A Pro-Life Film That Packs an Emotional Wallop Despite Many Flaws
Make no mistake. Unplanned, a drama based on the true story of a woman who ceased working as a Planned Parenthood clinic director after she realized the evils of abortion, is not a movie suitable for kids. Yes, it has a Christian worldview. And yes, it’s distributed by Pure Flix, a company that prides itself in delivering family-friendly material. But the movie’s R-rating from the MPAA should be taken seriously. Viewers should brace themselves for vivid (although brief) depictions of the bloody and just plain horrid results of murdering unborn babies.
To be fair, Unplanned is unlike countless R-rated movies that indulge in unwholesome content and strive to thereby entertain you. Instead, it aims to leave you disturbed and heartbroken as it honestly depicts real-life acts of human depravity. In that regard, this film warrants comparison with a few other R-rated ones I have seen, namely the slavery drama 12 Years a Slave and the Holocaust dramas The Pianist and Schindler’s List. Unplanned isn’t nearly as well-made or remarkable as those other movies, but it’s likely to hit you straight in the heart despite its artistic shortcomings. (More on that in a second…)
As some general information, the film is directed and written by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, whose other credits include writing the first and second God’s Not Dead movies. Based on the memoir Unplanned by Abby Johnson, the plot traces Johnson’s journey to becoming an accomplished director of a Planned Parenthood clinic but then later joining the Christian pro-life movement after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion firsthand. The movie’s theatrical run last spring wasn’t exactly a box office triumph, but it was still a profitable venture for Pure Flix, earning $19 million on a $6 million budget.
Like the God’s Not Dead series, Unplanned sacrifices good writing so as to convey its messages with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The script all too often includes voiceovers from the protagonist. (Why should she tell us what’s happening or how we should feel about it if the visuals speak for themselves?) The filmmakers calculate almost everything about the story and characters to drive home convictions that the target audience already believes. In particular, the character Cheryl (a Planned Parenthood director who oversees Abby) is a two-dimensional antagonist, cold and diabolical enough to be a standard villain in a Star Wars or Marvel flick.
Solomon and Konzelman poorly handle their protagonist’s arc of redemption. Rather than having Johnson be either someone knowingly involved in wrong or someone deceived and naïve about Planned Parenthood’s activities, they opt to alternate repeatedly between those two things. Even if such flipflopping is true to the actual Abby Johnson’s story, it doesn’t lead to good character development. The strongest aspect of the film is Ashley Bratcher’s committed performance as Johnson; the script does her no favors, but the actress does what she can to gracefully navigate through the different stages of her character’s journey.
All of that said, I can’t deny that the movie almost made me cry. Twice. And I expect it will have a similar effect on many other conservative Christians.
I think my emotional reaction is largely just due to the subject matter; how can I help but feeling heartbroken despair toward such rebellion against the God-ordained sanctity of human life? (Without giving too much away, both of the scenes that especially moved me involved signs of His amazing grace amid the depravity.) Unplanned definitely works for its target audience, even if it’s unlikely to resonate with anyone else. But I think my emotional reaction also reflects how fearless and audacious the filmmakers are in challenging viewers to reflect on a tragic subject.
You don’t need to see Unplanned in order to recognize the heinousness of abortion. But the movie can certainly help inspire you in exercising prayer and other support toward sparing the lives of unborn babies. Not to mention, you will witness an overwhelming testament to how desperately we as sinners need redemption through God’s incomparable grace and forgiveness. In short: If you watch Unplanned, please avoid doing so lightly. And think twice about allowing viewers under age 17 to see it with you. Note: This movie is available to view on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as on the streaming services Amazon Prime and Pure Flix. Also, QBC will be hosting a free viewing of this movie on November 8th at 6:30 pm.