Childfree-positive movies?
February 7, 2009 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Are there any childfree-positive movies or TV shows, i.e., where the protagonists 1) do not have children, 2) explicitly do not want children, 3) are reasonably happy with their choice, and 4) do not change their minds by the end of the story? (Spoilers herein for Four Christmases and Sex and the City.)

My wife was just watching Four Christmases, and commented on how it was likely that the apparently happy, childfree couple would probably change their minds by the end of the story. I looked up the plot online, and ... yep, wasn't that easy to peg. This prompted a conversation about the dearth of any childfree-positive movies or TV shows; the only example my wife could come up with was Sex and the City's Samantha — a character surrounded by three others who either ended up having children or seemed quite likely to. My wife found a list of "childfree friendly films" online, but these don't seem to fit the criteria I just stated. So, MediaFilter ... does anyone have any examples, or is Hollywood that hostile to the notion that you can be happy without kids?
posted by korpios to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Bob Newhart Show.
posted by gjc at 7:48 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Charlie in Two and a Half Men doesn't have nor does he seem to want children.

Robin in "How I met your Mother" is avowed childless and foreshadowing rampant in the series shows this to be the case even in the future.
posted by Mitheral at 8:16 PM on February 7, 2009

Curb your Enthusiasm. It seems to me like Larry David and Cheryl have no desire to have children. It may have even been discussed at some point, but I may be wrong.
posted by alligatorman at 8:24 PM on February 7, 2009

I can think of lots of movies that meet your criteria. Starship Troopers. Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea.

There are lots of movies and shows where people don't have kids. But these are also movies where the lack of children isn't a central plot point.

But anytime that someone's lack of X is a central plot point, especially in a comedy-as-opposed-to-tragedy, of course that means that it's going to change, or that they're going to try to change it.

In a flipside of the Chekhov thing, there's no point putting a gun over the mantle and having people talk about how much they love guns unless you're going to shoot it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:52 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Curb your Enthusiasm. It seems to me like Larry David and Cheryl have no desire to have children. It may have even been discussed at some point, but I may be wrong.

They actually had kids in the original TV movie that inspired the series. They were written out when it became a regular series.
posted by The Gooch at 9:00 PM on February 7, 2009

It's not a movie, but I remember an episode of This American Life talking about a neighborhood family that did not have nor want children and how they seemed to be the happiest family on the block because of this. It made me feel much better about choosing not to have children myself.

I don't know which episode it was but I'm sure someone here would know.
posted by Sufi at 9:01 PM on February 7, 2009

Seconding The Bob Newhart Show. At one point during the show's run, the writers pitched the idea of Emily getting pregnant, and Newhart replied, "Fine. One question, though - who are you going to get to play Bob?"
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:08 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: ROU_Xenophobe: One of my criteria was that the characters explicitly do not want children. Also, I didn't say that a character's childfree status had to be central to the plot, but only that it was made explicit and didn't change. Samantha is a decent example: her childfree status was fairly obvious in Sex and the City, and it never changed — but it wasn't really a major plot point, and didn't need to be.
posted by korpios at 9:24 PM on February 7, 2009

Response by poster: Sufi: Perhaps I should have been more explicit — I'm looking for examples involving fictional characters.
posted by korpios at 9:28 PM on February 7, 2009

There are lots of movies and shows where people don't have kids. But these are also movies where the lack of children isn't a central plot point.

I think this is a bit unfair. I know more than one childfree couple and it is entirely appropriate to ask if there are movies written about people who by chance or choice are in that group.

Certainly every childfree-by-choice couple has actually grappled with the issue at some point, as breeding is not just a social expectation but a biologically imposed near-certainty unless actively avoided, so it is in fact a central choice in their lives. That doesn't mean it dominates every waking moment (indeed that's partly the point), but it's hard to make it a wholly incidental thing.
posted by dhartung at 11:29 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seinfeld is the first sitcom that comes to mind. Black Books as well.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:42 AM on February 8, 2009

Seinfeld doesn't seem to work.

In the vasectomy episode, Elaine wavers about whether or not she might ever want kids.
George commits to a woman after believing he has impregnated her and states . I think Kramer also impregnates someone at one point as well, and seems quite thrilled with the prospect.
posted by davidstandaford at 4:48 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about the Thin Man movies, you know, with Nick and Nora? Haven't seen any for a while, but I sure don't remember any little ones running around while they sip their midmorning cocktails and solve various crimes . . . Also, they seem perfectly content as a dyad. They may even broach the topic at some point.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:16 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Someone help me out with the name of a British detective show. The protagonist is a single female detective in her fifties who has gone so far as to give angry monologues about never having had or wanted children. She's pretty awesome.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:26 AM on February 8, 2009

Would the Matrix qualify? Nobody in meatspace has to actually gestate offspring in order to perpetuate the species, as I recall--embryos are gestated in jars.

I don't remember in the movie whether people are represented as having the Matrix-embedded cognitive experience of pregnancy, childbirth, or childrearing. I'm guessing that they must have the Matrix-embedded cognitive experience of childhood, though it's been a while since I've seen it so I don't remember if that's explicitly explored in the movie either.
posted by Sublimity at 5:28 AM on February 8, 2009

Countess Elena: I think you're thinking of Helen Mirrin's Prime Suspect. I don't think it quite fits the criteria as although Jane confronts her ambivalence about having children a couple of times, she's not really ever in a strong, committed, continuing relationship. Love the show, though.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:34 AM on February 8, 2009

emhutchinson, Nick and Nora Charles have a son, Nicky Jr., in Another Thin Man, the third movie in the series.
posted by trip and a half at 6:46 AM on February 8, 2009


There was an episode of the old Bob Newhart show where they discussed having a child, and also discussed the idea of adopting. It seemed to be an early episode. I half-watched it recently while doing household stuff. I didn't see the end, though obviously they don't have kids on the show.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:05 AM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: If the characters aren't going to change in some way about not having kids or because of not having kids, then there is no reason to explicitly make them childless.

There are lots of peripheral reasons for characters to be intentionally childless (e.g., increased time and money), and these in turn can be useful from a dramatic standpoint. And even if the childfree status were central to the plot, it's possible to examine a conviction in drama — and the coincident difficulties (e.g., parental expectations) — without disillusionment and capitulation. I don't find your "gun on the mantle" analogies to bear much weight vis-à-vis what I'm looking for.

You're mistaking dramatic convention and effective use of time in a movie or tv show designed to appeal to a broad audience for hostility. [Bold mine.]

Recent US Census statistics show roughly 20% of women in the 40-44 year-old bracket as never having had children. Adjust for infertility (10% of the population, about equally split between men and women) and you're left with 15%, assuming lack of fertility treatment. We haven't even accounted for men at this point, but figures for them are harder to come by. It seems odd that a subset amounting to at least 10% of the population can't find themselves portrayed on screen, whether their childfree status is central to the plot or not. (And that conservative 10% is just the US; numbers in various EU countries are quite a bit higher.)

I'm sorry, ROU_Xenophobe, but I don't think you're contributing much towards answering my question; I'm looking for the names of films or TV shows that meet my criteria, not reasons why you don't think my criteria are valid.
posted by korpios at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - don't like the premise, take it to email, thanks!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2009

There was an episode of the old Bob Newhart show where they discussed having a child
This might have been in the pilot episode, where the direction of the series hadn't been fully set into place yet. I do know that in a much later episode, when Bob and Emily got locked in their storage cage in the basement of their apartment building, Emily got all philosophical and asked Bob "Do you ever regret not having children?" He replied that he wished they had a child right now...a child that was a human mole.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:23 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Checkov's Gun point is well-made above though: Films don't have much time for exposition, if you're going to make a big deal of a character being child-free then it's probably going to be a plot point in some fashion. If the character doesn't have or want children & it's not going to be relevant to the plot, then why bother spending time on it? That time could be better spent on developing either plot or character.

I'm having trouble seeing why a script writer would bother to include the child-free status of a character unless it was going to be relevant to the plot in some fashion, and I can't think of many ways that's going to be likely other than the obvious sappy, "lets reassure the majority audience that they made the right decision by having kids," one: ie the recanting of child-freeness by the end of the film. Otherwise it's the kind of thing that's just going to get dropped in any script edit, surely?

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, nope: can't think of any films that really meet this criteria head on. Sorry!
posted by pharm at 11:42 AM on February 8, 2009

For TV shows, I'd suggest Bones, but I hear Brennan's childfree status is going to be changing. Sigh. Bingo, anyone?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2009

How about Hart to Hart? I don't remember the show well enough to say whether they had any kids from the past or anything, but it seems like the type of show where kids wouldn't work at all.
posted by bink at 12:50 PM on February 8, 2009

Seventies sitcom The Good Life was much much loved here in the UK, it focussed on the odd-couple style differences between two middle-aged couples, Tom & Barbara, and Margot & Jerry, neither of whom had, or ever really discussed having, children. It was a complete non-issue in the narrative, and both couples were very happy. It remains the most positive portrayal of marriage (and childfree marriage at that) I can remember seeing.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:20 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Silence of the Lambs.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:28 PM on February 8, 2009

« Older Al sur.   |   Coyness is nice, but coyness can hurt you.. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.