“Unplanned” is a movie unlike anything you have ever seen. It depicts the third most common medical procedure performed on women — a procedure that is largely veiled from sight.
Annually, about a million and a half women have cataracts removed and 1.3 million have C-sections. YouTube gives people of all ages unfettered access to video of these procedures taken right in the operating theater. The third-place procedure is another story. Even though an average of 900,000 were performed each year since 2014 (down from an earlier average that rivaled first place), video of the procedure is not to be found.
A pivotal scene in Unplanned set about to break this barrier. Even so, it refrained from any explicit images, opting, instead, to show a computer-generated simulation of a black and white ultrasound. Unlike prime-time CSI shows, it does not linger on gruesome images of the slain. Nevertheless, the MPAA gave it an “R” rating.
Does the mere presence of blood merit such a rating? We have grown accustomed to bloodied clothing in PG-13 movies and even on television. On the other hand, as a parent, I’m not sure that I want my 13-year-old to see those scenes. Other parents disagree, including the woman who lived the scenes and was on the set to ensure accuracy. She wants her 12-year old daughter to grapple with the realities portrayed.
I suppose that is precisely the parental guidance that PG would allow. But the MPAA gave it a “Restricted” rating. Not content with parents guiding their children, it wants to prohibit teenage girls from viewing on the silver screen what they can often procure even without parental permission.
The scenes that prompted this controversial rating come early on and make up a relatively small part of the film. Its real focus is to take the viewer into the world of Planned Parenthood through the eyes of Abby Johnson who wrote the book on which the movie is based.
As a freshman at Texas A & M University, Johnson first volunteered at a nearby clinic. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling, she began to work there full time. Eventually, she became the youngest Planned Parenthood employee ever to become a clinic manager. By 2008 she was named “Employee of the Year.”
All this makes Johnson uniquely qualified to reveal the truth behind the glitzy media campaigns and the focus-group-tested slogans. Her book tells how she was convinced that her work at the clinic was truly a help to women in crisis. She was a true believer that its contraceptive focus made Planned Parenthood’s signature procedure safe, legal and rare.
This Johnson maintained despite mounting evidence that what was billed as a rare necessity turned out to be Planned Parenthood’s bread and butter. Slowly, imperceptibly, she became entangled in a web of lies—lies the staff told one another, lies they told to the clients, lies they heard from headquarters and, most devastating of all, lies they told themselves.
The most poignant scene came as Johnson returned home in a driving rainstorm. Her little daughter, Gracie, ran to meet her at the door. Concern entered her voice as she observed, “Your shoes are all bloody.”
After a moment’s hesitation Johnson looked straight into her daughter’s worried eyes and assured her, “Mommy was helping a lady at the office since she had a nose-bleed. But I took care of her and she’s all better now.”
Few scenes in cinematic history have conveyed so much in ten seconds. An innocent child sees a glimpse of what the billion-dollar industry works very hard to conceal. Her mother looks her own flesh and blood straight in the eyes ... and lies.
She doesn’t dodge or demur. She doesn’t obfuscate or use a euphemism. She just tells an outright lie. There was no nose bleed and nobody is “all better now.” The movie’s viewers know the truth of her dilemma. In a flash of clarity, the audience instinctively knows why she cannot tell the truth, but also asks, where will the lies stop?
I wish I could write in a way that would convince everyone to see this movie. I wish that the subject matter were not such that sensitive people will be afraid to look. I wish that the lies were not so divisive that so many are flatly unwilling to see. I wish countless souls were not already wounded by the lies we tell ourselves.
Such wishes are unrealistic. But there is hope, nonetheless. Johnson finds healing in the end and points every viewer to the same redemption and forgiveness in Christ. In hope she faces the truth, not as condemnation, but as cleansing.
Her hope gives hope to us all. With confidence of redemption and forgiveness, we can tell the truth going forward — to ourselves, to others, and for posterity.
“Unplanned” is a film that moves toward that end. It is honest and unblinking. It challenges entrenched opinions and changes compassionate minds. It opens at the Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing in West Jordan, Utah, on Thursday, March 28. Don’t miss it. It is a rare opportunity to actually look at what everyone is talking about but nobody wants to see.