Genre: Drama, Exploitation
Director: Donald Wrye
Stars: Linda Blair, Joanna Mills, Kim Hunter
Linda Blair. That’s a name that’s gonna pop up a few more times as I progress through all of these women in prison films. This particular film, Born Innocent she made when she was 14, fresh off the set of The Exorcist and into this made-for-tv exploitation film. Though the movie tries to be sentimental and plays the sappiest music cues to let the audience know they’re supposed to be moved by this drama, it still exploitation. It sensationalizes the whole young girls behind bars thing and tries to make a big deal out of nothing. It’s really just cruel propaganda that tries to exploit the ignorance of its audience and the entire thing pissed me off. The movie claims to be based on a novel (or rather “suggested by” a book) but I have my doubts that this mess of social inaccuracy was based upon/inspired by/suggested by anything that actually exists in the real world. However, I will still respect the impact this film had upon television history.
I’m not doing a video review for this movie and this is why:
What the hell am I supposed to say about a 14 year girl getting raped with a plunger? If I praise the scene then I come off looking like a damn pedophile. If I say anything bad about this scene then I come off as some sort of heartless brute that doesn’t care that a 14-year-old girl got raped. So I’m just going to leave my thoughts about this scene alone and go ahead and quickly go over the historical impact this scene had upon television programming.
As mentioned previously, this was a made-for-tv film. It aired right at the start of prime time and this rape scene was every bit as shocking then as it is now. Some stupid kids were “inspired” by this scene and carried out the same brutalization on their 8-year-old sister. Of course people got mad and there were court cases and the FCC mandated that the first hour of prime-time, typically 8pm-9pm was to be considered the “Family Viewing Hour,” and that only family-friendly programming could air during that time slot. Television producer Norman Lear was furious about this as now his hit show All in the Family was moved to a later time slot and took a huge dive in ratings. Lear teamed up with the WGA and argued that this “Family Viewing Hour” mandate was infringing upon their freedom of speech. Eventually the courts ruled that this was unconstitutional and that the FCC had overstepped its bounds. However, the major television networks still, for the most part, abide by this standard that the the first hour of prime-time be more family friendly. In fact, ABC was the first major network to stop showing trailers for R-rated films during this hour. And that’s a brief bit of television history made by this stupid movie, Born Innocent.
So – about the movie itself. Linda Blair is teenage runaway Chris Parker. She’s arrested and taken to jail for nothing except running away which isn’t a crime. Her parents have told the courts; “We don’t want her back, keep her.” So she’s taken to a girl’s prison. FUCKING BULLSHIT! First of all you don’t go to prison unless you’ve actually committed a crime! Running away from home is barely considered a crime in some jurisdictions that is treated as a status offense and punished with probation or not punished at all. It’s not a fucking felony that brings prison time with it. On top of that, parents can’t just say: “I don’t want my kid anymore, you take it.” If parents DO attempt to throwaway their kids like this, the US Department of Health and Human Services intervenes and places the kid into foster care – THEY DON’T PUT THE KID IN PRISON! This movie consistently pissed me off by trying to be sensational with shit that doesn’t exist. The author basically took a statistic that said “Runaways end up in prison” and ran with that without filling in the blanks to find out WHY runaway children eventually find themselves in prison – that would be because they committed a crime.
There is a point later in the film where Chris’ parents decide to take her back. Again – FUCKING BULLSHIT! Once you’ve given up your kid to the state you can’t just say: “I’ve changed my mind,” and get your kid back the next day. We get to see Chris’ homelife and why it was so bad that she ran away in the first place. Her father is an abusive man and when she strikes Chris, she runs away again. The police come in and send her back to prison. Why? What crime did she commit? Again, this movie fails to realize the simple fact that somebody actually needs to commit a crime in order to go to jail. Also, what is the message here? You either stay living with your abusive parents or you go to prison? That accepting the martial law of child abuse is accepted by society and that if you refuse to conform to this you go to prison? What kind of nonsense is this fucking shit. Again this is taking a statistic that “Children who were abused by their parents sometimes end up in prison later in life” and running with that tidbit without bothering to fill in the blanks. Some victims of child abuse end up in prison later – BECAUSE THEY COMMITTED A CRIME! This movie’s logic is simply faceplam after faceplam of failed research and illogical assumptions.
Added to this, many of the girls in this place have severe mental problems – and that is their “crime.” Several times they refer to Chis as suffering from depression – and this is treated by locking her in isolation. There is one moment where another girl’s mental health is brought into question with a simple: “I think she might have some sort of mental disorder.” Is there ANY attempt at treatment for these mental disorders? What fucking world does this movie take place in where “being depressed” is illegal?
The movie ends up being very similar to the 1950 film Caged as it focuses on one character who entered the system as an innocent but through a series of unfortunate events eventually became a bitter, lying and manipulative sociopath like the rest of the hardened criminals. It would be a good story – if its premise was rooted in reality. There are several attempts where the movie shows that this was a competent director – many scenes that are shot with the necessary amounts of brutality to tell its story, and other scenes drawn out with a static camera and creative blocking from the actors. I won’t deny that it IS well directed, this director and the cast certainly did well with the piece-of-shit script they had to work with. However, it is impossible to become emotionally vested in this story when it is absolutely lacking in realistic character motivation or any sense of logic about the “grim realities of life.” The film doesn’t say it was based on a book by the same name, instead it says it was “Suggested by the novel ‘Born Innocent’.” Suggested by.. as in they just made all this bullshit up, didn’t they. The film, though well-made lacks in any kind of message and simply ends up being an infuriating mess of failed morals and confused logic. What is even more maddening are the amount of reviews I came across PRAISING this film and its “message.” What message – that abused children should stay living with their psycho parents? That children should be imprisoned even though they’ve committed no crime? That mental illness is a crime and should not be treated medically? Were these people watching a different movie? Ultimately, my impression of the film comes down to only this: