Thursday, 21 February 2008


Today I had a rare weekday off and, as I hadn't been for absolutely ages, I decided to go to the cinema to watch a corny film.

I selected "Juno" which I had seen briefly advertised on television. It's about a witty sixteen-year-old girl that gets pregnant and, instead of having an abortion to deal with the crisis pregnancy, she arranges to have the baby adopted. This, according to reviews of the movie, is "an unusual decision". As this is against the modern-day trend of teenagers opting, or usually being pressured both by society and their relatives to have an abortion when finding themselves pregnant, I was curious to know what impression the film gave about this kind of situation.

As soon as the opening scene - Juno MacGuff having sex with her "best friend" Paulie Bleeker - I was shocked that it was 4pm in the afternoon and the film was a 12A rating. For the record, this means it is apparently suitable for children 12 years and over. But it also means that those younger than 12 watch the film if accompanied by an adult.

A quick glance at the British Board of Film Classification's website shows some of the specifications of a 12A are quite surprising.

"Nudity is allowed, but in a sexual context must be brief and discreet" - I don't think that at least two sex scenes (although not showing any sexual organs) were particularly discreet in Juno.

"Sexual activity may be implied. Sex references may reflect what is likely to be familiar to most adolescents but should not go beyond what is suitable for them."

"Violence must not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood. Sexual violence may only be implied or briefly and discreetly indicated."

"Dangerous techniques (eg combat, hanging, suicide and self-harming) should not dwell on imitable detail or appear pain or harm free. Easily accessible weapons should not be glamorised."

As it is half term in the East Midlands this week, there were definitely some mums with their teenage sons and daughters and the cinema was packed especially with teen girls laughing immaturely at the mention of a rude word or whatever. The language was at times coarse and scenes included an adult showing to a class how to put a condom on a banana. These are just two examples of why I thought the film was inappropriate for the younger audience. It's yet another indication how younger and younger children are becoming exposed to an oversexualised media, which collectively, no doubt, is resulting in a lot of teenagers becoming sexually active as young as 11 and 12. After all, schools can now distribute the morning after pill to girls as young as 11 without the consent of their parents.

Whatever my opinions are of this particular movie going beyond these guidelines, the question has to be asked: Is ANY sexual activity or nudity appropriate to be watched by children aged 12 and under? I think Juno should have been at least a 15.

Putting the rating issue to one side, the film was actually OK and had some poignant moments - the most telling of which was the scene when Juno turns up at the abortion clinic for her appointment. Outside, she is met by a geeky female schoolmate who is the sole pro-life campaigner that day. She is clutching her placard which reads something like "Children don't want to be murdered". After a brief conversation trying to dodge the reason why she was there, Juno walks towards the door at which point her classmate shouts after her: "Do you realise your baby's heart can beat? You know it can feel pain? It has fingernails." It was the last point which made Juno stop and turn round. "It has fingernails?" she repeats. Her friend nods.

Juno continues into the clinic and is met by a less-than-enthusiastic hyppie receptionist who asks her to fill in a form and offers her condoms. It's when she goes into the waiting room that the conscience of the 16-year-old is tested. All women around her waiting their turn are hysterical. This is something which I've heard being described by woman who have had an abortion experience in real life. Significantly, all the ladies around Juno are doing something with their fingernails - either scratching their head or arms, biting their nails or tapping them on the bench. It is this which plays on the mind of the pregnant teenager, who walks out and doesn't go through with the abortion. Instead, she arranges an adoption. Although the circumstances of the agreement are a little bizarre, the baby is born and given to the parent. The way the offbeat young woman is committed to carrying the baby to term is quite impressive.

Although, as I said at the beginning, it was a bit cheesy as American films often are, the plot is witty and amusing at times. Juno and Paulie eventually fell in love for real after learning from their irresponsible mistake. Much of the courting and "hanging out" between the couple after the birth is innocent and in keeping with the 12A audience. In terms of acting, I thought Ellen Page (Juno), with her humorous vocabulary, and especially 19-year-old Canadian actor Michael Cera (Paulie), who played the shy but clued-up teenager to a tea, were particularly good.

It's a shame that the movie was a bit below the belt for its younger audience. But at least the schoolkids walking away from the cinema room today were given a positive message - that abortion is not the only option if they get pregnant. Keeping the baby and adopting it if needs be is the right decision both for the unborn child and the mother.


bernadette said...

I agree. I saw it last week. But I think we are a minute minority. Even many Catholic commentators affirm this film as good and upholding human life. I would rather die than take my children to see it. And as it won`t be many more years before they will be taking themselves to see such fims, I reserve the right to asert my parental authority - while I can. God knows what they`ll be going to see in five years' time. Good post. Thankyou.

Joe said...

I think I agree with you about the 12A rating - I certainly would have expected it to be a 15. Any parent who was thinking of taking teenaged children to see the film would be well advised to see it themselves first.

Leaving that aside, I found it a very positive film in a number of ways. My vote for "most telling moment" was when Juno came home to ask her Dad whether it was possible for people who love each other to stay together forever. And I loved Mum's reaction to news of Juno's pregnancy - to start talking about getting Juno onto vitamin supplements.. I thought that particular scene contained lots of lessons about how parents could/should react if their daughter was trying to give them news of a pregnancy.

My overarching reaction, though, was that the film portrayed a positive image of teenage years, when so many films do the opposite.

But, of course, these are the reactions of an adult. The suitability of the film for a younger audience may be a different question ...