Before I started this blog, I’d been wishing I had one for every time I was minding my own business, watching TV or reading a book only to get hit with a “surprise” abortion. I hate surprise abortions. I spend a lot of time thinking about abortion, hearing about abortion, talking about abortion, and writing about abortion, so when I am looking for entertainment, abortion is not what I want, and when it shows up, I’m surprised. My inner voice usually says something like “Nooooo, really??? Does this story really have to have an abortion in it? Can’t I get a break?” Nope!
Since I’ve had this blog and now have the opportunity to record every time this happens – every time an abortion story takes place in media or culture – I have become increasingly amazed and a bit perplexed by how often abortion is used as a plot point. I guess abortion has everything a good story needs: drama, crisis, secrets, passion, sex, etc.. And because it is common (and good stories must offer something close to reality) yet still shrouded in secrecy, writers have no fear or concern about being held accountable for the impact of their stories on those who have lived it: women who have had abortions, and their loved ones. What is perplexing is how rarely abortion stories are told through the voice of the woman herself: it is told by the cops who find her dead body, the older brother who rescues his sister, or by the doctor who judges (or saves) his patient. Abortion is the plot, the drama, the taboo, and the woman is manipulated to tell the most dramatic story possible, inviting outsiders to look in, but rarely inviting them to stand beside her.
Revolutionary Road plays with all of the above: abortion is a major plot point, the climax, and manipulated to the greatest effect, while simultaneously inviting, then repelling you from the woman herself. You feel for her, you loather her, you are glad you are not her. You promise yourself you will never be her.
Basic way abortion is used in Revolutionary Road: Kate Winslet and Leo DeCaprio play a couple stuck in suburban hell, who dream of more exciting lives, but just can’t seem to step outside themselves to follow their dreams. Their first pregnancy was an accident, a mistake, which lands them in the suburbs with their first kid. The second child comes. They are increasingly dissatisfied with their lives. They come up with a big exciting plan to make their friends jealous of how awesome they are – they are moving the family to Paris…then, well they are themselves and lots of things happen that make you realize they’re not going to pull it off, they will not escape. Then she gets pregnant. She wants to self-abort, knows how from friends, he is repulsed and doesn’t want to. Weeks pass. He is relieved that she does not abort, they have huge fight. They drink and smoke a lot, all the time. She feels stuck and angry and well, you just don’t want to be her, living her life, you get it. You wouldn’t sign up for what she is or what she has. She doesn’t want it either. She aborts, alone. The overwhelming feeling I get is of sadness, and aloneness and isolation, and how unbearably awful that must feel, to feel that alone and that helpless. It’s a bit bloody. She goes to the hospital. They can’t stop the bleeding. She dies. The movie ends.
What did I learn? Kate and Leo are both terrific actors. Never argue with your partner while you’re wasted. Don’t move to the suburbs. I realized the most empathetic stories about abortion I’ve seen involve abortions in the olden days – abortions done at home, or illegal, or by a super creepy doctor or a really nice one – but rarely do we see or hear the stories of the women who have them now, legal, in a healthcare facility of some kind, with a caring partner, friend or family member by her side.
Actually, the most poignant thing for me about the movie is that it showed that when Leo’s character finally felt like he had nothing to lose, he went with his gut and his own bold ideas at his lame job and that this is when he finally found success. When we take the risk, we can open up opportunities for ourselves.
I was not looking forward to the movie, I must admit. Mixing abortion with entertainment and all, but on my way there, the biggest, most beautiful rainbow I ever saw arched over the theater. I literally exclaimed outloud: “oh!” and began snapping photos. I walked into the movie feeling much lighter.