Citizen Ruth

53. Citizen Ruth (1996) [Rated R for substance abuse, strong language and a sex scene.]

summary from

An irresponsible, drug-addicted, recently impregnated woman finds herself in the middle of an abortion debate when both parties attempt to sway her to their respective sides.

directed by: Alexander Payne

starring: Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Kelly Preston, M.C. Gainey, Burt Reynolds, Alicia Witt, Diane Ladd

Conservo-Libertarian Reviews:
James Bowman

A Trailer

Abortion/Life Content:

plot summary from wikipedia:

The film opens with Ruth Stoops and a man (apparently an ex-boyfriend) having intercourse on a bed in a flophouse, after which he disrespectfully throws her out of the apartment. She later goes to a hardware store to buy patio sealant and huffs it in a paper bag in an alley to get high. Ruth is portrayed as a dumb, inebriated addict, capable of doing nearly anything to get money or drugs.

Ruth has four children, all of whom have been taken from her custody by the state because of her inability to care for them (or even for herself). Her children are scattered among three different homes. Ruth goes to the home of her brother and sister-in-law to sneak a look at two of her children and to beg her brother for money.

After Ruth is arrested for her continuing drug use, she learns that she is pregnant again. The judge, who knows of the situation with Ruth’s other offspring, suggests that he will deal with her less harshly if she has an abortion. Through a chance encounter with a group of jailed abortion protesters, Ruth soon finds herself at the center of an escalating battle between people on both sides of the abortion issue. Both sides engage in deceitful tactics to influence Ruth’s decision. The pro-life people run a fake abortion clinic, where they actually seek to dissuade patients from receiving the proffered service. The pro-choice people have ‘spies’ in the pro-life group who spirit Ruth away.

Both sides offer incentives into the thousands of dollars to the hapless and exhilarated woman to secure her promise (less than honorable) that she keep or abort the child. Wise for the dollar, Ruth rampantly encourages the bidding. She becomes the object of a local news and political obsession — a figure of the media whom all want to know: will she or won’t she have an abortion?

On the day Ruth is to receive her abortion, she suffers a miscarriage. Going along with the pretense of having the abortion, she proceeds to the clinic to collect $15,000 that has been left there for her by one of the security guards of the clinic who believes in personal freedom. He has personally given her the money, free of organizational sponsorship, to match the bid given by the Pro-Life group, so that she can make her decision without the influence of money. She then breaks out of the clinic by dropping a toilet tank cover on a guard’s head and walks by oblivious protesters on both sides. Though she had been on the television news for weeks, none of the picketers on either side pay any attention to her actual presence. Finally standing up, she runs away down the street.

The underlying theme throughout the movie is that political power is often an end in and of itself – it is what political factions of all flavors seek. In this movie, we observe pro-choice and pro-life factions using Ruth to amass greater political influence and all the ancillary perks that go along with it. We come to realize that Ruth is a victim of both sides’ “cause,” and in fact, she is readily forgotten and ignored.

A running joke in the film is a “Success in Finance” type tape produced by an Amway type company. Ruth takes the tape and studies it to determine what to do with her newfound money.

part of the review by James Bowman:

…She then goes and spends the money on a can of spray paint so that she can get high on the fumes. “Huffing,” it seems to be called. After she passes out, two cops, who know her well, come along and arrest her. When it emerges that she is pregnant a judge threatens to charge her with endangering the life of her fetus – unless she gets an abortion. It is at this point that she becomes the center of the local abortion wars.

First, a family of Christian “Babysavers” pays her bail and takes her home with them as their guest. Norm (Kurtwood Smith) is a hardware store clerk and his wife Gail (Mary Kay Place) is always talking about their little “miracle”, their son, Matthew (Sebastian Anzaldo III). Meanwhile they are oblivious to the wild life being lived by their older daughter, Cheryl (Alicia Witt). There is a hint of improper interest in Ruth by Norm, but nothing is done with it. The tacky kind of ostentatious Christianity of Norm and Gail and their babysaving comrades is not really comic enough, if it is supposed to be comic. They are too decent, if rather unattractive. A supposedly comic turn by Kenneth Mars as a pro-life doctor also does not strike me as thigh slapping stuff. He and the other babysavers engage in some heavy duty manipulation to try to make Ruth keep her baby.

But Ruth sneaks out and gets high again, and when she is caught sniffing Matthew’s model airplane glue and hits him, Gail flies into a rage and banishes her from the house. This is at an abortion clinic where the family is demonstrating, and one of the other baby savers, Diane (Swoosie Kurtz) offers to take Ruth home with her. “There is a war on, and I guess you could say I’m a spy,” she tells Ruth. Turns out that she’s really a pro-choicer who lives with a lesbian girlfriend, Rachel (Kelly Preston), in a big house in the country. Now the brainwashing begins from the other side. The choicers want her to have the abortion, but no more than the pro-life side do they seem interested in Ruth herself.

The prolifers raise $15,000 to offer Ruth to have the baby. She is ready to take it, but the prochoicers’ security man, a biker called Harlan (M.C. Gainey) offers her $15,000 not to have it. Ruth doesn’t care, she just wants the money. Burt Reynolds and Tippi Hedren put in cameos as national leaders of the pro-life and pro-choice sides. The offer of the pro-lifers is raised, but Ruth suffers a miscarriage. Wisely, she decides to keep this quiet and goes along to the abortion clinic, where she is given the $15,000, then jumps out the window and makes her getaway. I think we’re supposed to think that Ruth has made monkeys out of the idealists on both sides, but I can’t see it myself. Nor, I suppose, can anyone who believes that the right to life of the innocent child inside her must be as unaffected by what its mother does as by the antics of those on either side who may have their own agenda in taking an interest in its existence.

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1 Response to Citizen Ruth

  1. Pingback: Welcome | Abortion in Film

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