things wrong with this movie.  1): the flippant presentation of some of the most serious things in life (such as sex and abortion).  2): Juno’s half-adult/half-naïve take on it all.  We see lots of suggestive content, and lots of sexual implications, and Juno and her friends talking casually about it all. 
Sadly, it is all taken casually now.  Have sex, get pregnant, have an abortion (get rid of it), recycle.  Meantime, let’s go on with our lives as if nothing has happened.  The movie truly does present “a day in the life”, of a teenager.  But perhaps one of the movie’s good points lies in this, that it can present a somewhat positive message on human life in the womb to a desensitized generation who understand the crassness that is in front of them.  It’s gloomy to have to admit that.
Juno’s attitude, then, is probably not that much different from your average teenager.  High school kids seem to think that they’re mature enough to have sex, but when faced with other adult situations -- pregnancy, coping with annoying people, having a relationship -- they seem to fall back on their adolescence.  (In fact, not many adults seem to do a better job; but maybe this is because they acted this way when they were kids.)  The truth is, they are kids.  They’re not adults.  They’ve got so much life to live, so much to learn…why rush it? 
This is what irks me about people who say that Juno is all about Juno learning to grow up.  It’s not.  She has tried to grow up already, and it hasn’t worked.  Her youthfulness is so lovable.  It makes her react the way she does.  But the film’s overall message includes this element: it’s okay to “take a detour into adulthood”, as the Juno DVD synopsis says.  It’s especially okay if you’re a “cool, confident teenager” like Juno.  After it’s all over, you can get back on the road and continue merrily on your way.  There are no consequences for your actions.
In the real world, this is not okay, nor is it an easy thing to get over and forget.  It’s sad.  It impacts you for life, whether you believe it or not.  It’s unfortunate.  It’s unfortunate that Juno forces herself into an adult situation, because frankly, she is not ready for it.  She’s still a kid.  And until she has experience enough to change, that’s how she will remain.


Pax Christi,


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