It’s funny to find reassuring horror. Yet, as a person who has given birth twice, this is my reaction to Ilana Glazer’s reaction. False positive. The movie is out today on Hulu, and let’s just say it’s a wild ride (I’ll try to minimize spoilers). Written by and performed by one of the creators of Big city to Ilana Glazer, False positive is a Rosemary baby-film type but from a feminist point of view, a look at all the ways in which society drives women, especially pregnant women, crazy. Clearly, this narrative, this look at the grotesque of motherhood needs a woman’s point of view.
The film follows Glazer as Lucy, a heroine who totally drank Kool-Aid around motherhood. She has been trying for two years to get pregnant with her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux), believing that childbirth will fill her up and turn her into “one of those women who have everything for everything”. But from the start, False positive is made up of weird camera angles and haunting music, letting us know that Lucy will find herself very far from the “fairy tale ending” that a character repeatedly mentions.
Things start to go wrong, with False positive finding its drama in the discourse around modern pregnancy. Take the idea of “mom’s brain”, a phrase that is said so many times in this film that it loses all of its meaning. Scientifically studied, the idea that pregnant people are naturally confused, forgetful or incompetent makes our worries easy to dismiss. It’s supposed to be cute or silly, but when it’s a weapon, like it is against Lucy, it’s anything but, which helps make her lose control of so many aspects of her life. In one scene, Lucy and Adrian are partying and he pushes her to drink champagne, even though she doesn’t want to. Here, Adrian wields his power over her in a simple but damaging way, and her refusal to honor her wishes only gets worse as the film progresses. The men in her office don’t respect her privacy and want to use her pregnancy to attract a new client, whether or not she’s comfortable with it. When it works, they sideline her, citing her maternity leave as something that would ‘lose momentum’. It doesn’t matter if they use her ideas, her pregnancy, her performance. She just needs to order lunch.
And it’s vanity at the heart of False positive: The film takes seriously the real fear and loss that comes with being a pregnant person.
This impotence extends to the very body of the pregnant person. It’s literally not yours anymore – you officially share it. When I was pregnant, I oscillated between feeling like the tiny organism was a little bundle of joy or some alien creature feeding on my life force, just like Lucy. She is in love with the idea of a girl but sometimes horrified by the fact. This lack of control over one’s own body can go beyond existential fear – whether it’s extreme and potentially dangerous discomfort like for women who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum or like the fictional Lucy and Too Much. others who survive rape. But no matter how it manifests, all too often the message to pregnant women is that this impotence is just something we are meant to swallow as part of becoming a mom.
But it shouldn’t be. It clearly shouldn’t be. And it’s vanity at the heart of False positive: The film takes seriously the real fear and loss that comes with being a pregnant person. To ignore valid concerns about the loss of your career, your identity and your autonomy to the cult of motherhood is a crazy fabrication.
And that’s part of the reason False positive works so well that sometimes being a mom feels like you’re always on. Take my own induction into motherhood. I knew I had to go to the hospital, but neither my husband nor my doula believed me. I had to convince them. My husband indeed missed the birth of our firstborn because the doctor (a woman) told him that it would take time and that we had to move the car. Everyone thought I was overreacting, hysterical, dramatic, or weak. No one considered the possibility that I would know better what my body was telling me. (I had a very short job, like my mom and as I told the doula and my OB-GYN beforehand.) Good. Mistrusting women and minimizing their worries seems to be the default in our culture right now. It’s horrible.
As a non-evil midwife tells Lucy halfway, there is power and strength in creating humans. We just have to see it that way.
I don’t want to end up on horror, however. False positive doesn’t – or at least that’s not how I read the end. Because there is also power, so much power in motherhood. When my husband tries to take credit for something like my daughter’s nose, I remind him that he hasn’t Make whatever. I built our beautiful babies from my own body, and all he did was give me half a plan. As a non-evil midwife tells Lucy halfway, there is power and strength in creating humans. We just have to see it that way (and somehow convince society as a whole to do it too). Ultimately, Lucy reclaims her power and her narrative, taking revenge on those who would take advantage of her and rewriting her narrative to be the one she consents to, even though it takes some magical realism to make that happen. .
It is this broader perspective that I would have liked to have had more, the one that portrays motherhood in all its contradictions. We need more movies that humanize the role – that dispel expectations and set us all free to name the issues we face. Movies like False positive help redefine the story of motherhood not around self-sacrifice but rather self-love. And if it’s not affirmative, I don’t know what it is.
False positive is available to stream on Hulu.