Monday, October 8, 2012

Let’s Review a Movie: If These Walls Could Talk (1996)



A made for television movie that tells the stories of three different women each living in the same house at different times.  The theme of the film that ties the three stories together is a very realistic look at the topic of abortion.  

I really enjoy all three stories equally because they all look at different aspects of the issue as well as looking at it from different time periods, 1952, 1974, and 1996 respectively.  

In the case of Claire her story takes place before Roe vs. Wade, and shows her struggle to get an illegal abortion anyway she can.  First I like that she is shown trying multiple times to have an abortion.  Even though it’s illegal, and she has to careful how she asks anyone about it, she still tries.  When the doctor won’t tell Claire the dosages to medically induce a miscarriage she tries it on her own.  She tries a knitting needle, goes to the old green house, and eventually she finds Tom.  It highlights a great point that even when this was illegal it didn’t stop women from doing it, it just made it very, very unsafe.  Making abortion illegal again won’t make it go away.  It also had her say why she can’t give the baby up for adoption.  She can’t just go away from her job for seven months or more and still expect to keep it.  She can’t tell people she’s visiting family because her late husband’s family is all the family she really has.  I like that she can’t go to the family for support too, because of the shame of what happened.  She can’t get support from them, not because they are awful people, they do care about her, but because of the society norms of the day.  We see that when the mother in law judges the woman who wants to rent from her and her husband just because she is divorced.  They’ve never even met the woman.  Claire’s sister in law also responds exactly like that when Claire reveals she’s pregnant and that it wasn’t the result of rape. 

This judgmental attitude is also why I hate her doctor’s line about Claire putting herself in this situation.  It’s basically saying that you should have known better than to do that.  It’s an attitude that has prevailed to this day that women who don’t want to get pregnant shouldn’t have sex.  As if there is no other partner in the art of sexual intercourse.  Also a woman who is consenting to have sex is consenting to have sex, nothing else.  She’s not consenting to pregnancy or sexual transmitted infections.  Now in our world with a wider variety of options should everybody, men and women, be in charge of their birth control of course, but seeing as these days, at least in the US there is an all-out war on women’s rights to even get any kind of birth control dispensed at the pharmacy I can see how that would be an issue too.   

Now when Claire final gets into contact with Tom I love the direction of the abortion scene.  We see the tool movement and the close up shots of Claire’s hands clutching her nightgown and the tears running down her face.  It all conveys the pain she’s in, and showing Tom just wiping down his tools and putting them back in his bag makes me shiver to think about how unclean they are.  Finally I really think the most powerful moment in this story is not when she’s hemorrhaging and trying to call for help, though that is shocking, but when Claire is on the table asking if she’s okay and we hear Tom just walk away.  This was just a job to him.  She wasn’t important.  That’s the whole crux of the issue.  That in the eyes of those who want to make abortion illegal again the woman doesn’t matter.

The second story is great because it highlights a situation that I often see totally ignored in the debate, what about women who are married and have abortions?  It’s one thing to tell teenagers not to have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant, it's still stupid, but telling young people that they should wait until they have a better idea of what they want from life and a relationship before engaging in sex is at least understandable.  But are married couples just supposed to never have sex if they don’t want to any/more children?  I mean being married doesn’t suddenly make the questions about having a baby go away.  Is the money there?  Is this the right time?  I am ready to have a child?

I like that when Barbara is talking to her friend about being pregnant it’s revealed that her friend had an abortion and that she doesn’t regret it, that she felt relief when it was over.  I think that’s probably what Claire felt too before she realized she was bleeding out.  That it was over.  That everything was going to be okay now.  She could still have a life not marred by shame and regret.  I also like that Barbara is looking at how other women balanced work and family in her class and discovering just like her there isn’t a true balance after all.  There will always be sacrifices one way or another in life.  Maybe it’s putting off going back to school until the kids are older, maybe it’s not having more children.  I love that while working through it all that Barbara decides to keep the baby, highlighting the point of the pro-choice movement; that it’s a choice.  Even if the choice is one you don’t agree with.  I mean we were shown a family of six crammed together in a three bedroom house.  The husband is working the swing shift, Barbara is going back to school and has been offered as position as a TA in the fall.  Two of the children are getting ready to go out on their own, this seems like the worst time to have a baby.  I don’t think I would choose to have a baby in that situation and that’s the point, that it would be an individual choice for each woman. 

With the whole choice theme is this story I must say that I really like Linda as a character in all this.  Sure she is acting selfish, but it’s also a very human response.  Her mom having a baby will change her life too and she will have to learn to deal with it.  For her, looking at this from the certainty of youth, the situation is simple: this isn’t a good time to have kid, you aren’t very happy about it so don’t have it.  For Barbara the practical is not all that there is.  There is the emotion in being a mother and that trumps everything else in the end and she tells her daughter that this is what she wants.  In fact I found it interesting watching this movie again for this review and comparing it to the first times I viewed it when I was younger.  When I was younger I fully agreed with Linda.  I was young and life did seem that simple.  Why would Barbara want to have a baby now?  I asked myself then and now I have answer: because she does and that’s all the answer we need.  It’s her body it’s her choice.

With the final story we have another perspective on the issue in essentially present day.  With Christine’s story I enjoy how it parallels Claire’s story.  Abortion is legal now, but a lot of the problems still remain.  In fact in some ways it’s worse, because although Claire couldn’t talk about getting an abortion because it was illegal at least she wasn’t getting yelled at about how she was an awful person she was while walking into a health services clinic.  The shot showing that the place is a health services clinic is great too, because it shows the narrow-mindedness of the protesters.  This clinic, like those is real life, offer health services to women one of which is abortion, but that’s not the only thing they do there and the protesters don’t know that that’s what Christine came for.  Sure she doesn’t answer when they ask her if she’s coming for an abortion, but silence doesn’t mean yes.  We in the audience know what she’s going there for, but they don’t.  Maybe Christine doesn’t want to talk about her health with a bunch of strangers in a parking lot.  Maybe she’s going in for something totally unrelated to pregnancy.  Maybe she’s going in because she’s had an incomplete miscarriage and has to have the rest of the foetal tissue removed and all that guilt tripping from the anti-abortion people is just making the whole process worse!    

When she does decide to have an abortion I love the contrast between Christine and Claire’s abortion scene.  Even the names are similar with Tom and Doctor Thompson.  We have similar dialogue where Claire was asking Tom is she was okay and him walking away, and in this scene the nurse holds Christine’s hand and says that she’s okay.  The doctor asks Christine to move closer to the edge of the table just as Tom did, but her tone is far more comforting, trying to put Christine at ease.  This is all about Christine it’s not about just about Doctor Thompson doing a job.  This is about the doctor being there for her patients even at the risk of her own life, that we see with her removing the bullet proof vest and then the protester breaking in and shooting her.

With the death of Doctor Thompson the movie shows in a shocking scene the great hypocrisy of the extreme end of the so called pro-life movement.  That a woman getting an abortion is committing murder, but one of them shooting a doctor is not.   

Still the movie does show a more moderate position as well in Christine’s friend, but I like that they still point out that this position too is judgmental and quite narrow.  When the nurse asks her if she thinks a twelve year old should have had her baby and she responds with she could have given it up for adoption.  Well that assumes the girl didn’t die during the pregnancy or delivery.  Just because a twelve year old may be able to physically get pregnant doesn’t mean the body can carry the baby to term.  The nurse has another good comeback when she says that yes she’s sure there would be a big demand for black babies.  Again showing something else that goes ignored in the debate, you can give the baby up for adoption, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be adopted, unless you select the adoptive parent(s), especially if the baby isn’t white. 
      
With all the angles and subject brought up in this film I think it balanced everything wonderfully and the actors were all good and expressed all the emotions that come up in these situations.  Now originally I was only going to level one criticism at this film, that I am now going to praise instead, and that was showing Christine naked in the bathtub.  I wondered why they would show her nude after doing such an excellent job of showing every woman in this movie as a person not an object.  Most times a woman is shown nude in film it is for the pleasure of the viewing audience.  But on reflection I see that this wasn’t done as some cheap thrill for the audience.  It was done to show Christine’s vulnerability.  She is sitting in her bathtub, totally exposed, wanting to tell her mother about her situation and she can’t do it.  In fact all three women are shown to be so isolated.  Claire can’t talk about abortion because it’s illegal and she will be shunned from her only family if they find out.  Christine can’t really talk about it, because she thinks her parents will judge her, and her friend already is.  Even Barbara who talks about it with her friend and a bit with her daughter still makes the call about asking about an abortion alone on her stairs, and initially looks up abortion alone in the library.  This film covers more than fifty years of recent history and even after so much time the topic of abortion is just not something we are conditioned to talk about openly and frankly, and I am so happy that the people making this film had the courage and the desire to put the message of abortion forward in such a wonderful and well executed work.

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