If you slept through most of the fearfully and terribly made Pure Flix propaganda film “Unplanned,” which opened in 1,000 theaters this weekend, regardless of at what point your eyes opened, you’d still awaken mid-lecture about the evils of Planned Parenthood. But “Unplanned” doesn’t limit its non-stop proselytizing to abortion; it’s also clear in its ideas about a woman’s role in the family and in the world, which go hand in hand with its anti-choice themes.
The film–and many of those who share its worldview–may try to say that their stance is about saving lives, but it’s actually about men controlling women and their bodies. Written and directed by the two guys who wrote “God’s Not Dead” (and who sure do have a lot to say about women’s rights), “Unplanned” disdains its heroine for having a career outside the home, positions the men in her life as smarter than she is, and never sees her as her own person. These ideas are as dangerous as its anti-choice theme, casting women as lesser at every point it can and undeserving of autonomy, bodily or otherwise. Surely a film like “Unplanned” would figure into a prequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a precursor to shit getting real bad as women lose all their rights. Welcome to Gilead-lite, ladies.
This isn’t to downplay the misleading messages about abortion present throughout the film. The film is supposedly based on a true story, but has been called into question in a Texas Monthly investigation. The first graphic abortion happens five minutes into its running time and is the catalyst for Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) to leave her role at Planned Parenthood. She’s a clinic director, but a nurse comes into her office to say that she’s needed in one of the procedure rooms. It’s unclear to Abby–and the audience–why an operations-focused employee is needed, and it’s never answered within the film. She enters to find the doctor in the midst of performing a surgical abortion. When he begins the suction part of the procedure, the doctor actually says, “Beam me up, Scotty,” causing actual medical professionals and “Star Trek” fans everywhere to groan. At the 20-minute mark, Abby has her own chemically-induced abortion, leaving her sobbing on her bathroom floor with crime-scene levels of blood around her (enough to merit it a rare R-rating for a faith-based film). It’s all executed so clumsily that it’d be funny if it weren’t actually going to do harm in the real world.
There’s a glimpse of that damage in the star’s op-ed published in Deadline, “‘Unplanned’ Star Ashley Bratcher On Georgia “Heartbeat Bill”: “I’m Incredibly Proud Of My Home State.” (For a quick explainer on the horrors of the Georgia legislation, go to The Cut.) Bratcher writes, “[Women] seek abortions because society and the new-age feminist movement perpetuates the lie that women cannot be successful and be mothers. Those of us on the other side of the fence are here with open arms saying, ‘Yes, you can!'” This is a siren call that attempts to tell women they can have it all, but in this case, having it all means being a feminist (but not one of those “new-age” ones) and be “pro-life.” However, the film that Bratcher stars in directly contradicts this idea, starting in its early moments from screenwriter and director team Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon.
“Why can’t you stay home with me?” Abby’s adorable daughter named Grace (of course) asks in one of the first lines of dialogue, as her mother prepares for her job. “Unplanned” attempts to make it clear that even a child knows that this mother isn’t where she should be: at home with her kid. When the film flashes back to Abby’s pregnancy, her mother, Karen (Robin DeMarco), hopes that this is what will make her daughter quit her job at Planned Parenthood, but she’s disappointed to learn that Abby will continue working. “She’s got aspirations,” Karen says with disdain of Abby’s desire to (*GASP*) actually have a career.
But it isn’t just her mother who knows better in the movie; it’s practically every man on screen (except that comically evil abortion doctor). Brooks Ryan plays her smug husband, Doug (it’s always a Doug), who knows her own body better than she does. She’s around pregnant women six days a week for her job and is, in fact, a woman herself, but he tells her she’s pregnant before she has any idea. Similarly, when she quits Planned Parenthood, Doug guesses her news when she returns home, stealing her thunder and being a self-satisfied jerk all at the same time. He knew she’d be finally wise up and make the “right” decision, far before she did.
When she does leave the job, even her own mother can’t give Abby the credit for her choice. Instead, her gratitude is directed toward Shawn (Jared Lotz), the head of a nearby anti-choice center. He and his wife, Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts), have been protesting at Abby’s clinic for years, and while Marilisa initially tries to befriend Abby, it’s Shawn who takes the lead and is successful in finally converting her. “Thank you for getting my daughter out of there,” says Abby’s mother to him in a move that deserves to be called out in this Twitter thread of parents unintentionally dragging their kids.
Sadly, it makes sense within the world of “Unplanned” that Abby’s husband, her mother, and some random dude figure so prominently in her conversion because she’s never seen as her own person capable of making her own (*ahem*) choices. All of Konzelman and Solomon’s characters exist solely to make their less-than-nuanced arguments about abortion–and women–but Abby is in every scene and should be something more. Instead, she’s simply a wife, mother, and daughter, defined solely by her familial relationships rather than any identity intrinsic to herself. I spent 110 awful minutes with this woman, and I cannot tell you a thing about her as a person.
This should be the type of movie that doesn’t merit attention outside its target audience, but it made $6 million over the weekend, beating fellow newcomer “The Beach Bum,” which opened on a similar number of screens and stars Matthew McConaughey. “Unplanned” isn’t a film concerned with narrative, technique, or its performances–it’s only about getting its message across without any thought for actually being well made. With hundreds of thousands of people seeing it since it opened, they not only witnessed its gracelessly communicated, regressive ideas on abortion, but they also saw what it and many anti-abortion advocates, in general, think of women. In their minds, it isn’t just that we shouldn’t have the option to have abortions: we shouldn’t have identities or choices outside being mothers and wives at all.