It was enough to see the profile of Elisabeth Moss circulating on social networks, in a purple cassock and white cap in the dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale, to understand that the United States, as announced, had turned the page on women’s right to decide about their own bodies. Anticipation films, even the most pessimistic, increasingly seem to document the present time, sometimes by default. Precisely this year, the historic present joins the future announced in the anticipation detective story 2022: the survivors (Soylent Green, 1973). The anguished opening sequence of that film takes its cue from the 19th century, from the conquest of the Far West. A slide show advances slowly through the industrial age: the deforestation of the settlers, the first cars, the iron bridges, the steel mills, the modern cities, the pollution of the air, of the water, of the earth, the overpopulation… Accelerating hand as we approach the catastrophe, the slide show suddenly stops: we are at today, 2022, the population is 40 billion inhabitants,
cities are unlivable due to global warming. Agriculture is dead and the only food available is a biscuit called soylent. The ecological catastrophe is obviously also economic. And inevitably politics. And viceversa. If scripted it The Handmaid’s Tale has become the symbol of the decision of the American Supreme Court is because awareness has spread that this political episode is part of a wider dystopian scenario. The starting point of Handmaids it is in fact that the legal, political and regulatory superstructure collapses together with the underlying economic structure, swept away by the ecological and climate crisis. And that the revolution that replaces the rule of law will be firmly oligarchic and ultra-conservative.The films did not venture into the actual experience of abortion but still showed the right to choice, an era closed by the Supreme Court decision
FIRST of the recent dystopian wave, Hollywood cinema had treated the issue of abortion in a completely different way. In The Story of Ruth, American Woman (Citizen Ruth, 1996) Laura Dern is a drug addict who loves to stun herself with spray cans. In one of her most hilarious scenes, after convincing her brother to lend him a few dollars, she walks into a hardware store and meticulously chooses a can. Around the corner she collapses to the ground and, after spraying the paint into a paper bag, she inhales the fumes until she passes out. Collected by the police, she discovers she is pregnant. The judge, who has already placed her first four children in custody, suggests that she have an abortion. A family of
Anti-abortion activists post bail and turn Ruth’s case into a national case. Ruth will then end up in the hands of a militant lesbian couple of the opposite party. Pulled by the belly by the two groups, who offer her thousands of dollars to choose one way or another, she will end up running away with the loot.
Citizen Ruth it is emblematic of a certain way of narrating the civil war between abortionists and anti-abortionists in the post-Roe versus Wade years. More recently, the film Juno with Ellen Page he offers a more intimate, less satirical, substantially identical version. Neither one nor the other ventures into the too crude terrain of the actual experience of abortion. In fact, the protagonist never chooses to have an abortion in Hollywood cinema. Ruth has a miscarriage, Juno decides to give birth. However, the script navigates within the framework created by Roe against Wade. They are all films representative of the widespread feeling of being able to find one’s way between two opposing parties, because the right to choose is evident in any case. The decision of the American Supreme Court brutally ends that era, or takes us back in time. A sign of change: the success of the American distribution of the film awarded in Venice L’Evénementwhich describes the life of a student in a France where abortion is still a crime.
THE ABORTION as such it is taboo in popular Hollywood cinema. It is paradoxically science fiction that has treated it in a radical way. To understand how, we need to start from how American culture, precisely in the years of Roe against Wade, philosophically posed the problem. In the essay A Defense of Abortion, the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson argues that, even admitting that the fetus is a person, the woman’s autonomy over her own body takes priority. To prove her theory, she proposes a thought experience. Imagine being kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers who then connected your kidneys to the body of a famous violinist with nephropathy. The violinist’s body will take nine months to heal, during which time he will need to be connected to your kidneys at all times. Would you be committing a morally wrong act if you decided to disconnect yourself from the violinist, knowing that by doing so you would cause his death? Thompson thinks not. Echoes of this argument are found in much of the science fiction reborn in the late 1970s. In particular, the saga Aliens has progressively given shape to variants of this thought experience. Apart from the space and fantasy setting, the action of the first episode describes the condition of a group of people whose body is used as a vehicle for another being to live. It is interesting that the first victim of the saga is not a woman but a man. The sequel to Aliens it will make explicit the link between the alien and motherhood, at the same time moving away from the radical nature of Thompson’s experience of thought, which precisely aims to abstract from the sex of the subject.
American films of the last fifty years are almost without exception an expression of the liberal counterculture. Behind them was the work of the ultra-conservative reaction which, while not writing screenplays for Hollywood, managed to patiently cultivate the seeds of a cultural hegemony of which it is now reaping the fruits.In addition to the films mentioned in the article, a few titles in European cinema: “Une affaire de femmes” by Claude Chabrol (1988) on the case of Marie-Louise Giraud, the last woman sentenced to death in France, under the Vichy regime, for having performed abortions; «4 months, 3 weeks, two days» by Cristian Mungio (2007) In Romania, shortly before the end of Ceausescu’s regime, a man sexually blackmails two women, one of whom, the victim of an unwanted pregnancy, tries to have an illegal abortion performed ; «La Maman et la putain»: in Jean Eustache’s 1972 masterpiece, Alexandre (Jean Pierre Leaud) recounts the abortion of his ex Gilberte in a long monologue.