Monday, February 25, 2008


I have seen fragments of discussion of this film in recent weeks. I hadn't much interest but was offered up without my consent to take an elderly relation to a Sunday matinee. (Commercial transactions on Sunday are usually matters for the confessional).

The last movie I was compelled to watch (by a host whom I like quite a lot and whose hospitality is extended far beyond what I might merit) was a kid-flick called Night at the Museum, which left me checking my watch throughout. Not so Juno, which is at least engaging and not a waste of one's time. Much of the teen dialogue in the first third is grating, but this problem dissipates as the story advances. I gather the score and the fictional protagonist's disposition toward contemporary music are a cause of irritation to some, go figure. There has been much discussion of how it treats certain contemporary issues with a salutary ambiguity or fails to treat them in a manner which advances the critic's social thought (if that is what it can be called). Well, works of imaginative literature are not tracts. There is nothing wrong with tracts, but they are not art.

That having been said, for all that various characters could be affecting, I have to say I came away with a mild irritation about the degree to which the characterization is congruent with a certain sort of social imagination. The author creates three male characters (the father of the protagonist, the friend who inadvertantly sired the protagonist's unborn child, and the husband of the couple who aspire to adopt the child). All three in the first instance, and two of the three throughout, are manifestations of a feminist conception of the masculine vocation: their business is agreeably adjusting to the will and designs of the women around them. The protagonist's father earns half the household's living as an independent contractor installing HVAC systems, assures his daughter of his 'support', and cedes the guidance of his daugther and the governance of his home to his wife, who is a rude and argumentative sage to her stepdaughter but is not truly the girl's mistress. The youth who fathers the bastard child (while appealing) is ethereal and lost and nearly speechless throughout, emerging toward the close of the film to provide tender affection (more 'support'). The aspirant adoptive father supplements his wife's ample earnings (her occupation is evidently steady and lucrative but unstated) by composing commercial advertising jingles on his home computer. (He allows to the main character that the missus dislikes discovering that he has sat around all day not 'contributing'). He is along for the ride on his wife's quest for motherhood. Or rather, he is along until such time as he declares to his wife that he is leaving her and is unready for fatherhood. His dishonor, his puerile character, and his declaration of independence from his wife's will are all incorporated into one tapestry.

The main character is initially devastated by this last turn of events, but fortified with a pep talk from her father (more 'support') on the making of durable relationships, delivers the child on birth to the arms of the aspirant adoptive mother. The film concludes with the protagonist and the baby's father, once second-drawer friends and now lovers, seated on the steps of his family's home and with each singing, playing the guitar, and gazing into the eyes of the other. (The advent an growth of whatever it is between these two is never depicted). Flannery O'Connor said that literature trafficks in the possible, not the probable, and the possibilities most prominent in the screenwriter's mind are those in which mothers and step-mothers are interchangeable parts, husbands and fathers are ultimately dispensable, and heroes and patriarchs are nowhere to be seen. (Women are industrious and savvy without fail and have no need of such things in any case).

You have to wonder if our creative types can imagine any other world, or could bring themselves to put it to paper if they did so imagine.

Blogger Toast said...

So, is Juno a tract or not?

09 March, 2008 16:41  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

The film (I think) reflects the authors' understanding of social relations. I do not think it is advocating much of anything in a systematic way, much less a view of a particular topical political question. I would not call it a tract.

09 March, 2008 17:28  
Blogger Toast said...

So what does "manifestations of a feminist conception of the masculine vocation" mean if not a tract?

09 March, 2008 19:04  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

There is a range of human types out there and the authors of this narrative have in the father of 'Juno' created a plausible character, not a jagged contrivance as might be the case were he conceived of as a vehicle for particular conceptions about social life. The character's dispositions and behavior are congruent with a certain set of notions about what husbands and fathers ought to be like. He does not seem to have been conceived to promote such notions and for all I know the screenwriters give little thought to them.

10 March, 2008 18:40  
Blogger Toast said...

I just want to make sure that I'm understanding you clearly. So, in Juno, "heroes and patriarchs are nowhere to be seen." And you "wonder if our creative types can imagine any other world, or could bring themselves to put it to paper if they did so imagine." Which means, 1- you think that a movie about a teenage pregnancy ought to have male heroes and/or patriarchs (did I get that right?) and 2- you think that there are NO movies, nor any kind of creative work, lately that feature male heroes and/or patriarchs (did I get that right too?).

11 March, 2008 12:34  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

I would not say that the purpose of art is to be didactic (though a narrative can educate or miseducate).

I myself do not watch enough movies or television to answer your question. Off hand, I cannot recall seeing much recently where the function of the man in a domestic setting was aught but to play the buffoon. Juno differs in this respect. The male characters are passably dignified but are but passive and 'helpful'. Since the characters are not clumsily crafted and since men who behave as these men do are plausible (if, perhaps, atypical still) in contemporary social life and culture, they 'work' in the course of the narrative.

11 March, 2008 17:52  
Blogger Toast said...

But you "wonder if our creative types can imagine any other world, or could bring themselves to put it to paper if they did so imagine." That observation seems to imply that you have a strong idea of what you're talking about. What I'm wondering is what you mean to imply. Do you object to the weak masculine characterization in Juno, or do you applaud it? And do you see it as a trend, or an isolated case?

12 March, 2008 10:21  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

I use the verb 'to wonder' when I am speculating.

I have not a clue as to the likely direction of literature or its analogues.

I would not object to a particular piece of literature on that basis. I would object to the underlying mindset. Of course, in a society where fathers whose relation to their children most commonly approximated that of my own (and where the understanding held by creative types of their world reflected that), a character such as the father in Juno would seem contrived absent some quite deft literary talent.

12 March, 2008 20:17  
Blogger Toast said...

What verb do you use when you're being evasive? Still, I persist: do you mean to condemn a character who does not resemble your own father (yes, yes, I know, under certain qualifying conditions). And what's the mindset that you object to exactly?

12 March, 2008 21:23  

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