Seeing pregnant women portrayed in film and television usually makes me cringe. If the woman isn’t dying in childbirth, she’s having an evil baby, or maybe an alien baby. Pregnant women in film and television also have the tendency of having unbelievably fast labors, water that breaks in a dramatic gush, of being forced to give birth in cars or in stuck elevators, etc. It’s unrealistic, it’s frustrating, and it’s insulting.
Here are a few films involving pregnant characters that do not make me cringe, and are decent films to boot:
Fargo (1996) ~ Frances McDormand won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her turn as North Dakota police chief Marge Gunderson in the Coen brothers’ offbeat “homespun murder story.” Marge investigates a series of grizzly murders while smiling through a polite and bubbly “Minnesota nice” accent—and she happens to be quite obviously 7 months pregnant and not making a big deal about it. Just a pregnant woman doing her job, being police chief, catching serial killers, stopping guys from loading legs into wood chippers. The way the world should be.
Absentia (2011) ~ An independent horror offering, Absentia focuses on the relationship between two sisters, Tricia and Callie. Tricia’s estranged husband disappeared without a trace seven years earlier, and she’s about to have him declared dead in absentia. She’s also 8 months pregnant with another man’s baby and struggling to move on with her life. Callie, her free-spirited, gypsy-esque sister who has struggled off-and-on with drug addiction, comes to stay with Tricia to try and help her sister move on, though Callie clearly hasn’t fully escaped her own demons. Things get creepy when Tricia’s husband reappears, emaciated and wearing the same clothes he disappeared in seven years prior, raving incoherently about being trapped “underneath.” Tricia’s pregnancy is never a major focal point of the film. It’s just there, and I love it—why shouldn’t pregnant women just be normal women in films? Instead, the painfully realistic relationship between Tricia and Callie takes center stage as the mystery of why people have been disappearing unfolds. Bonus: Tricia is Buddhist and Callie is a recent convert to Catholicism. Always nice to see religious people in film who are neither evil nor preachy.
Children of Men (2006) ~ This dystopian sci-fi thriller features a world where the youngest human being is 18 years and some months old. Humanity is facing extinction due to global female infertility, and civilization is rapidly unraveling because of it. After all, what’s the point in trying to build a better world when you know that, in a few years, no one will be around to care? Theo is a dour bureaucrat who becomes tasked with protecting Kee, a young African refugee who mysteriously found herself able to conceive and is now nearly 9 months pregnant—a messianic childbirth that could shake the foundations of this deteriorating society. The film focuses heavily on just how significant female fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth really are, how the birth of just one child can pull us from the depths of despair and give us hope. Children of Men was critically acclaimed for featuring numerous lengthy, seemingly unbroken “action” shots that are marvels of filmmaking to behold. I just love how one of these long, unbroken “action” takes involves the birth of Kee’s child. Because giving birth is action, y’know?
Waitress (2007) ~ Oh, how I love my dear, sweet little Waitress. It’s one woman’s odyssey to self-empowerment via pregnancy and childbirth. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it has female friendship and forbidden romance and Andy Griffith and Nathan Fillion and pie. Lots and lots of pie. If you have not seen this film, just see it. That is all.
Kahaani (2012) ~ This Indian thriller film is about Vidya Bagchi, a young British Indian woman who arrives in Kolkata desperately searching for her husband. Vidya is over 8 months pregnant, but the search for her husband cannot wait. As she shows his picture around Kolkata, everyone tells her that he looks exactly like a terrorist who killed hundreds of people in a poison-gas attack on a subway two years prior, then disappeared. Vidya is insistent that her husband was in Britain with her two years earlier and cannot possibly be the terrorist everyone is talking about. So what’s going on? This film’s melancholy twist ending kicks so much ass you won’t believe it, and features some wonderful metaphors from Hindu theology.