I got to see an early screening of Unplanned. I was prepared to be shocked. That was, after all, what all the hype was about. But shock isn’t what I got. I got dread.
I was expecting to be told what was happening – to watch the character develop and culminate in her seeing the abortion of a child on a monitor.
I was wrong.
The best thing the filmmakers have done is set us up knowing that this scene was in the film. (I hope in the home video versions they have a warning at the beginning to set it up.) I was expecting it to be toward the end. I was expecting to follow Abby through her journey to that moment and be forever changed. But Abby’s story wasn’t the one that mattered. Our story – the audience’s – was.
So we start with that scene. With no time to prepare yourself with story or character development. Boy, does that front-load the dread. The whole scene is set up in such a way as to build this tension, and it doesn’t’ stop. From there on everything in the film is predicated on this scene. Everything you see – everything you feel.
The writers (I believe Abby herself wrote the basic form in her book by the same name) added every scene to keep up this audience reaction. By skipping around in time a bit and telling the end first, then Abby’s story, we’re constantly in wonder about how she got there and in dread because we know its not over.
When I’ve told people about this film, I’ve described it this way: “It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen – you should see it.”
Both are true. I believe that the reaction that the writers were looking to evoke was disgust and sadness at the abortion industry. I think they nailed it – in that it’s truly terrible,in the most classic sense of the word. Maybe that’s what I meant when I say “worst.”
Interestingly, at the same time and by starting the story where they do, they manage not to make us hate Abby. We get to experience the dread with her. We then get to experience her life. It makes us empathize with people like her – those that have had abortions and (at least some) of the people who work in the clinics. We’re on their side.
At least for a while. We do get a hint of darkness in Abby, but I think we need this too. The message is “if you don’t turn away from evil, this is what it makes you.” Abby doesn’t like what she’s becoming. It gives the audience a choice – asks us a question. “Is this who we want to be?” Her answer is complicated and takes some time.
And I think that all these things add up to a truly authentic story. Does it matter that it’s a true story – that it really happened? I don’t know. It takes some of the sting of the counterfeit away, knowing its true. If it was pure fiction, I suppose it could be dismissed. Regardless, the storytelling principles remain the same. They could have told the same, true story in a different way and still counterfeited us, the audience. They didn’t. I’m thankful for it.
I’m still troubled by the question of who should see this. I know that most adults should be able to handle it. But when you’re messing with the audience emotions, you’re playing with fire. I’m further hindered by my own emotional reaction.
Should my 13-year-old daughter see it? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s me being over protective.
But again, I don’t think so. Do I want to fill her with that kind of dread? In the end, the story’s one of redemption and light, and I don’t think you can have that without some element of sin and death. I’d rather fill her with compassion. Compassion for those who have experienced things like Abby did – for the children lost.
But the overwhelming emotion the audience feels is pain, sadness and dread. Even the ending – even knowing it in advance – is tinged with just a bit of that dread and thinking, “Maybe this doesn’t go so well after all.”
So even with all the complaints about the MPAA’s R rating, I think they did us a service (and not just for the film’s PR). This is something we need to think about before going to see it. To know it’s going to affect us. If that rating had been PG-13, a lot of people would have gone without thinking about it, and this is a film deserving of consideration both before and after viewing.
So use your judgement. I stand by my statement (with some small corrections): “This is a terrible film. Everyone should probably see it.”
(This is the opinion of the author – it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of WhiteFire Publishing or any of its authors)