Juno and Maturity Taboos
The course of maturity, the transformation of a young female from adolescence into womanhood, holds great significance socially and culturally. However, the process is loaded with taboos. It is frowned upon to discuss a woman’s bodily metamorphoses that are encountered in this inevitable era of life. Jason Reitman’s Juno(2007) opened the discussion for many of these taboos including teen pregnancy, conformity, sexual activity, and abortion, amongst other issues. Reitman uses many formal elements to disguise this bildungsroman as a typical romance-comedy in order to accurately portray common taboos. The use of formal techniques including elements of cinematography, sound editing, and misé-en-scene adds layers of significance to the theme of maturity taboos in Juno. These formal techniques include close-ups, voiceovers, emphasized Foley, set design, and costumes.
Juno, the main character, not the movie, is portrayed as an eccentric sixteen year old, old soul. Her passion for old horror movies and 70s rock music truly sets her apart from the rest of her peers, including her friends. This sharp contrast is illuminated within the misé-en-scene of the movie. An exhausted taboo of growing up is the desire to fit in, but based upon Juno’s bedroom and outfits, she simply does not care. In the scene in which she shares a phone call with her best friend Lea, both girls’ bedrooms are visible and represent their significance to the movie. Lea’s bedroom walls are painted pink and covered in magazine cut outs displaying a shelf full of stuffed animals. These are the components of a stereotypically innocent “good girl”. Juno’s bedroom is full of thought provoking artwork, naked baby dolls, mismatched furniture, and she is speaking to Lea via her hamburger phone- a phone shaped in the form of a hamburger.
Juno is not a nonconformist because of her unique furniture tastes, but also in her dress. Her friend and baby daddy, Paulie is often seen wearing his track uniform and running in unison with all of his track buddies. Lea is not only a representation of conformity because of her bedroom, but because she is also a part of a team; Lea is a cheerleader. Being a skinny, blonde cheerleader, like Lea, is an overused trope of the “it girl”. Juno is not on a sports team and therefore does not wear a uniform. The contrast between her friends’ conformity and her lack of is evident and is a driving factor in what makes her divergent.
Juno is not a walking taboo simply because of her individualized appearance, but also for her unique thinking. Her attitudes toward sexual activity and other social taboos are so well articulated because of the voiceovers in Juno. When an abortion clinic worker asks Juno if she is sexually active, she begins an aside in which she questions the term, discussing whether “we all just deactivate some day”. This unique spin on a widely accepted term and ideology so natural as sex so early in the film portrays Juno’s divergent thinking as integral to understanding the rejection of social conventions.
Exaggerated Foleys are also a paramount feature of the film and its commentary on the taboos of maturity. Before Juno enters the abortion clinic, a classmate of hers informs her that fetuses have fingernails. In an effort to express the anxiety faced by youth regarding important decisions such as teenage abortions, these exaggerated Foleys are implemented in the sound editing of Juno. When Juno is in the waiting room of the abortion clinic, she begins to notice all the activities the other patients are enacting with their fingernails. The sounds of women polishing their nails, picking their scabs, tapping their fingers tips, and biting their nails are loud and distinct.
This sound editing paired with the cinematography of the close-ups elicit the feeling of anxiety that Juno must be facing as she gets up, leaves the clinic, and decides against an abortion. Not only were the sounds of the patients’ fingernail activities increasingly magnified, but the distance between the camera and the fingers was exponentially decreasing as well. This combination aids in the understanding of abortion and teenage pregnancy as taboos, but instead of hiding them from the public, they are put on the big screen to give everyone the ability to experience shame, anxiety, and discomfort.
Close-ups appear as a magnification of taboos in Junowithout the accompaniment of sound editing as well. There is also a close-up of Juno’s baby bump while an elderly teacher writes up a bathroom pass as if that is all Juno is to others: an example of the consequences of teenage, premarital sex. The teacher’s eyes move from Juno’s stomach to the pass and then back to her stomach, never meeting Juno’s eyes to acknowledge her as something other than a pregnant sixteen year old. This encounter is the representation of teen pregnancy and divergence from the norm in the minds’ of adults and outsiders as something to be ashamed of and hidden: a taboo.
However, this conventional mentality is cleverly thwarted by Juno’s own interpretation of her situation. Juno is developed as a divergent thinker and nonconformist to popular, societal normalcies through means of formal techniques in the realms of cinematography, sound editing, and misé-en-scene. This counteraction Juno embraces to maturity taboos such as sexual activity, abortion, conformity, and teenage pregnancy is expressed through means of close-ups, voiceovers, emphasized Foley, set design, and costumes. Juno’s feelings are so accurately portrayed because of her commentary or inner monologue during high-pressure situations to conform, the unpopular and different wardrobe and styles she and her bedroom adorns, and the close-ups on the abject which in turn fill the screen and the minds of those interpreting signs of maturity as taboos. Junoembraces themes of womanhood and deviation from the typical archetype through its expression via a, in reality, pretty cool girl.