It normally takes people by surprise, and the reaction seems almost hypocritical if you stop and think about it, but the scene in The Godfather II dealing with Kay’s abortion is one the most uncomfortable cinematic moments in history.
Abortion is a topic few people want to really talk about. When studying it in school, my mother included a note that said, “I know this is not a pleasant topic to read or talk about, but you need to learn about it, so you can form your opinion on whether you believe it is right or wrong.” I admire her for giving me the facts and allowing me to reach my own conclusion. I formed an opinion based on my understanding of the procedure and its emotional and moral repercussions that has to this day never shifted. It was not something I was “indoctrinated with,” or was presented without approaching both sides. I read all the arguments and reached a conclusion that I still believe in, because it was my conviction. I am pro-life, for a variety of reasons. Some of them have to do with my faith and others have to do with my firm belief that we should stand up for those too weak to defend themselves. The worth of a society has always been based on its treatment of children and in that regard our culture has something to worry about. If Charles Dickens used his novels to fight against the abandonment and abuse of children in the 1800’s in England, imagine his horror at a society that determines life and death before the child ever emerges from the womb.
Interestingly, abortion was a concern even in the Victorian era and a topic that many argue Bram Stoker addressed in his horror novel, Dracula. In one particularly haunting and disturbing passage, Jonathan Harker witnesses three of the vampire’s voluptuous brides falling upon an infant their master has brought them in ravenous delight; the murder of a baby – a horror beyond all imagining and one that shocked the conservative audiences of the time. It still brings a shudder to even the most stoic form in its numerous film representations, because the utter evil in such an action is incomprehensible to us. Scholars debate just what the passage means but a number of them believe it is Stoker’s warning that any society which sacrifices children for the liberation of women is approaching a godless existence and has committed a crime of unimaginable evil.
The trend for and against it in cinema has continued ever since Roe vs. Wade was passed.
In the original Dirty Dancing, “Baby” obtains money from her father to pay for another woman’s abortion; this is considered a heroic action on her part, since she has saved her friend from an unwanted pregnancy. But lately I have seen a shift in both public opinion and the cinematic approach. Abortion was addressed not long ago on the controversial ABC series Desperate Housewives when Lynette learned she was pregnant and considered an abortion. Her conversation with her husband and the encouragement of one of her friends assisted her in deciding to keep the baby. Just last week, Special Victims Unit shocked my friends and I by repeatedly referring to an unborn child as a “baby” throughout an episode rather than the usual “fetus.” It presented audiences with a difficult situation in which a woman fought to keep her baby alive, while doctors and even police detectives encouraged her to “consider her options.” Several months ago, Law & Order, also had an incredibly powerful pro-life episode about abortion clinics. It presented both sides of the argument fairly and in the end left us with the impression that ADA Connie had changed her position from pro-choice to pro-life due to the evidence she heard on the witness stand.
Our culture has shifted from one that values life (in which the loss of an unborn child was considered tragic) into one that measures it according to whether or not it is inconvenient. 50 years ago, abortion was not accepted in society. Today, hundreds of thousands of unborn children are aborted every day.
Let us return momentarily to The Godfather II. The protagonist, Michael Corleone, is a man without a moral conscience. He is the head of a prominent crime family responsible for dozens of murders. He personally has gunned down two men over dinner, and ordered the executions of various members of his extended family who have betrayed him. It is apparent that life means nothing to him. But when his wife informs him that she did not suffer a miscarriage as he thought, but aborted their son, Michael flies into an uncontrollable rage. Michael divorces her and refuses to allow her access to their children. He refuses to even be in the same room with her. The same man who thought nothing of having his brother in law strangled takes violent offense at the notion that his son was aborted. Kay did something unforgivable in his mind –she murdered their son.
Michael could run the risk of being the most hypocritical character ever written but his opposition to it is fascinating – and Kay’s emotional outburst reveals that she knew all the time that her actions would incur his wrath:
“Michael, you are blind. It wasn’t a miscarriage, it was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion — something that’s unholy and evil. I didn’t want your son, Michael. I wouldn’t bring another one of your sons in this world. It was an abortion, Michael. It was a son; a son, and I had it killed because this must all end. I know now that it’s over; I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael. No way you could forgive me. Not with this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2000 years.”
To the Sicilians, family is everything. It is to be preserved and protected at all costs. That is why Sunny lost his life attempting to protect his sister from an abusive husband. It’s why Fredo’s involvement in the assassination attempt against Michael is taken so seriously, why Michael takes it personally – because when it comes to his family, it ceases to be business and becomes personal. Violence and murder is allowed in business, but not in his personal life. It is an unspoken rule among the Families that you leave “innocents” alone – that means women and children. Michael never feared the loss of any of his children and that makes Kay’s actions all the more devastating and incomprehensible to him. It’s not her confession that makes him lose control so much as her implication that he and his heritage are to blame. He backhands her but for a split second there is murder in his eyes. It was not just Kay’s son; it was Michael’s as well. He wanted it to live and she had no right to take that away from him.
Curious about the reaction among other viewers to this scene, I went online and did some reading on message boards. The results astonished me. There were a fair amount of individuals who seemed to celebrate violence against women in remarking that Michael should have done worse than slap her. “The ***** deserved it” got frequent airtime. What shocked me more than that was that no one said it was Kay’s right to choose. No one took her side. No one argued that she was in the right. Everyone universally agreed it was wrong for her to abort his son. What led each individual to this conclusion, I don’t know, but the response was universal agreement that it was wrong.
The first two Godfather films came out in the late 70’s at the height of the abortion movement. It was all about free love (“sex without repercussions”) and escaping the traditional confines of morality. The abortion movement was massive and experimentation was all the rage. At the time, Michael’s reaction no doubt would have been considered the height of chauvinism and might have been intended to make us abandon any fondness we once had for him, as it represents his final decline – that he had become such a hateful individual that not even his wife wants to carry his unborn children. That’s pretty harsh. Consider then the reaction of a modern audience accustomed to abortion – instead of support for Kay and agreement that she made the right decision, our compassion lies with Michael.
Michael, the man who has just had his own brother shot in the head. Um… what??
Recent studies have shown that our generation is far more pro-life than the previous one. In spite of an increase in declining morality and encouragement to accept “alternative lifestyles,” a large portion of young adults do not favor abortion. It must be a feminist’s worst nightmare. I am not even sure how it has happened. Maybe our society has had its fill of violence. The Global Warming hoax has encouraged emphasis on the preservation of life among animals. It’s possible that the liberal movement behind it did not pause to consider the possibility that the same respect for life that follows wanting to save sea lions and protect baby turtles on the beach, or that compels young people to dislike sending troops to war, might just infiltrate all other aspects of their life.
It makes sense to me. I hate the thought of any innocent thing suffering, and babies are the most innocent creature of all. I don’t know what brought about this shift in choosing life over death, but I’ll take it.