Pieces of a Woman – A Revolutionary Depiction of Birth in Film

Sarah Harris

One of my earliest memories of seeing a childbirth scene in a film, was in the Tim Burton classic, Big Fish, where the main character recalls the tale of how he ‘flew’ out of his birth mother and slid across the corridor, eventually being caught by a passing nurse. For a good chunk of my childhood, I really believed that this was how babies were born.

One of the most accurate and realistic portrayals of childbirth I have ever seen in a film

Thankfully a slightly traumatising video in our year 8 biology class put that theory to rest. I’ve seen a lot of depictions of labour in mainstream films and television series’ since then, the most recent being the critically acclaimed Netflix film, Pieces of a Woman.

Leading actress Vanessa Kirby delivered one of the most accurate and realistic portrayals of childbirth I have ever seen in a film. The film begins with an almost 30-minute long take, in which Kirby’s character (Martha), along with her husband (played by Shia LaBeouf) prepare for the home birth of their child.

For those of you who don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

It becomes fairly clear early on that Martha has a plan in place to deliver her child at home. But things start to go wrong when she discovers that her original midwife is preoccupied with another birth and hasn’t sent anyone as a replacement. Over the course of the twenty something minutes, Kirby goes from panicking in the kitchen, to taking a bath and then eventually to her bedroom, where she pushes and burps her way through the process. Eventually, her child is born, and all seems well until the midwife notices the baby has turned blue. Just seconds later, the couple lose their new-born child.

Has created a dialogue in the film industry that calls for more accurate portrayals of the labour process

Long takes have become increasingly popular, especially since the hit film, 1917, but a long take of such a raw and personal scene is something that is incredibly difficult to perfect. Nonetheless, director Kornél Mundruczó excelled in this difficult task and has created a dialogue in the film industry that calls for more accurate portrayals of the labour process.

While I’ve never given birth, the few friends and family members I know who have, have often shared incredibly detailed recounts of what they describe as the most ‘painful experience’ known to the human body. However, for some reason, TV shows and films don’t often portray it in this way.

In fact, they make the whole process of carrying and growing a child in your body for 9 months and then going through the gruelling process of childbirth seem like a piece of cake – I’ve been more out of breath after walking up 2 flights of stairs than some of the female characters I’ve witnessed in labour.

There are a number of reasons portrayal of childbirth needs to be painted more accurately. For centuries the female body has been so widely misunderstood and as such, our pain is often undermined. By presenting labour as a process that is easy, it makes it seem like real life humans are exaggerating their pain, when in fact numerous studies have shown that it is in fact one of, if not the most, painful thing a human can experience.

Her grief and raw emotion were something that could be felt through the screen

As well as this, it’s important to address all aspects of parenthood and grief so we can make it easier for people to openly discuss their experiences. In one of Netflix’s newest series, Firefly Lane, a main character experiences a miscarriage but other than a little blood on a white dress, we don’t get to see the character actually going through the situation. If the directors had made the decision to allow us to witness the character throughout the scenario, not only would viewers be able to develop a more meaningful connection with the show, but it would also highlight to countless viewers that what they experienced is normal and should not be stigmatised.

It’s no surprise that Vanessa Kirby has been nominated for a Golden Globe, amongst several other awards for her outstanding performance. Her grief and raw emotion were something that could be felt through the screen and allowed those at home to resonate with her experiences.

I hope that other films follow in the steps of Pieces of a Woman, and that in general, the experiences of women are presented more accurately so that society can better understand them. It seems strange to think that despite how much we’ve progressed in terms of feminism within the film industry, directors still don’t know, how a process that we learn about in our youth, works. Either that, or they simply don’t care.

Sarah Harris

Featured image courtesy of  Aditya Romansa via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article trailer courtesy of Netflix via YouTube.

In article image courtesy of vanessa__kirby via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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