Speaking of films, I finally saw Juno. I know - the discussion is over, but wait, because I have this one thing to add.

**Warning - post may contain spoilers.**



The two chief complaints I heard about this movie were that the adoption process doesn't work like that, which is something I'm going to leave aside for now, and that the whole thing was too pat and stereotyped. Highly-strung infertile career woman who would probably fall pregnant if she relaxed meets working-class pregnant teen willing to place for adoption and they all live happily ever after. I want to focus on the highly-strung infertile career woman. Because this is an infertility blog and it's the angle I identify with most directly.

Maybe my expectations were set too low, because I really didn't find Jenny's portrayal that bad. The first time we meet her is as she desperately puts the house in order before the initial visit. The picture frames are straightened and minutely arranged, the handtowels are monogrammed and perfectly aligned. In any other film setting, I would have thought, "We're about to meet an anal control-freak," but not this time. This time I thought, "We're about to meet a woman who, after years of heartbreak and turmoil, is nervous as hell and terrified of losing this chance." The careful arranging of picture frames might have drawn soft snickers from a few members of the audience, but I thought, "Don't laugh - you'd be the same."

So too at the merest blips in Juno's behaviour - like turning up unexpectedly, or an out-of-the-blue groan. "Is something wrong? Is there a problem with the baby?" she'd ask, with an edge of panic in her voice. And I thought, yes, I know how she feels. I'd ask as well.

And so, in all probability, would you.

See, it's not like I've traditionally been described as highly strung. On the contrary, I've been assured, in the past, that I come across as calm and laid-back. What I saw in Vanessa was not a woman who, by nature, was an anal perfectionist wound tight enough to snap at any moment, but a woman whose life, for the past five years, has been about loss and disappointment, hard work without rewards, plans that crumble and gambles that always work out for the worst. I saw a woman trying, but struggling, to live in hope. I saw grief. I saw the wounds of infertility.

I think it's important to remember, when you meet someone who's "just typical" of "that sort" that they rarely started off that way. It's so often not that they came to where they are by being who they are - rather that the same forces concurrently shaped both their situation and their personality.

When reminded, most of us claim to know this already. But when we can't be bothered with sympathy, we conveniently forget.


19 Comments

serenity said...

My disclaimer here - I haven't seen Juno yet. I am not sure I can, actually - at least, not right now. It's still a little too... well... close for me.

But all I can say is that this post gave me goosebumps. Because I can identify with Vanessa in a BIG way. (Not that I've ever been described as mellow or laid back - ever.)

"what I saw... [was] a woman whose life, for the past five years, has been about loss and disappointment, hard work without rewards, plans that crumble and gambles that always work out for the worst."

It's impossible to think that that 5 years of that sort of pain WON'T affect you in SOME way.

Well spoken.

Samantha said...

I haven't seen Juno either, but you speak truths about how repeated disappointments affect you and your outlook on life.

Caro said...

Sounds reasonable to me (I haven't seen the film either).

Heather said...

When I saw the film, I actually thought she was too laid back.

If I were in her shoes I would have been a mess. I would have asked tons of questions about: drugs, smoking, drinking, are you having sex with anyone currently, one person or multiple partners, are you using protection (she could still catch something and pass it on to the baby), I would want to go to doctors appointments, etc.

Those things you can't do in most adoptions but since Juno showed up on her doorstep she could have. Yet, she didn't ask very much. Not that I think it is right, but I would have interrogated her. That is just me. Not to judge, but to be informed - to know what is going on with what could possibly become my child.

TeamWinks said...

I want to see it, but haven't yet. However, your explanation makes absolute sense to me!

andrea_jennine said...

I saw the movie and had almost the exact same reaction to Vanessa. Only throw in a little resentment that other people would laugh at a woman in such a heart-breakingly vulnerable position...

Ellen K. said...

Great post. D. and I saw Juno several weeks ago and both loved it. We smiled at each other in the darkness of the theater, and he held my hand when I cried a bit, and on the way home we had an excellent conversation.

I thought Jennifer Garner's portrayal was very realistic as a woman hoping to adopt after infertility and after much disappointment.

The audience at our show laughed at times -- was it laughter at a stereotype or sympathy? I think a bit of both. I did not mind. In a large audience, it is impossible that D. and I were the only ones who had any personal experience with IF or adoption.

Elizabeth said...

I thought the portrayal of Vanessa was dead-on in many ways, and I was impressed at the screenwriter's sensitivity to those tiny things that hurt so much - those offhand comments people make that are salt in the wound - and letting us see Vanessa's continued hope and determination and fear and loss and everything that goes with it. I loved the movie.

Somewhat Ordinary said...

I saw Juno and saw all the same things you did in Vanessa. I identified with her from the first moment she was on screen. I don't have the quote exactly right, but during their initial meeting Juno says something along the lines of Vanessa being lucky she didn't have to go through all the pregnancy stuff in her strange sense of humor. The camera pans to Vanessa's face and I could see the pain the comment caused her. It brought tears to my eyes, but I would almost bet that most people in the audience didn't even notice that part of the scene they were just laughing at what Juno had said.

Sunny Jenny said...

Us infertiles have a different world view than others. We see things through the lens of our infertility. It changes everything - and there is no way to describe it until you live it.

Star said...

I can only say -- Wow. Thanks for this very insightful post. I wish it could somehow reach everyone who has seen the movie.

Beagle said...

I only wish movies like this would make the larger population understand MORE but I fear that what really happens it that it reinforces what they already judge about us (worry too much, if you'd just relax and so on.)

So in my mind I imagine that the average movie goer is not saying "Oh wow, infertility must be so hard, no wonder she is so nervous", I think they are more likely thinking "no wonder that woman can't get pregnant."

I may just be too bitter at this point to be fair in my assessment.

The MOST likely scenario, as somewhat ordinary said, is that everyone was too busy laughing at Juno's lines to even bother noticing much about Vanessa.

Everyone except us that is.

But I did really enjoy the movie desite the heartbreaking moments from each of the characters.

Jess said...

I haven't seen it, but what you describe is soooo true. The social workers, the visits...they got easier, but at first, that was the way it was..everything had to be perfect, because WHAT IF it MATTERED???

I was thinking about this stuff today. How it might be if we'd never been IF. And I know it's easy for me to say, being on "the other side" and all, but what? Who cares? We were infertile. That was the hand we were dealt. I'm happy with the way we dealt, the decisions we made, and in the end, life can't be had any way other than the way you get it, after all.

The preview where they're in the mall and she gets down to feel the baby on her hands and knees....I think it's supposed to be funny or cute or something, but it smack of SAD to me...I feel the desperation there in that moment SO acutely...I don't know. To fall down in the mall on your knees to feel your unborn baby in another woman's belly...I just can relate, I guess.

The Town Criers said...

As much as I had mixed feelings about the movie--I neither liked it nor didn't like it--I thought Jennifer Garner's portrayal was dead-on. It's not everyone, but it's someone. And there was so much in her that I related to that I became extremely uncomfortable viewing that on the screen. And I found her lovable. And warm. And hesitant because she has been hurt. And Jennifer Garner made the person a character instead of a caricature.

Great post.

Aurelia said...

I guess I think it's sad that it is dead on for her character, what I would've loved to see would be the potential adoptive mom worrying about her personality and her marriage and the quality of her character, not the towels and the dustbunnies, for god's sake!

Unfortunately that is exactly what gets looked at too often by naive birth mothers and some, but not all, social workers.

The stereotypes in movies are only a problem when the movie is the sole portrayal in the media. And for adoption, Juno is.

For example, Gone With the Wind was a great movie, and there are lots of good things we can say about it, mostly because now we know that slavery and the Civil War were a lot different than what is portrayed. It's just one perspective, so who cares that it's inaccurate. Some characters are bang on, others are ridiculous, but again, there are many many movies on the subject.

Jennifer Garner can be a good actress, but also let's not forget there are lots of adoptive parents who aren't infertile and have never gone through it all. So maybe they'd like to be shown, as well? I don't know.

Barb said...

Wow - deep and wonderful points to make even though I haven't seen the film. Bravo.

JuliaS said...

We see the world shaded through our experiences. I have seen looks in another person's eyes and known what they were feeling - because it was a look I saw on my face too many times in the mirror. When you've tripped over the cracks in the sidewalk a time or two (or three or more) you start seeing them before you go sprawling.

Geohde said...

Bea,

Your post makes me think that maybe I should see Juno after all. I really hadn't thought of the movie in that way, but you're right. I'd probably be the same in that situation,

J

GLouise said...

Lovely synopsis, maybe I *will* go see it after all!

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