Gone Baby Gone

The heroines of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days don't get to play pregnancy indie-cute

By contrast to 4 Months and Lake of Fire, Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno are proudly fantastic and a priori pro-life; their female protagonists have no choice other than to bring their pregnancies to term. Obviously, these movies could not exist if their preg protags elected to have abortions. What's more crucial is the fact that the Knockee, the Waitress, and even the hyper-articulate 15-year-old hipster improbably named Juno are unable to express why they feel obliged to give birth to unplanned and unwanted babies. They have no choice and they have no say. It is simply their fate.

If Knocked Up's Alison were a devout (or even lapsed) Catholic in addition to being a glamorous newsreader, if Waitress's guilt-ridden Jenna imagined that a child would improve her disastrous marriage, if little Juno were planning a welfare scam to fund her alt-rock band or simply wanted to gross out the neighbors, these narratives would still function, but now with the added aspect of free will. (This is the paradox at the heart of Todd Solondz's authentically problematic Palindromes—the movie is pro-choice in that its 13-year-old protagonist chooses to get pregnant because she wants to have a baby.)

There can be no female agency in Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno—not because they are comedies, but because, in each scenario, unwanted pregnancy is the joke played (by God?) on the female lead. As the most successful of the preg protags, she who is Knocked Up is necessarily the most smacked down—the glass ceiling turns out to be Alison's own uterus. Jenna and Juno are less formidable, but unexpected fertility mocks their dreams of autonomy. All three are taught their place by their own bodies—and what's more, they learn to like it.

Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days
photo: Mobra Films/Adi Paduretu
Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu
IFC Films
IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza
Opens January 25

That's the kicker: a baby. They might not have known it, but what these women really wanted was to have babies. Knocked Up, which is basically a revenge fantasy, is at least cathartic in its humorously blatant misogyny. Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (herself a martyr to male brutality), is only pathetic. Unique in that she really, really, really doesn't want the child, Jenna is consequently thus the most oppressed—imprisoned by an ogre husband, betrayed by the wimpy doctor who loves her, "liberated" only by the grace of Andy Griffith's curmudgeonly fairy godfather. Juno, which was written by a woman and has become something of a fetish (albeit mainly among male film critics), is positively creepy.

Juno's knocked-up 15-year-old is at once provocatively precocious and primly pre-sexual. Her pregnancy is a miracle of bad luck—she simultaneously loses her virginity and conceives a baby. It's all but immaculate. Perhaps because, in this case, the preg protag is legally a child, Juno (unlike Knocked Up) is mature enough to employ the word "abortion." Still, disgusted by the yucky receptionist at her local women's clinic, Juno decides to have her baby. Not to worry: It won't be for keeps. She will donate the infant to a deserving careerwoman with a deadbeat husband and a stopped biological clock.

Even more than Juno's understanding father and benign stepmom, this act of charity is the movie's essential fantasy. It scarcely seems coincidental that Juno was released in time for Christmas. Pivot its scenario 90 degrees to the right and you have a more spiritual version of Knocked Up. People love clever little Juno because she isn't really a teenager, let alone a person. Juno is an angel.

The protagonists of 4 Months, by contrast, are recognizably human. Otilia and Gabita are not slangy wiseacres. They are messy, sometimes foolish, often naive, and increasingly desperate, but they are never unsympathetic—not even the whimpering Gabita. Their trouble is all too real, and there are moments—most powerfully when the true awfulness of the abortionist Mr. Bebe begins to dawn upon them—that they resemble wide-eyed children, at once vulnerable and resilient. And they have neither script, nor religion, nor a patriarchal order to help them.

4 Months is too specific to suggest a tract, let alone an allegory. As I said, it's a thriller. In the most visceral sense, this is a movie about living with terror—political and biological. Like Knocked Up and the others, it's set in a world where unwanted pregnancies occur, and legal abortion is not an option.

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