Where Are My Children (1916)
February 5, 2012 4 Comments
And thus, by a group of men, it was decided that birth control was an evil that should not be tolerated, no matter the stories of woe and strife related by Dr. Homer of families with too many children. And a century later, things in some ways haven’t changed much at all. Birth control is determinably legal, the Supreme Court decided that in Griswald, and birth rates and maternal/infant mortality rates have plummeted. It’s much less common for women to have to suffer the grinding fate of being pregnant every year, year after year, until menopause or death. But men (generally speaking) still have a lot to say about the accessibility of birth control or abortions.
The film’s introduction lays out a classification of babies in heaven, the chance babies, the unwanted babies (quick to return), and then the highest order, granted to those who desire. It sets an interesting tone to a film about birth control and abortion and gives it a fairly religious tone.
This film tackles the issue from a variety of angles. Richard Walton is a District Attorney, somewhat taken with the idea of birth control too weed out the poor and unfit, perhaps preventing crime. That is to say, he is enamored with eugenics, and why not, no less than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the Supreme Court to support mandatory sterilization of the disabled. Yet at the same time, Walton is greatly desiring of having children, yet they haven’t had any and Mrs. Walton, we discover, does not wish to be a mother.
I’m stridently pro-choice, but I’m certainly willing to accept that there is a heavy moral component to abortion. This film might have lost me with its moral condemnation of those who seek abortion and the broader notion of Mrs. Walton being “selfish” for not wanting children, but it is just so dramatically gripping and emotionally devastating that it didn’t. Much as I ultimately respected the anti-abortion messaging within Twilight (albeit I’d argue within a pro-choice framework, as this one exists within a pro-birth control framework), the story sells you on the devastation caused. This is a top-100 contender to be sure and establishes Lois Weber as one of the great directors. I shall have to continue to dig to see if I can track down any additional films.