I still haven’t seen it, but Ms. Lauren gives it rave reviews. There’s an interview with the director, Cristian Mungiu, in the LA Weekly, and he makes a few comments I’d like to highlight. Mungiu says,
It didn’t start from the idea of making a film about abortion. I hope that it speaks about this period and how people adapted, as you say. And I also hope it speaks about something that is not just connected with that period. For me, it’s also a film about responsibilities and decision making, and I think these are things which are very universal, and I believe that is why there is this sympathy for the film in lots of places. Even in places where people don’t know much about what was going on in Romania, people still relate to this.
I like that quote because it highlights not only the connections between anti-abortion laws and oppression generally, but because Mungiu talks about abortion, reproduction and other forms of personal decision-making as “responsibilities” that “are very universal.” That’s true, obviously, and it shouldn’t be surprising or new to hear it — but in a country where “taking responsibility” inevitably means “having a baby even if it’s the least responsible thing you can do,” that quote is refreshing.
He also makes the controversial decision to show an image of the aborted fetus. He says:
When I wrote, I thought I was going to show it, but later on I doubted myself, so I shot the scene two different ways, just to make sure that I had the option in postproduction. But once we were editing the film, it was obvious to me that it had to be there, because it is part of the story. Sometimes I wonder why people ask about this, because if you understand that I’m talking about a character who comes to understand something because of what she sees, it’s very obvious for me. I never thought about this in terms of some political debate. It’s part of what I wanted to say and part of my story. I thought that it was necessary to show things that are more terrifying when you see them than when you imagine them. It’s up to you to find your own conclusion.
It’s a very controversial subject and scene. For me, it’s the right thing at the right time. It’s about an author’s vision, and you don’t question that. Whether you like it or not or you think it’s necessary, it’s not any of our business. That’s how we chose to show it to you. If it’s too painful to watch, that’s your problem. Those are the facts. This is what a fetus looks like. It’s not to say, “Look, it has eyes and hands — it’s already a person.” Don’t make that mistake. It’s not saying it’s wrong to have an abortion or it’s right. To me, it has something to do with the past and the future. They say if you don’t understand your past, you don’t have a future. I don’t know if that fetus represents the future or the past, but we’ll see. Romania is still very young as a free nation.
Reading this, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young woman (about my age) when I was in Tunisia. We’ll call her Ella. It came up that I was a feminist blogger/writer, and that I wanted to eventually go into a career in international women’s health. We started talking about abortion, and Ella told me about her time studying in the Netherlands, and how a good friend of hers, who was also an exchange student there, got pregnant. I don’t remember where the pregnant woman was from, but it wasn’t Europe and it wasn’t Tunisia, and it was some place where abortion is generally illegal or highly limited. So she was scared. She went to someone at the school, and that person (a counselor or administrator or something along those lines) explained the liberal abortion laws in the Netherlands, telling the woman that she simply had to make an appointment at the local health clinic and that everything would be taken care of. Ella went with her. They had an appointment, so there was no multi-hour wait. The clinic was clean, friendly and well-maintained. First the woman had a counseling session, wherein the counselor explained the process of abortion, and also detailed her childbirth and adoption options. The counselor told Ella’s friend about the Netherlands’ many generous programs to help families and low-income people so that she was fully informed of her options. The counselor made sure that no one was pressuring her to terminate the pregnancy, and they discussed how she felt about the abortion. It was a time for the woman to just have someone listen to her in a completely non-judgmental way.
Ella was allowed to hold her friend’s hand in the operating room. The doctor, she said, was nice, and made reassuring comments throughout the procedure. Nurses were on-hand making sure that the woman was ok. When the procedure was over, the doctor asked if she would like to see what he removed. He explained that some women come across pictures of supposedly aborted fetuses online or elsewhere, and that not seeing what the products of abortion look like can be difficult on some women — they have nightmares or they imagine something that doesn’t resemble reality. So Ella and her friend looked. And for her friend, Ella told me, seeing what abortion looked like — and it didn’t look like a baby or even a fetus at that early point, but it did look like surgery — set her mind at ease. For her, it was healing.
It sounds like the fetus imagery in this movie is more graphic — and probably more disturbing — than the reality of what most abortions look like. Most of the abortion imagery I’ve seen has come from anti-choice protests and websites, and much of that is fake — they’re usually pictures of full-term stillbirths or very late-term miscarriages. And while I oppose abortion imagery used to push an anti-choice agenda, I’m not sure that showing the reality of what abortion looks like is always a bad thing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I think it’s a pointless thing — after all, lots of medical procedures are ugly (check out an open heart surgery or an organ transplant sometime), but that doesn’t make them morally wrong. The main difference, of course, is that people aren’t standing outside of hospitals screaming at you with bloody open heart surgery pictures in their hands. So abortion images have become very loaded, and I’m always hesitant to support their use, even in an attempt to portray a complex reality. But Mungiu’s explanation — “To me, it has something to do with the past and the future. They say if you don’t understand your past, you don’t have a future. I don’t know if that fetus represents the future or the past, but we’ll see” — resonates with me.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but it’s on the top of my list. Anyone else seen it or have thoughts? (No spoilers, please!)
- French parents can name fetuses by Jill February 25, 2008
- Good International Repro Rights News by Jill April 11, 2007
- The Running of the Jews by Jill February 18, 2008
- More child rape victims for anti-choicers to torment by Jill June 24, 2008
- “Balka: Women, HIV, and Drug Use in Ukraine” short harm reduction documentary by Clarisse Thorn October 20, 2011