Monday, May 26, 2008

Pregnancy in Cinema: assisted plot movement, with some clichés on the side

Out of the three pregnancy Hollywood films from 2007 (Juno, Waitress and Knocked Up), two involved the use of alcohol in order to get the lead women pregnant. In Waitress, Jenna (Keri Russell) gets pregnant by her husband after a few drinks loosen her up and in Knocked Up Alison (Katherine Heigl) has a one night stand with Ben (Seth Rogen) under the influence of alcohol. It is safe to say that neither female character would have gotten pregnant if not for some drinks – both are shown to be responsible career women and neither would have had sex with their male counterparts in sober conditions (Jenna despises her husband and Alison was a bit out of Ben’s league). If these movies had been made ten years ago, then the women would have gotten pregnant without any alcohol. Back then a night of passion, a one night stand, and pregnancy would have followed if the script called for it. In 1997’s Fools Rush In a one time fling between Matthew Perry's and Salma Hayek’s characters results in her getting pregnant. Ofcourse, in the case of Fools Rush In, Juno, Waitress and Knocked Up, the story is more concerned with what happens to the characters after pregnancy; the characters are only required to get pregnant, one way or another.

One line in the script and let us move on with the story

A few years ago, it was ok for the women to get pregnant quite easily in movies and the story could have gotten to the really interesting portions. But nowadays, one cannot get away with showing the characters engaging in unprotected sex unless one shows the character’s lack of intelligence given the awareness of sexual diseases out there. Each of the three 2007 films finds a way to excuse its characters of engaging in their unprotected sexual acts – in Juno the main character is a young teenager and is reminded by her father that she should have known better; in Waitress Jenna is quite upset at her pregnancy and is furious that she allowed her husband to get her pregnant while in Knocked Up both Alison and Ben engage in a debate about why a condom was not used. Ben had tried to put one on but when Alison shouted “just do it already”, he assumed it was ok for him to continue without one as he figured Alison was using protection of her own.

In the hilarious film Idiocracy Mike Judge pokes fun at this unprotected sex issue. In the movie, he shows that educated couples are taking too long to produce babies as they are waiting for the right time but on the other hand not so bright jocks and athletes are getting multiple women pregnant and are mass producing babies. As a result, in a distant future the planet (or only America?) will be populated by idiotic people resulting in a complete collapse of society.

All the above mentioned films are comedies (Fools Rush in is a romantic comedy) and conforms to the standard that males in such movies are stupid and are unable to handle the woman’s pregnancy. But then again, who would want to watch a movie about intelligent men getting smart women pregnant? Such a movie would not be funny and the script might never get funding in Hollywood or even Bollywood.

Bring out the clichés

Nine Months showed the woman (played by Julianne Moore) getting pregnant despite her using birth pills. The male (played by Hugh Grant) is puzzled and asks how such a thing could happen. To which Moore’s character replies that birth pills are only 98% effective. Grant’s character hilariously replies that they should put the fact that the pills are “2% bloody ineffective” on the box instead. The film based on a French film (Neuf mois) brings out all the clichés on both the male and female sides. And the Bollywood film Salaam Namastey bases its story on Nine Months and adds more relationship and pregnancy clichés.

While some people demonstrate the following characteristics, they are not the universal norm:
  • All males emotionally melt down when a woman gets pregnant
  • All males faint when witnessing birth
  • All women have cravings during pregnancy
  • All pregnant women act irrationally and make impossible requests
  • A woman gives birth within a few hours or minutes of her water breaking

  • Talking to some nurses and doctors recently, it was interesting to learn that a pregnant woman can take as much 24 hours to deliver the baby after her water breaks while in some cases, women can be in labour without their water breaking. These professional people said that one of the first things they mention to newly pregnant women is to ignore what they see on Hollywood films regarding pregnancy. Now considering that historical and scientific facts are often blurred in commercial films, it should not be a surprise that pregnancy is handled in the some clichéd and poor manner. What is irritable the most is how easily the women can get pregnant in movies. The probability of a woman or a girl getting pregnant on her first time is rare but not impossible. Yet, script writers get away with this cliché time and time again while this aspect is never questioned. On one hand, sci-fi movies are put through the strictest critiques where every scientific aspect depicted in the movie is questioned, while in these pregnancy comedies a woman’s instant pregnancy is quietly accepted while watching the male character melt down when learning of the woman’s unexpected pregnancy.

    Resolving difficult situations

    Santosh Sivan’s 1999 film The Terrorist posed some challenging questions for its female character of Milli (Ayesha Dharker). Milli plays a suicide bomber in training for her big day when she will get to blow up a minister while presenting the minister with flowers (note: The story echoes the real life murder of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was killed in this manner in 1991). It would have been interesting to see the moral and ethical dilemmas Milli is facing while waiting to blow her body up. But Sivan comes up with an easy way to aid her decision making. He shows Milli getting pregnant after her first and only sexual encounter (ofcourse) and that forces her to think about about life vs death issues. If that pregnancy was not going to easily resolve matters, Sivan also adds a situation with a grandmother in a coma. We are told that the woman has been in a coma for a long time but anyone watching Indian movies through the 1990's (or even 80's) would know that the woman would wake up during an appropriate time ordained by the script. Sure enough, the grandmother grabs Milli’s hand in the climatic scenes.

    Now, I am letting my subjective views cloud my judgment of The Terrorist. While the film is a technical masterpiece (Sivan is one of India’s best cinematographers), I can not accept that the pregnancy is a very convenient manner to address such a difficult ethical dilemma. But that is not saying pregnancy is always an easy way to move the script along.

    In Pedro Almodóvar’s wonderful film Talk to Her the situation of a coma patient and pregnancy is depicted. In the movie, the male nurse who looks after the woman repeatedly rapes the unconscious woman and his crime is only found out when the woman gets pregnant and the pregnancy wakes her from the coma. Now the movie develops the relationship between the male and silent woman naturally and shows that despite the woman being in a coma, she still continues to have her period and her body still behaves normally. Even though the pregnancy resolves the coma, it never feels like an easy way out. Instead, we are presented with a convincing case and the film ends with some worthy questions – should the male nurse be thanked for reviving the woman or blamed for his crime?

    How many does it take for a pattern?

    Ofcourse, three pregnancy Hollywood movies in 2007 and two of them using alcohol as an aid cannot depict a new trend. But it will be curious to see how pregnancy is shown this year? And whether more stupid male characters are shown to faint and melt down when their fling, girlfriend or wife gets pregnant after a single sexual encounter?


    mekhala said...

    Good post! What irks me with Indian movies is that they show characters who are raped and therefore, become pregnant and are ostracized. Hey! Does no one take the victim to a hospital? And, won't they ensure that pregnancy doesn't happen?

    Sachin said...

    Thanks for the comment mekhala.
    Yes the treatment of women after rape in Indian movies is quite bad. Also, until the last few years, the issue of pre-marital sex was handled awfully in Indian movies as well -- characters were not allowed to engage in pre-marital sex with the only exceptions being cases where the heroine was raped, or she had to engage in providing body heat (jism khi garmi) to save the hero from dying from frost (or vice versa). Do you remember the body heat sequences?

    florida rehab said...

    Women can get pregnant in reality if they carelessly got drunk with a guy, and then they had a one night stand. This is happening in bars and pubs, and the movies mentioned here are just portraying on what happens in real life.