Abortion is a controversial subject, and it is interesting to look at how it is, or is not, portrayed in cinema.
There is a distinct difference between Hollywood films and European films when it comes to how abortion is covered. It is usually avoided altogether in Hollywood movies, with European films much more wiling to cover this difficult subject. This is no surprise when you look at the number of films with happy endings in Hollywood. The vast majority end happily whereas in French cinema, for example, more films end with unhappy endings than happy ones.
This brings up the question of why people watch films. Do they watch as a form of escapism or do they want to be shown a realistic portrayal of the subject the film is visiting. Hollywood films are generally produced as a form of escapism for their audience and to entertain people. They therefore tend to avoid controversy and unhappy endings; the audience expects to be made to feel happy about the story finished. European film focus more on realism and doesn’t mind touching on difficult subjects.
There are rarely mentions of abortion in Hollywood movies. Whatever filmmakers’ personal opinions are on the subject they won’t portray this for fear of upsetting one side of the argument or the other. When unplanned pregnancies occur abortion is hardly ever considered as an option by the characters, although many in this situation in real life would consider it.
There are of course exception to this rule. Amongst these are Dirty Dancing, High Fidelity, If These Walls Could Talk and I Had An Abortion.
In Dirty Dancing the character of Penny decides to have an abortion because the Father will not admit that he is responsible. Many in this situation make a similar choice, as they do not want to bring up a child on their own. She has an illegal abortion that is botched. This portrays abortion as being dangerous to pregnant women, whereas in reality this is inaccurate. In reality it would be unlikely that she would choose an illegal abortion over a legal one. This therefore shows abortion in a more negative light (from the pregnant woman’s point of view) than is realistic.
In High Fidelity Laura had an abortion without consulting her boyfriend because he has cheated on her. When he finds out he is angry for not being consulted. This is a natural reaction for men in this situation, and shows a more realistic portrayal of the subject.
Three women who have unplanned pregnancies are shown in If These Walls Could Talk. They are based at different times over the last sixty years – 1952, 1974 and 1996. The first of these women becomes pregnant by her brother-in-law and decides to have an abortion. At the time it was illegal so it is performed on her kitchen table, and she dies as a result of this. In the second case a woman considers aborting her fifth pregnancy (having given birth on the four previous occasions) but decides against it. In the 1996 storyline, the pregnant woman plans an abortion, but it takes place during an abortion protest. A protester shoots her doctor.
I Had An Abortion is a documentary film where ten women who have had an abortion are interviewed. These women had their abortion from the 1930’s to the time the film was made (2005). It looks at the attitudes at the time and is almost a history of the changing attitudes. It shows a human aspect that is rare in film when it comes to this particular subject.
Abortion is legal in the US and polls show that over 80% believe that it should be. However it is still largely untouched by Hollywood. Does this mean filmmakers are afraid of touching the subject in case the audience reacts negatively? Or it could be the way of Hollywood; that abortion is not considered a happy ending, and pregnancy should be shown as being a joyful blessing no matter what the circumstances. Europe seems less afraid to offend, but then this may again be because of the style of films they tend to make. It is possible people have pre-conception of Hollywood and European cinema that dictate the rules as to how films, if they want to be successful, should be made. In Hollywood it may well be safer to ignore the subject.
Anne Heywood ©
Source by Anne Heywood