Nothing ushers in the festive period like a film about a well-publicised (fictional) abortion tussle.
Although I should say, it’s my fault this one falls on what should be the beginning of Christmas Movie Month. Unfortunately, my social calendar stopped me from viewing and posting this film on time last week (boo hoo). Both Jill and I agreed we weren’t quite ready for Xmas though so who honestly cares?
Citizen Ruth (1996)
Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place
An irresponsible, drug-addicted, recently impregnated woman finds herself in the middle of an abortion debate when both parties attempt to sway her to their respective sides.
“I don’t wanna go back to jail again. Least not for more than a week or two.” ~ Ruth
Ruth doesn’t lead what you would call the traditional life. In fact, if we’re being blunt, she lives quite a pitiful existence and has little to call her own. She’s addicted to any substance she can get her hands on, does not have a fixed address and has four children she never sees, split across three different homes. I’m not judging her at this point, these are just facts.
When she’s arrested for “illegal inhalation” for the nth time (who’s counting?), she hits an extra snag. She finds out she’s pregnant again and the judge, who’s had enough, decides she should be tried for “felony criminal endangerment of a fetus” – a much more serious charge that will carry substantial jail time. It is ironic then when he pulls her aside later and tells her he’ll be much more lenient on her if she gets rid of the problem instead.
Well, Ruth is on the same page but in clink she meets a band of “Baby Savers” who have been kicking up a stink outside some abortion clinics, and shit starts to get real. Taken under the wing of The Stoneys (Kurtwood Smith and Mary Kay Place), it soon becomes clear what their agenda is. They provide a comfortable home and board but at what cost, eh Ruth?
Things are nice and cosy for a while but Ruth soon finds their son’s modelling glue and well, you can guess the rest…
So family friend Diane (Kurtz) steps in to help out with the care of Ruth (who has lapsed spectacularly more than once). She quickly reveals herself to be an undercover spy for the Pro-choice brigade, working the Baby Savers from the inside. Which is great, right? Well, nobody really comes off well in this movie, even the ones I naturally agree with.
Ruth finds herself swept away by Diane and her moon-serenading girlfriend Rachel (Kelly Preston) to a remote home in the woods, where they are protected by Harlan (M.C. Gainey) a sort of volunteer security guard. With both sides fighting hard to keep her onside, what the fuck is messed up Ruth supposed to do?
And when the cash offers start rolling in – first of all from the Baby Savers, then Harlan’s personal bank account to even the playing field – Ruth gets even more twisted. The woman has nothing and will take direction from the highest bidder, surely?
I guess the most immediate question is: Will Ruth go through with the termination or change her mind at the last minute?
I don’t really know what to feel and I really don’t know how to talk about what this film really means. I mean, it’s an abortion ‘comedy’ which is always going to be a hard one to carry off but I like it for that.
It speaks bluntly about women’s choices and the autonomy they should have over their own bodies – but it’s also a look at fanaticism and the dehumanisation of the subject when it comes to the war of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Both sides are very keen to tell Ruth what to do and aren’t really concerned with what she thinks or feels.
I’m gonna stay here. and I’m gonna have that abortion like I wanted. ‘Cause I’m a citizen and… and I got my rights to, um, PICK! ~ Ruth
I don’t like anybody in this movie, least of all Ruth who is frustrating in so many ways. She’s a mess and nobody is really offering her the help she needs, if she even wants it, which I don’t think she does. There isn’t one character anyway I feel the need to cheer for and that’s an odd feeling.
However, I really enjoy the fact that there is no redemption arc for Ruth. It would be forced and disingenuous for her to finally become a decent person at the end of all this. The movie’s climax is perfect and feels authentic, even if it is bleak AF.
Also, Laura Dern is The Queen.