A favorite (and I thought rather clever) tool used in Juno (2007) was the employment of paint color on the walls of the baby’s bedroom. Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) was painting it and begging Mark (Jason Bateman) for input on the best of two (basically the same) shades of cream color on the walls. I am far from color blind: being a graphic designer by trade and a self-taught photographer who’s had his work exhibited and published, I could not much afford to be, and I can tell you there was not much of a qualitative difference in the colors (the only variable changing it in the cut of Juno I watched being the direction and intensity of the light). Vanessa was very anal (for lack of a better word) on the choice of color which on the one hand fits her mold of “uptight yuppie” (an explicit meaning) but on the other hand I think can reflect the larger societal archetype of parental perfectionism that rises to the level of neurosis in some people. Parents want desperately to do right by their kids, and that’s a good thing, but that can also rise to the level of absolutely absurd control that can be maladaptive (an implicit meaning). Such a trifling choice as this paint color could be construed as the maladaptive kind (an implicit meaning). Mark, however, sees this in the same way that a scared father would (explicit meaning) by revealingly saying “maybe it’s to early to decide” (explicit meaning). We see in this dynamic that repeats itself as a motif in the film a cultural exposition of marriage, divorce, and monogamy. This is evidenced, first, through Juno’s biological mother leaving, yet her having a fairly solid relationship with her step mother and her biological father as they support her through the duration of the film and her pregnancy (explicit meaning), second, through Mark leaving yet Vanessa still accepting and taking care of Juno’s child in what we can reasonably assume is a psychologically and developmentally healthy environment.
Last, this motif really jumped out at me through two separate scenes: first, in the scene where Paulie Bleeker is suiting up for track, a very appropriate song is playing: The Kinks “Well Respected Man”, a song fundamentally about a average joe career man who is satisfied as such, which indeed reflects who Paulie shows himself to be for Juno (an explicit meaning). The second scene is at the film’s end when Paulie and Juno are singing the song and playing their guitars together.
So, taken together, what meaning do we have in light of marriage, divorce, and monogamy? I think we have a very old Hollywood archetypal meaning showing itself again: love conquers all. It is not a piece of paper (a marriage license) that matters or an intact home that matters or even a two parent home that matters but a caring for the other person Juno’s dad (J. K. Simmons) and her step mother, Vanessa and the infant, Paulie and Juno. This commentary on the death and remake of the nuclear family (monogamy, marriage, and divorce) is actually quite accurate in light of history: the intact nuclear family is really an invention of Hollywood ala fifties sitcoms, and not much more. The family unit has taken many, many forms throughout history, with the intact nuclear family being a very rare form and half of all marriages ending in divorce.
In the meantime, however, we do have quite a lot of cognitive dissonance that happens before this structure of the nuclear family implodes. I think this was brilliantly communicated using the motif of the chair. The film’s beginning showing Juno standing far away from an old chair in the middle of the field was a brilliantly composed shot showing Juno off center (from the rule of thirds aesthetic) and small in relation to the ratty recliner, using a low wide angle lens shot. This really accentuates the sense of alienation in that cognitive dissonance I mentioned. This motif is repeated in another interesting way when Juno sets up the recliner and furniture set on Paulie’s lawn, symbolic (somewhat literally but this is technically still implicit meaning) of wanting to “play house” with Paulie. This alienation is effectively resolved in the end, however, and is evidenced by the low shot composition looking up at Juno who is now empowered by having her stress lifted by getting the baby to Vanessa and her newly secured relationship with Paulie.