When I first saw a trailer for the film Juno some months back, a silent alarm was triggered; here was the story of a 16-year-old girl (played by Canadian Ellen Page) who finds herself pregnant at the hands of a schoolmate, stomached with a “doodle that can’t be un-did,” as the witty clerk at the drugstore informs her (The Office’s Rainn Wilson). Although some critics claim this film to be yet another in a series of “anti-choice” movies with an agenda, the truth is quite the opposite – putting aside the self-evident fact that had the main character chose to have an abortion, the film would have ended after the first 15 minutes.
What the film did instead was meet its audience where they are at. The harsh dose of the reality of consequences (rarely seen in Hollywood) is lightened by the snappy dialogue and compelling protagonists, placing the reality of unplanned pregnancy in a believable context. The heroine initially decides to procure “a quick and hasty abortion,” but when she goes to the abortuary, she encounters a classmate protesting outside. As Juno approaches the doors, the acquaintance warns that her baby may have a heartbeat, yet the unfazed Juno proceeds. It is not until she is informed that her baby has fingernails that Juno is moved. Upon entering the abortuary, manned by a punk receptionist, the image of nails begins to torture her, while others in the waiting room paint, clack or bite their nails to a fever pitch and Juno makes a hasty exit. The humanity of the child inside her has become clear.
From this point onward, the film tackles both practical and emotional issues, from the search for “cool” adoptive parents to the difference between “preparedness” and “readiness” – for what can we prepare ourselves and for what are we truly “ready”? When a unique human life is the subject, the truth seems to lie in the readiness to accept anything and the preparation for whatever that entails. The characters are about as far away from stereotypes as one can imagine – and their reactions in kind. The hard scene-breaks only soften when we feel the baby kick, reminding us that the hard-edged hero still harbours a heart of gold.
Juno is not your typical girl, from her Kid Robot posters to her eccentric musical tastes – precisely where the audience is. In painting so unique and specific a picture, one would expect the audience to be held at a distance, but the effect is quite the opposite – in an age where teenagers try so desperately to be “unique” (just like everyone else … oh the irony), we have lensed here something we can properly digest, a story about characters so absurd that they almost approach reality.
On a more aesthetic note, the marriage of music and image in this film is brilliant – after watching it, I proceeded directly to an Indigo some two stories below the theatre and bought the soundtrack. All of the pieces seem to echo the same message as the movie – a very simple musical authenticity (objective), swirled by incredibly frank and brutal lyrics (subjective) making the work seem as easy to observe, yet difficult to swallow, as the themes we find ourselves empathizing with.
Jonathan Castellino is a Toronto photographer.