Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, And Abortion Politics

Ever since I’d heard of the subject matter of “Four Months, Three Weeks & Two Days,” I’ve been calling it “the Romanian abortion movie.” It’s essentially about two women and the lengths they must go to obtain an abortion in Romania in 1987. It is not a pleasant movie to sit through. I think the scene with the kittens is about the only “nice” thing to look at in the movie.

Because of the nature of my career I felt I had to see movie. I spend a lot of time working for reproductive rights but I think what escaped me about the movie, until I listened to an NPR interview with the director, was during that time period not only was abortion outlawed, but so was birth control. You can imagine for yourself what that would do the country’s population and what kind of position that would often put the women in. The director himself was part of the generation boom that Ceauşescu tried to achieve. (He’s of the age that the protagonists are in 1987. So in many ways it’s a period piece of some of what he experienced as a young adult. FYI, the name Ceauşescu is never uttered in the movie.)

We end up knowing almost nothing about the circumstances of the pregnancy or even any explicit reasons why the woman is desperate to get one. Partially I think the director didn’t explain or didn’t want to, was precisely because this isn’t an American “political” film about abortion. From the same NPR interview, its clear he’s pro-choice, but the movie feels like it’s more interested in preserving a part of Romanian history in people’s minds and talking about oppression. It’s about choices made by people living under oppression not just “Choice.”

As much as horrible things happen to the protagonists in this movie, apparently some of the real stories in Romania are worse. Its estimated that likely half of the women seeking an abortion in Romania died from it. One story the director mentioned in the interview, was a woman went to a man (not even a doctor) and the guy showed her two barrels. One was full of water, and the other was empty. The guy told her, if everything goes well, you’ll use the water to wash up. But if something goes wrong, I’m going to put you in the barrel and get rid of your body. Apparently she still agreed to have do the procedure and everything turned out okay. Not everyone was so lucky.

Still I came away from that movie feeling like because the desperation of the women wasn’t fully explored (we know what they are willing to go through with, without exactly knowing why) that an anti-choice person watching the movie might come away with different emotions. The director is showing the horror of abortion in places where it is outlawed. (They not only jailed doctors, but the women seeking abortions.) If you are supportive of keeping abortion legal to prevent such horrific scenes from happening in the U.S. then the movie can provide a motivation and greater understanding of what “choice” really means and why it is such an essential right.

But I think if you are anti-choice the movie could look like a morality play justifying the inherent “evilness” of abortion.

However, that’s just my opinion. My roommate who saw the movie with me, thought differently.
The problem is that most strongly anti-choice people wouldn’t see this movie anyway. So I’ll probably never know what it made them think.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound like anyone, pro-life or pro-choice, will be running out to see this one.

And your take on Bella and Juno?

Jim in Cleveland

NewsCat said...

Haven't heard of Bella. Didn't see Juno. I wanted to early on because I love Ellen Page's work in but then there was all this hype about it so I thought I'd wait for it to show up on DVD.

But now that it's Oscar-nominated so I'll probably try to catch it. But not There Will Be Blood. I've heard it sucks.

Anonymous said...

Bella (, which won the Toronto International Film Fesitval's People's Choice award in 2006, is a movie about a young woman who becomes pregnant and has no idea what to do. She loses her job as a waitress, and the cook at the restaurant (no romance here), a former international soccer star, and she spend the day together discussing their lives and their options.

I, too, had been impressed with Ellen Page in Hard Candy. She is even better in Juno.

I have read some reviewers say neither movie is pro-life, but I just don't buy their argument. Juno is not a "pro-life" movie, as such, but there is one scene in particular that I am sure you would have objections to.

Neither film really demonizes the choice of abortion--it is considered by both Nina (in Bella) and Juno, and I don't think either film's perspective is a judgement on that option, though I concede both films portray that option as a rather bleak one.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the unintended hyperlink. I have no idea how that happened. I didn't even look up Hard Candy.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

I thought Hard Candy sucked, but I liked Juno. Although though the main character couldn't articulate it herself, I thought the movie did a good job of explaining why Juno chose not to abort (although that scene may have been too subtle for some-- a couple of guys I was talking to said "She chose not to abort because everyone in the abortion clinic was too noisy?!") I liked that they didn't denounce abortion as a choice, but pointed out that it was a choice that not all women could make. Being pro-choice doesn't mean being anti-life... although I still hate kids, and think they I should be allowed to abort them through the 225th month. Okay, maybe through month 273. ;)