**This probably goes without saying, but please be forewarned that there are plot spoilers contained in this post.**
Okay, I finally saw the movie earlier this week. And yes, in many ways, I felt it was as artistically well done as many people have claimed it to be; snappy, quick-witted and auditorily appealing dialogue (save a couple of offensive scenes that included or referred to Asians), a cool soundtrack and plenty of references to both uber-hip and classic bands, songs and musical artists. Yes, Ellen Page (who plays Juno) is extremely talented. . .yes, the rest of the ensemble seemed well cast for their respective parts. . .yes, I can see why this movie has become so popular and has been so well received by so many people.
THAT being said. . . I couldn't help but wonder as I left the theater: Would people still be raving about this film if Juno had decided to parent her child? Somehow, I think not.
I suppose part of it is that many people love an ending that feels just. An ending that evokes "closure" (for the record, I am not a fan of that word, but am employing it here in a movie "let's get things resolved and wrapped up before the credits start to roll" kind of context). An ending that affirms one's own perceptions of how the laws of human nature ought to operate and exist. And so I can understand why so many people would find it particularly pleasing, comforting and even validating to see that Juno did the "right thing" by placing her baby with Vanessa Loring (the potential adoptive mother played by Jennifer Garner). Because like so many other depictions of potential, pending and completed adoptions in our media, the adoptive parent is once again portrayed as more worthy and more deserving to be the mother of a child than the child's mother herself.
I know of several people who saw themselves reflected in the role of Vanessa Loring. The woman who wanted to become a mother so desperately, who felt called to become a mother but who could not because biology would not comply. So for the movie to have offered an ending that denies Vanessa the opportunity to fulfill a life long dream especially after a previous failed adoption, well, that would have just been too heartbreaking, too depressing and too outrageous for many to even imagine.
As one person told me after seeing this movie, "It's pretty much a no-brainer. Vanessa clearly deserved to get the baby. I mean, look at everything she had already gone through. Besides, she wanted the baby so much more than Juno did. I for one was happy that she could finally become a mother."
So want and desire, coupled with previous loss, translates into one person becoming more deserving of having a child over another?
Please, let me be clear. I am not suggesting or asserting that prospective adoptive parents aren't fully capable or worthy of becoming parents. What I'm challenging are the messages that I took away from this movie that I believe permeates much of the adoption rhetoric and discourse in our society: That somehow, a young, unwed woman who did not plan to become pregnant is not nearly as deserving to be a mother as a prospective adoptive parent who has endured pain, loss and heartache in his/her deliberate attempts to have a child. And the other message which I felt this movie emphasized to an extreme degree: that material wealth somehow factors into the equation and tips the scales into what others believe constitutes being a "better" parent and ultimately leading to a "better" life for the child.
What I was hoping this movie would include was at least one honest conversation that addressed the possibility of Juno parenting her child, especially given the relationship depicted between Juno and her father. Or at least one honest acknowledgment of the serious, lifelong impact that the relinquishment of her child could potentially have on her life. But instead, it seemed to feed into the belief that a young, unwed woman has only but two options to choose from when she finds herself unexpectedly with child: abortion or adoption. Why is parenting one's own child never presented as a realistic, viable option for young women, in the movies, or seemingly even in real life?
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not at all saying that becoming a parent at the age of 16 is anything to be encouraged or glorified. I'm not saying that becoming a parent at the age of 16, 18 or even 20 would not be without great challenges. Yes, I know about the statistics. But I also know there are families out there who could raise a child who was not necessarily planned for, or at the very least, would give it serious consideration instead of automatically assuming that adoption is thee best option for everyone involved.
I guess what I couldn't help but think throughout this movie was what if I had been a slightly older version of Juno? 18, 21 or even 27? Unmarried and unexpectedly pregnant? Or if our daughter found herself in a similar position as Juno one day. Why do I get the feeling that most people believe that the only acceptable and honorable thing to do in that position - regardless of outside factors and extenuating factors that may in fact support the woman - is to place the child? Perhaps because after all, if one is so irresponsible to get pregnant before marriage, what case could she possibly make to be a good parent to her child? And besides, there are so many couples who cannot have children biologically. How could a woman dare to be so selfish to deprive them of making all of their hopes and dreams a reality by not giving them her child? She doesn't deserve to be a parent nearly as much as they do; I mean, she wasn't even trying to get pregnant.
I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that line of reasoning.
To be fair, I did not get any real sense that parenting her child was an option that Juno was even considering. But I think it's important to ask why this is. Yes, we can make the argument that a teenage girl's life would be forever impacted by choosing to keep and raise a child. But I believe just as strong of an argument can be made that her life, and the life of her child, is forever impacted (and not just in the positive ways most people believe) should she choose to place her child for adoption.
And let's say that Juno had given serious thought or at the very least, even wondered what it had been like to parent her child? How easy do you think this would have been knowing that Vanessa had already started to pin her hopes and dreams on Juno and Juno alone, asking questions like (which Vanessa's character does ask) "Just how sure do you think you are that you're going to do this? Would you say you're 80% sure? Or 90% sure?" Others may have a different interpretation of that entire scene when Juno and her father first meet the Lorings and their attorney, but to me, it was coercive and highly unethical. It felt exploitative and unjust, despite the fact that the words were coming from a woman who looked like Vanessa, with her soulful and beautiful eyes, her dimpled, sweet as apple-pie smile and her blatantly obvious longing to have a child.
Clearly, there will always exist situations where a woman, of any age, chooses to place her baby and feels that it was truly the right decision for her and her child. And yes, of course there will always be circumstances when it's less than ideal and even dangerous for a woman (and her baby) to parent her child (I'm thinking substance abuse situations here). However, I didn't get that feeling from this movie. I felt the story line all but fast-forwarded over the trauma a person experiences when relinquishing her child. Yes, Juno gets somewhat emotional at the end, but practically in the very next scene you see her hop on her bike en route to singing a catchy tune with her boyfriend. I felt this movie sent a strong message that in the end, the baby went to the "better" parent, the more worthy and deserving parent, the right parent and to the parent whom the child was meant to go to all along. And as an adoptive parent myself, I take issue with that. Because contrary to what people have told me about our own son, I do not believe myself to be better, more deserving, more worthy parent of our son or the parent who he was born to be with. And it's movies like this, that even in the subtlest of displays, perpetuate the notion that in the end, placing one's child for adoption is always, always the right thing and the very best thing to do for every party involved.
I was raised with the very strong belief that when making a decision in one's life, a person benefits most when she is made aware of all of the options available to her. For once, in matters concerning how adoption is portrayed in the media, it'd be refreshing to see that when a woman is faced with an unexpected pregnancy, raising her own child is in fact an option she is entitled to, worthy of and deserving to consider and exercise.