The Pole Dance of Grief in Away We Go

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 29 2009 9:54 AM

The Pole Dance of Grief in Away We Go

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Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

A few weeks back, Meghan and Emily posted about the poignant, brief pregnancy loss scene in Pixar’s Up . It was a doubly powerful rendering of miscarriage and grief, because it happened silently, in the midst of a gregarious, dreamy children’s movie. I am wondering what you all thought of the miscarriage scene in Away We Go , Sam Mendes’ new film about pregnant slackers seeking a home.

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As Dana’s already pointed out, it’s not a perfect movie. Too many cartoon characters bouncing around cartoonishly (although Allison Janey, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Josh Hamilton are such brilliantly wrought caricatures, it hardly matters). But as soon as we meet Melanie Lynskey, playing hip Montreal supermom, Munch Garnett, we know something different is coming.

Munch can’t conceive, and has thus adopted a Victorian houseful of impossibly tidy, polite children with perfect pitch. But the instant she finds herself in a room with the explosively pregnant Verona (played by Maya Rudolph), it’s clear Munch is being devoured by something. And later that evening, after a good amount of wine, Munch takes to the stage at an open mic night to perform the saddest, least sexy pole dance ever witnessed, all jerking head and hollow eyes. Her husband, Tom, played by Chris Messina , explains that Munch has just suffered her fifth miscarriage. He can’t take his eyes off her as he describes the blasted hope of yet another pregnancy lost. I found the scene completely devastating, in part because it’s narrated by the grieving husband, and in part because it captured something of the way miscarriage yanks away your sense of yourself as a mom, the kind with the stretchy leggings, and forces you to become some other kind of woman, overnight. The precocious little adopted girl who opens the door to Rudolph and John Krasinski earlier that same evening, telegraphs all this when she explains that her mom is still upstairs, changing into a short skirt.

And something about Tom’s confession leads Krasinski and Rudolph to change their minds about moving to Montreal. Tom and Munch aren't the perfect family anymore.

Courtney at Feministing says she "absolutely detested" the pole dance scene, and I can see why it offends. But it affected me the same way the miscarriage scene in Up affected me; I couldn’t breathe. I wonder if that’s because we still talk about pregnancy loss so rarely and so poorly , or because it conveyed almost too much about sex, hope, love, loss, grief, longing, and the silence and shame that come with it.

Still of Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski in Away We Go © 2009 Focus Features.