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June 23, 2009

The ESC Movie: Not Coming Soon!

We recently took a workshop on screenwriting.* Yeah, I know what you're thinking - what was the ESC doing taking a screenwriting class? Is there an ESC movie in the works? No. Definitely not. (At least not until the fantasy future). We actually didn't even realize the class would be strictly screenwriting 101 (the description was somewhat misleading) but we figured movies-books-blogs... the common thread is storytelling and knowing a little more about the subject couldn't hurt.

Or could it?

We realized about half-way through that this was not the place for us. The teacher was going on about how in every film, the main character must have a clear goal at the beginning, overcome obstacles throughout the film, and then finally achieve the goal at the end. No exceptions. (Now obviously there are exceptions, but for argument's sake let's assume that since none of us are Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg, then her formula is best for your average first-time screenwriter).

She kept using the movie Juno as an example. Warning! Before you read any further: This blog entry contains spoilers about the movie, but if you haven't seen it by now then you deserve to have the ending spoiled because what the hell are you waiting for!?

Anyway, she claimed that Juno's goal throughout the movie was to find a loving family to care for her baby. Her explanation was somewhat problematic for us, so I asked if a character's goal could change as the character changes... because to me, that wasn't really Juno's original goal. At first, she was all ready to have an abortion and then after being talked out of it/scared away from it, she decided on adoption. Once she decided on adoption, then her goal was to find a loving family to adopt the baby.

Of course, the teacher wasn't having any of it. She said "well, we're not going to get into that" and when I persisted, she said that the loving family was always the goal and considering abortion was a just a minor obstacle on the way to achieving the goal. Woah. Obviously that pissed me off. (It's no surprise to any of our frequent readers that we're very pro-choice over here). Abortion wasn't an obstacle that Juno had to overcome in order to do the right thing. It was a valid option, just one that she decided not to choose.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody has made it very clear that Juno is not a "pro-life" movie:
“I think she makes a personal choice. I don't know what I would call it and I don't know if that would be my personal decision. But I think her journey is rich and valid.” [suicidegirls.com]

"I haven’t been addressed by any pro-lifers but apparently they’re pleased with the movie. I personally could care less about who enjoys the film and who does not. This is not a political movie so to me it’s just an interesting side effect..." [blog.allmovie.com]

"Anybody can embrace the film that wants to embrace the film, but I will say on the record that it's not pro-life propaganda and it's not a political movie."[comingsoon.net]

"I didn't want it to seem as if she left because she suddenly had some moral epiphany. It was more that she left for really human, teenage reasons. She's freaked out." [guardian.co.uk]
Maybe Juno isn't the best movie to use as an example for this formula, but we think if you had to make it fit... then Juno's goal isn't to find a loving family for her baby, but rather to resolve the issue of being a pregnant teenager. Juno is a pregnant teenager but she doesn't want to be a teenage mom. Period.

If you look at the film with that goal in mind, it makes more sense and is less offensive than the teacher's version. She considers abortion as a potential means of achieving that goal, but then her classmate's talk of fetuses having fingernails - and the generally creepy nature of abortion clinic waiting rooms - freaks her out. The obstacle is that abortion is not the right choice for her, so Juno considers adoption. Now perhaps the fact that she wants her baby adopted into a loving family can be considered a secondary goal or a stipulation of the original goal, but it's not the goal. Adoption is the solution, not the quest.

Mark and Vanessa's impending marital problems were yet another obstacle, which brings me to my next point.

After the teacher reiterated that Juno's goal was to find a loving family for her unborn baby and my question was not worth considering... she asked the class whether or not Juno achieved her goal in the end. Everyone in the class (or at least everyone familiar with the movie) was saying yes. Then she pissed us off again:
"Well... she got one."
It took us a second before we realized that she meant one parent (i.e., Vanessa). Of course, as a single mother that irked me a bit. I said, "well one parent is a family." She didn't disagree, but there's just something about the way she said it that kept it repeating in my head "she got one".

Why did she feel the need to imply that only one adoptive parent meant that the goal was only partly achieved? If she had said from the start that Juno's goal was to find two parents for the baby, it might make sense... but she didn't. She said family. There's no reason to specify that it's a one-parent family unless she was trying to imply that a one-parent family was somehow inadequate or undesirable.

Juno wanted someone to adopt the baby that would love it and care for it and Vanessa was the answer to that. Period. Mark and Vanessa as a couple would not have met the requirements (seeing as Mark was an immature d-bag) but Vanessa alone, did. Vanessa adopting Juno's baby was not a consolation prize; it was the best possible outcome for all involved.

*We purposely haven't given the name of the class or the teacher, because the truth is... we don't have anything against her on a personal level. As far as student/teacher relationships go, we definitely aren't a good match (e.g., we felt pressured to share more than once, which doesn't really work for us) but as a human being we're sure she's okay. We were just really uncomfortable with the direction the Juno discussion was going in. We're not going to try to claim that she is anti-choice or anti-single parenting. In fact, our guess is probably that she isn't. But we think people need to take responsibility for what they say, not just what they feel.

We can't pretend to know her true feelings on the issue, but what she said was problematic for us and it is what someone says that is going to be taken in and remembered. She might be a perfectly lovely person in her regular life, but in this class, she rubbed us the wrong way... and hard. So much so, that we actually got up and walked out halfway through the class. We have a "Screenwriting 101" textbook at home somewhere that will fill us in on what we missed... and it has never offended us. So stay tuned for the Evil Slutopia movie... not coming soon!

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