Dear fellow adoption-related bloggers,
I saw Juno today. I waited so long to see it because your opinions mean something to me, especially those of you who have experience navigating the treacherous ethical and emotional terrain of real-life adoption, as first parents, adoptive parents, or adoptees. I was afraid to see it, even.
But I saw it and I liked it and I disagree that it makes light of adoption, that “If you knew nothing about adoption going into the film, you’d learn that adoption is sweet and birth mothers have no issues” (Shannon*). Maybe if you only read the script–what I saw was a pretty intense subtext that argued for anything BUT a happy ending. In my reading those humorous moments don’t make light of adoption; they are Juno’s defense mechanism kicking into high gear. She says herself that she’s dealing with stuff that’s way beyond her maturity level. Isn’t it plausible that her sixteen-year-old self deals with emotional trauma like this by making outrageous statements, by jumping to abortion, then not-abortion, then adoption, without thinking (willfully resisting contemplation), with sardonic humor to make it all survivable? Just watch the faces: in every conversation between Juno and Bleeker (except the last ones), note that as Juno bandies about her dismissive language their eyes are both red and brimming with tears, that there is discernible fear and anger behind them and that their voices crack on the edge of what they’re dealing with. The movie is ultimately about Juno’s flight from her situation, her attempt to coast on top of it without having to address it, and her failure to do so 100% of the time. In this way Bleeker is the character most emotionally honest. He’s willing to feel his feelings without reservation. Juno, on the other hand, is too overwhelmed to do the same.
The end of the movie was NOT happy–in the next to the last scene we again have the incongruity of Juno’s words and her demeanor: as Juno’s voice-over says, “Bleeker didn’t want to see the baby; neither did I, really. It just didn’t feel like ours,” Juno is lying in the recovery bed weeping the kind of slow, painful tears that say anything but “it just didn’t feel like ours,” and Bleeker is there, too, crushed with the weight of what is happening to them.
Yes, they are riding bikes and playing guitars. But I got the sense that Juno–and I firmly believe the directing leads us there–is not done with it. A sense of uneasiness hangs over the movie. It doesn’t suggest a fairytale ending for either Juno or Vanessa, who has lost a husband in the process (and I love both the critique and the dismantling of the happy adoptive couple stereotype). What it does is give us the standard text and a deeply critical subtext that keeps bubbling to the surface in ways that the characters cannot completely control, like when Juno storms out of the couple’s home, having learned that they are divorcing (the happy future she imagines for her baby is destroyed), and pulls over to the side of the road in one of her two emotionally honest moments to sob.
I don’t think that the movie dismisses the parenting option. I think Juno the character does. Remember that it’s her stepmother that brings up how hard it would be to give up the baby for adoption in their very first conversation about it, and the stepmother that defends Juno’s theoretical abilities to parent after the ultrasound tech makes a snide and rude remark about Juno’s adoption plans (“thank God for that,” the tech mutters under her breath). I don’t think that “this movie sent a strong message that in the end, the baby went to the ‘better’ parent, the more worthy and deserving parent, the right parent and to the parent whom the child was meant to go to all along” (Paula*). I think that Juno buys into the myth, that she assumes she is not ready to be a mother and that Vanessa is better equipped (and that the baby was “really hers all along”), and I think the movie is critical of our culture’s uncritical acceptance of that myth. Juno gets off the hook because the movie argues it’s her way of getting through the pregnancy, however flawed it may be, but the audience does not. Every time we want to laugh there is a face that (should) stop us. The movie is a tragedy cloaked in a comedy; its form is technically a classic comedy (meet happy hero, hero gets into trouble, hero overcomes, return to status quo), but its underbelly is anything but. I spent the rest of today feeling heavy and unsettled.
As a footnote, most of the offensive material about adoption (the Chinese adoption comments in particular), abortion, abortion clinics, prolife protestation, birthmothers, adoptive parents, pregnant teens, was bitingly satirical in my reading. I recognize satire by two things: its outlandishness, and its incongruity with other, more elemental features of a text.
On one point I must agree with all y’all. That sound track is bitchin’.**
*I must point out that I respect both Shannon’s and Paula’s views on adoption and their ability to read and analyze cultural texts. We disagree here, but I don’t think their readings are uninformed.
**I’m torn on the MLA rules for this one. Does the apostrophe in “bitchin’” come before or after the period?
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