Dirty Dancing: Obtaining the abortion (2000 words).
I’ve been wanting to rewatch Dirty Dancing for a couple of years because I remembered it contained a serious coincidence that looked like the indicator of a hidden truth.
Johnny Castle is a professional dancer. His main partner is Penny Rhodes. They work as holiday hotels entertainers.
Frances Houseman, “Baby”, spends her holidays with her parents and her sister at the upscale resorts where Johnny and Penny work.
Coincidentally, her father is a doctor. Frances is “boring”, clumsy, “not very attractive” and incapable of dancing but weirdly enough, the group of cool and very sensual young dancers will take an interest in her and when Johnny and Penny find themselves in a very tough situation and in serious need of a replacement dancer, Frances steps up to fill in the role, they accept and she succeeds.
Frances has to replace Penny because the professional dancer is pregnant, wants to get an abortion and the doctor can only be there on the night when she’s supposed to dance with Johnny at another hotel. Everybody assumes, and us spectators too, that the baby is Johnny’s, but it’s not. The father is Robbie, a very dislikeable waiter of the hotel who has sex with as many girls as he can. And to be clear, he is dislikeable because he is dislikeable; not because of his stupid sex life.
The suspicious coincidence is that at the end of the day it will be Frances’ father who performs the abortion. How supremely strange and convenient that the dull girl who became their super best friend was actually the daughter of a doctor, the kind of man they were desperately in need for.
Edit: While writing this alternative reading, I've been bothered by the fact that the characters whom I accuse of being manipulators always look genuine and benevolent on screen even though their behavior is suspicious. But I had forgotten that it's Frances, "Baby", who is telling the story. She drops a veil of naivety upon everything.
So, I wanted to rewatch the movie to check whether the whole thing wasn’t a manipulation. I expected to discover that Johnny is truly the one responsible for Penny’s pregnancy, and that the reason behind the whole story happening was the need to obtain from Frances’ father that he performs the abortion.
But I was wrong and remained lost for a few days because of very contradictory elements. For example, it seemed very unlikely that Robbie should be the father. He’s an asshole for sure, but he’s also more of the exact perfect scapegoat than a believable culprit. The problem is that Johnny clearly isn’t responsible for Penny’s pregnancy either.
It is made very clear that Robbie cannot utter three sentences without betraying his core "assholeness." Lisa isn't in love with him, she's desperate for a sex partner. That's what he is, girls' last resort. They know he is worthless. So when Penny pretends that she was in love, it is very dubious. Even more so when she's surrounded by kinder guys like Johnny and Billy.
I needed to voice this contradiction at loud to someone to realise that there actually was a possibility: “Robbie isn’t written as the real culprit but as the perfect scapegoat, but Johnny truly looks unrelated to the problem, and there is no other male character their age with whom Penny could have had sex…” Or is there ?
Johnny’s cousin, Billy.
Obviously, Penny is deeply in love with Johnny. Strangely enough, the man isn’t interested. Of course, there’s no reason why he’d be under the obligation of being attracted to Penny, it simply seems strange that he shouldn’t be.
Anyway, Penny is in love with him, it’s not hard to see. Funnily enough before thinking of Johnny’s cousin, I already felt like Penny’s pregnancy was a trap laid out for Johnny. I could totally imagine her try and get pregnant with a man who resembles Johnny in order to make it believable that he was the father and have him accept to keep and raise the child. Then, as I was slowly accepting that Penny and Johnny actually weren’t lovers, I thought that she simply wanted him to ask her to keep the child.
That’s one of the reason why, I find the cousin’s possibility very convincing: because he looks like Johnny and so, if Johnny asked Penny to keep the child, there wouldn’t be an awkward lack of resemblance between the (adoptive) father and the baby.
I know, that’s creepy, but that’s a desperate woman’s perspective.
I have been very shocked and appalled quite a few times in my lifetime at how many people (men and women alike) see no problem in using pregnancies and children as means to capture their lovers and force them into a lifelong relationship. As if building a family on a manipulation was a good idea.
Once the idea of Billy being the father is there, it doesn’t take long to verify its "likeability." And likely it is.
First thing, Billy is described as a "loser" who is only good at serving others and who only gets the things that people do not want. He got a job thanks to Johnny. He gets to enter the realm of "cool" people thanks to Johnny and because he brings (stolen ?) watermelons. He flirts with "Baby" because she's the one nobody wants. It would only be logical that he gets a chance to have sex with Penny because Johnny ignores her and she decides to play the look alike cousin's card.
Billy learns that Jake Houseman is a doctor in the very first dialogue of the movie and this, in a very strange manner. As a member of the staff, he’s there to help get the bags out of the car and carry them inside the hotel but he appears to be distracted by Frances’ sister’s beauty. He looks at her with a carnal gaze on the verge of making it clear that he is picturing having sex with her.
What’s suspicious about this is that, Max, the owner of the hotel, is at the exact same time talking about how Jake saved his life. And so, this intense and distracted gaze that we interpret as lust, happens exactly when Billy learns that Jake is a doctor and it totally works as the on the spot planning of Penny’s abortion by this man.
Sure, he clearly is looking at Lisa. That’s undeniable. But it’s also undeniable that Max is talking about Jake being a doctor, that Penny is probably already pregnant at this point and that Billy is looking for a solution. So, it’s very imaginable that at this specific time when vacationers are arriving Billy should actually be looking for a doctor among them. Another undeniable thing is that however Billy’s gaze makes him look like he’s going to do everything in his power in order to have sex with Lisa, he actually never approaches her again in the whole movie, nor does he find another girl. One second later, he’s "flirting" with Frances or at least discovering her existence and the possibilities she opens. Lisa will have to satisfy herself with the worst: Robbie.
Last undeniable element, it's still Frances' point of view. So it's exactly the kind of shift in perception she would produce because she's in denial.
What makes this first encounter even more suspicious is that immediately after it, we’re introduced to Penny who’s giving a dance lesson. She shouts: “Ok ladies, when I say “stop” you’re gonna find the man of your dreams” and immediately singles out Baby’s father to dance with him. From a realistic point of view, there’s nothing truly suspicious here. If Jake takes Penny’s class, it’s very likely that he will find himself dancing with her at some point, like most of the other men of the lesson. However, there’s no reason why the movie should want to show us that specific moment as if Jake was the sole man who was given the opportunity to dance with Penny.
My point is: we’re shown Penny taking an initiative to make herself look respectable and likeable to Jake in order to increase the chances that he might help her later on. She needs to be a familiar face.
A few scenes describe how Frances’ sex life is in a dead-end. Curiously, she’ll witness Penny and Johnny dance together in an over-the-top//oversensual manner that will get them rebuked by their boss. => Penny and Johnny are using their show as bait to lure Frances to their place.
It works. At 14 minutes, Frances goes out at night (she's literally restless) and approaches the mysterious house of the dancers (Johnny’s). She comes across Billy who is bringing watermelons to the place. I’m not saying it’s a solid argument but even when I was a kid, these two huge watermelons made me think of giant testicles. The thing is, it works perfectly with my interpretation. The house, the dancing, is sensual sex, whereas everything that happens at the hotel and in the woods is alienating and morbid, repressed, shameful because too serious, too prude, too marriage and family life.
Billy works for Max, he’s a staff member of the hotel. He’s the sole character to truly be part of both worlds. But he is not a classy waiter of the hotel, only a “vulgar” bag carrier and neither is he a superb dancer at Johnny’s place, he’s a pariah there, a loser. He most probably cannot dance, nobody opens the door for him when he brings the watermelons, nobody cares, he’s not welcome. He tries his luck with Frances and gets rejected, she’s interested in sex and losing her virginity, he’s not up for the task. But if he can’t dance, why is he allowed there ? Because he is fertility. Johnny is a good lover, Billy is a good impregnator. Hence the big watermelons. And the one he gives Frances is her uterus.
=>When she approaches Johnny’s place, everything that baby knows about sexuality is that men and women have to have sex in order to reproduce. I’m not going to interpret her narrative arc though, all that I’m interested in here are Billy’s testicles. If he’s defined as the good impregnator, the movie also points at him as the one who got Penny pregnant.
So, out of despair, Penny slept with Billy, maybe several times, and got herself pregnant. They decided that she should get an abortion unless she manages to make Johnny ask her to keep the baby.
Also, the threat of getting fired could also be wiped away by Johnny pretending it's his child. Penny would not get fired for becoming pregnant, this would be applauded and welcomed as something beautiful by Max Kellermann. She would get fired for sleeping with Robbie.
It’s actually pretty funny that a baby should come into their lives at this specific moment: Baby houseman. Penny and Billy literally force Baby on Johnny.
Her dad’s a doctor, so they befriend her and find a way to have her learn that Penny is pregnant, that Robbie’s the father, this making it look like it’s involuntarily when it’s perfectly voluntary.
Penny first triggers compassion by crying, then insults Frances in order to make sure that the girl will believe that they didn't want her to know. When truly, they would simply have asked her to leave.
Then, they make it sound like she'll be the good guy by siding with them, as if they needed to do that. They perfectly know that she'll keep her mouth shut. Even more so after she's been invited to their place and danced with Johnny.
The “the abortion can only be performed on the day Penny and Johnny have to dance at the Sheldrake” is a manipulation aiming at cornering Johnny. If he wants Penny to get the abortion, they both lose their jobs (for not giving the performance), if he wants Penny to dance, she has to keep the child.
Strangely enough, no other female dancer is available that night => they do not want to be responsible for Penny’s abortion. Or more, they’re on her side, they’re against it.
In order to slap some sense into Johnny even more, they suggest him that Frances should give it a try. They’re not being serious. They believe Frances to be the least qualified, least attractive girl even. And even though Jennifer Grey is beautiful, she is clearly written as the non-attractive girl. Lisa and Penny are perfectly gorgeous; Jennifer has a clear physical flaw: her nose. Of course she’s beautiful but in a movie this flaw means “unpretty.” More, several hints are made at a beauty dynamic. Max tells his waiter to give attention to every single young women, even "dogs." Frances thus feels like any attention she could get from a staff guy would mean he’s prostituting himself. She knows she’s unpretty.
Eventually, Johnny makes her spin and vanishes without a word, humiliating her extremely violently. He makes her want more but also shows himself ruthlessly capable of ignoring her. If she wants to be taught, she has to give something in return... not sex, no. That's Johnny's part of the bargain.
And so, forcing her on Johnny is like a bad joke. Johnny is a womanizer, just like Robbie. And forcing him to pay attention to an ugly girl is a revenge. Penny and Billy both think the idea is fated to fail. The plan backlashes hard when she actually succeeds into dancing and seducing Johnny to a certain extent.
The abortion goes wrong because Penny didn’t want to get one and also, on a literal level, because there was no doctor. It’s most probably Penny who just stabbed herself. An idea somewhat hinted at earlier in the movie when she’s found crying in the kitchens. What was she doing here ? She was contemplating a harsh move to get rid of her baby.
So. That’s all for this article I suppose.
I need to rewatch the movie, but as of now, I’m under the impression that once the abortion has taken place, Billy entirely vanishes from the movie. It would be very logical, but it would also suggest a much deeper interpretation in that Billy and Johnny would represent two sides of a same man and that as a consequence, Johnny is actually the father of the baby.
The movie would be an opposition between two worlds, one where abortion (and contraception) is unacceptable and one where it is.
In the former, the womanizer is an asshole, Johnny is Robbie. And the king is a non-sexuated boring guy who boasts about owning two hotels, Neil Kellerman.
In the latter, the womanizer is king, Robbie is Johnny. And the safe guy is a kind loser, Neil Kellerman is Billy.
Now, this is just one way of looking at things. There clearly is a more metaphorical reading of the movie in which the doctor status of Frances' father is only a metaphor (obviously) meaning that Frances' father would always have been a doctor, a godlike caring omnipotent benevolent figure. In this metaphorical interpretation, the manipulation "to get the doctor" thus doesn't work anymore and Penny, Johnny and Billy's behaviors mean something different.
I'll see whether I can write a more detailed interpretation of the movie.