20 October 2005

Palindromes - Not That Simple

If you want a movie rife with ethical dilemmas, watch Palindromes. This is the tale of a pubescent girl with low self-esteem who wants to be a mother. After her cousin helps her get pregnant, Aviva’s mother cajoles her into having an abortion. The mother, played by Ellen Barkin, tells Aviva a story about Henry, the brother who could have been, that didn’t border on spooky; it set up camp in the heart of creepsville.

I would say you could compare this story with Nabokov’s Lolita, only the young girl is the protagonist in this movie. She’s not manipulated by some older man; she just wants a baby. This movie tops some scales of allowed obscenity and general risqué behavior. Many who watch it may think the move completely indecent. This movie is harsh. It asks some really tough questions, and hits you with grit.

On the surface, Palindromes is a fall from innocence or coming of age story, but it’s also a biting look into abortion. Neither side, pro-life nor pro-choice, wins in this movie. Some will side with Aviva’s mother, thinking an abortion the wisest choice for an unwed, barely teen mother. Some will side with the Sunshines, believing abortion is murder and collecting fetuses from the dump in order to give them a proper Christian burial.

Nothing is black and white in this film. Aviva’s mother violates the inherent rule of the pro-choice movement by not allowing her daughter the opportunity to decide for herself. Of course, Aviva wouldn’t have chosen to abort, as she sought out boys and men to help her make a baby. Aviva loved her baby before it was conceived, but she gave it up anyway – because her mom told her to. So much for choice.

On the other hand, the wholesome Christian family that takes in the runaway Aviva doesn’t live up to their professed philosophy either. One night while watching an animated movie about the miracles of Christ, Aviva grows bored and wanders downstairs where she discovers the secret she knew was hiding under the skin of this family’s overly sweet veneer. The patriarch of the house, the family doctor, and a born-again (former?) pedophile plan the assassination of a doctor known for performing abortions, the same doctor who operated on Aviva. So much for life.

Of course, this movie is laudable for something other than its controversial subject matter (abortion and pedophilia); this movie uses multiple actors to portray Aviva. Two of the actors are actually far older than thirteen. After Aviva returns home from her adventures, she is portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh as a way of signifying that she has become a girl who has matured well beyond her years.

In addition to using various actors to portray one character, they predominately use full-figured girls, girls who would have difficulty finding work anywhere else in Hollywood. In fact, the folks who made the movie call themselves “Extra Large Productions.” Aviva is a large girl played by large actors, except for a couple occasions when the actors are rail thin for some symbolic reason. The film relies on its sweet, small voiced Avivas to tell us this girl’s story and doesn’t, like so many independent films these days, rely on shaky camera angles to portray the turmoil in her world. The grit is real and brings us to further question our own morals.

Let me leave you with two questions:

1. If you are pro-choice, is it alright for a parent to demand their very young daughter get an abortion?
2. If you are pro-life, is it alright to kill a doctor who performs abortions?


Robert Casserly said...

Whoa...sounds like a heavy movie. (no pun intended)

As to your questions... I'm just grateful I don't have and will never have kids, so won't ever have to make that kind of decision.

On the topic, a great website for help with ethical decision making:


theresa said...

Thank you for a fantastic discussion and film review. Issues surrounding teen pregnancy are of special interest to me due to my past work. People tend to make huge assumptions about individuals without considering a number of contributing factors.

A study done in D.C. in the late 90's suggested that more than 60% of teen pregnancies were planned.

Limited family size happens when you have money and opportunities. If you have no future to look forward to, a pretty little baby seems like the best thing life has to offer. The majority of teen pregnancies are to girls below the median income; likewise they are overly represented by minorities. Last December, the Federal government released research data showing that 48 of 1000 births in the US are to teen mothers. In Canada, it was 20/1000, and in France it was 8/1000 during the same period.

You've posed a couple interesting questions. I'm on the pro-choice side, and have no children, so I can only imagine the difficult reality. My first thought is that Aviva's pregnancy is a symptom of a deeper family problem. From that perspective, I'd want to do a load of prevention so I'd never be faced with such a dilema. However, if I had a pregnant 12-year old, you bet she'd have an abortion. If she were 16, I would try to limit my involvement to support. The ages inbetween, are gray.

Adam said...

Good review. Been meaning to catch this one, myself.

Todd Solondz movies are always provocative (Happiness made my skin crawl, and Storytelling isn't much less haunting). His movies have a very select audience. He's always been one of those directors who makes movies that I wish to see again, but have to wait for the right mood (read: when I'm strong enough to cope with their level of bleakness).

Anonymous said...

ill have to watch and get back to you