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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unplanned is based on the memoir of a former Planned Parenthood director who joined the pro-life movement after witnessing an abortion. The film's complex topic is given nuanced treatment, but ultimately its sympathies lie firmly in pro-life sentiment. Graphic content is all related to abortion, and it's very realistic and disturbing. Viewers see two "procedures": a surgical abortion and a chemical abortion (via RU486). In the first scene, a woman cries, and there are images of a well-formed 13-week-old fetus writhing and twisting as if in pain, trying to hold on to the sides of the uterus as it's sucked out (some experts have firmly disputed the accuracy of these scenes). In the second, a woman retches into a toilet, crying with agonizing cramps while blood and chunks fall out from between her legs; there are bloody smears all over her bathroom. Other scenes show technicians reassembling the bodies of aborted fetuses to make sure there's nothing left in the mother's bodies; viewers see a very small realistic dead fetus' head, face, and arm. A physician who performs abortions is shot; viewers see a news report about it, but there are no images of the shooting. A protestor holds up a picture of a dismembered infant. Characters kiss, and some drink at dinner and while watching TV, but no one acts drunk. Cursing is mild ("hell," "damn," "ass"), but there's other upsetting language, like when a man yells at a woman that she's a "baby killer" who "couldn't keep her legs closed." Viewers' take on this film will largely depend on their views around abortion, but it has both messages of compassion and empathy and scenes in which characters are cruel to one another.
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What's the story?
Based on the same-named 2010 memoir, UNPLANNED is a complicated true story about Planned Parenthood exec turned pro-life protester Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher). After joining Planned Parenthood as a volunteer in college, Abby moves up the ranks thanks to her hard work and ethical stance on the importance of allowing women access to healthcare, birth control, and abortions. Before long, she's a clinic director, overseeing thousands of chemical and surgical abortions in her years at Planned Parenthood. But when Abby is called in to assist during a "procedure" one day and witnesses what really happens in the operating room, her viewpoint abruptly changes, and she joins the pro-life movement -- and the protesters who've been demonstrating outside her clinic for years.
Is it any good?
By turns emotionally affecting, ponderous, and as difficult to watch as the most graphic horror movie, this polarizing drama gives a complex subject a somewhat nuanced take. Without a doubt, Unplanned's most controversial scene (as well as the most gripping) is the surgical abortion that's shown just a few minutes into the movie. As the camera cuts between the callous, impatient doctor (who murmurs, "Beam me up, Scotty" when turning on the procedure's vacuum equipment) and the crying, sweating young woman on the operating table, viewers might well get nervous. But that's nothing compared to the movie's single most horrifying scene, in which Abby watches the fetus try to cling to the uterus before being sucked out in a deluge of blood and tissue plopping into a collection container.
It's easy to imagine such a horrifying sight changing Abby Johnson's mind about her job. It's also easy to imagine all the women who were left alone with the lifelong demands of raising children they didn't want to have after Johnson's Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas was closed, a moment the movie treats as an unqualified win. Lacking complexity, too, is the treatment of Planned Parenthood, which is personified here by a top exec who coldly considers abortions as a way to pump up her firm's bottom line. Planned Parenthood comes off so badly in this film, in fact, that viewers may wonder what's the real "big bad" driving this story: abortion or Planned Parenthood? In short, Unplanned does offer a more complex take on abortion than faith-based films usually manage. But it's about half an hour too long, and strident enough that it's unlikely to do much more than preach to the already converted.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of faith-based films like Unplanned. Do they appeal equally to viewers of faith and to secular audiences? Do they have to?
- In theaters: March 29, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 13, 2019
- Cast: Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan, Robia Scott
- Directors: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
- Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some disturbing/bloody images
- Last updated: March 27, 2019
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