There’s not a lot of things that really shocks me anymore. When I say that, I am referring primarily to films, but to a certain extent, it also applies to the surrounding reality that we call life. I have been exposed to a fair number of things that when something particular out of the ordinary occurs, I look on with a more logical perspective, seeking to find out why. That tends to be my first reaction, rather than, “Eww! That’s gross!” It is not a bad perspective, in a way; it gives me a lot of ideas for documentaries, that’s for sure.
The same occurs with films. When I see something particularly nasty on screen, I find myself wondering more about how they do it, rather than relying on the emotional response that the filmmaker is perhaps looking for. I find myself considering the alternate possibilities of how the same effect could be replicated, rather than reaching to hide behind the popcorn box. Many filmmakers I talked with in the past expounded on this, claiming it to be something is somewhat inevitable when we cross the line as an audience and become a part of the team behind the camera.
Thank God, then, for ‘Google Baby’. In that regard, it is probably the only reason I give thanks for for having seen the documentary. It is a reminder that I still feel, on a certain level, about some of the issues that happens in the so-called real world.
‘Google Baby’ is an Israeli documentary that looks at the surrogacy industry. Some descriptions of the film have used the term “excruciating”, and I have to admit that it doesn’t stray too far away from the truth. Here, looking at this documentary, I am aware that the manipulations lies more with the directions given by the director, rather than what we actually see on screen. That baby over there, screaming his head off? That’s real. The mother looking on with a tinge of sadness and melancholy? That’s not fake. If anything, it’s the sort of priceless reaction that you wouldn’t find much in fiction films.
What makes it even more heartfelt is the fact that the mother won’t be seeing the child again after that. What the director, the delightfully-named Zippi Brand Frank, tries to do is to portray, and to a certain extent, expose the surrogacy industry, with an emphasis on the term industry. It looks at the process that an Israeli man goes through in order to obtain a child with his partner. He is homosexual, and so he and his partner could not conceive in the conventional ways that they don’t teach you in school. So what he did was to take his sperm, find an egg, and put it inside another lady, the surrogate mother. If you happen to be a follower of the American sitcom ‘Friends’, you’ll recognise a similar process that Phoebe went through to conceive his brother’s triplets for him.
I used the word similar. In truth, I should be using ‘exactly the same’, except that ‘Google Baby’ looks at the whole thing from a global perspective, because it is, as it turns out, a global perspective. Doron Mamet (the Israeli entrepreneur mentioned earlier), having successfully conceived his baby, sets up a business that allows people to make babies in the same way. He’d find prospective men in Israeli, and hooks them up with egg donors from America. You’d think that such an international endeavour would be less shallow than it actually is. Alas, that would be incorrect. “She’s beautiful,” one of his clients pointed out, looking at the video of the egg donor online. “I think we’ll go with her.”
Once the egg is fertilised in the United States, it would be brought over to India, where surrogate mothers would be found to keep the egg warm and safe in the oven, so to speak. It is a process that is born out of necessity as much as it is born out of demand. People cannot act as surrogate ovens in Israel. It’s expensive to do so in America. So why not India? After all, everyone else outsources to India these days, right?
What strikes me as I watched the documentary is not so much the differences between the people who take part, but the similarities. For example, carrying a baby in your womb for nine months in India is enough to buy a whole new house for you, bricked and painted and all, in India. That is the reason why they did it. It’s not that far away from the American woman who provides the eggs to be fertilised. She lives with her husband and two kids, and so she doesn’t really miss anything in terms of money. However, being a part of the process allows her to renovate her house. Thousands of miles apart, millions of light years in terms of culture…and they both do it because of the house.
The director, Frank, has explicitly stated several times that she does not aim to judge with this video. I am inclined to agree, but I think that perhaps the many people who will watch this documentary will probably come to a similar conclusion. It is effective, however, at capturing every stage of the process. We spend time with the American family who is providing the eggs (they let their kids shoot guns in the backyard. Now THAT’S disturbing). We also see a lot of Dr Nayna Patel, a doctor in Gujarat who is the point woman for Doron in India. She is the one in charge of the surrogate mothers; once the fertilised egg is inserted, they are to spend almost 24/7 under her watch at her hospital, until the pregnancy is up, during which the babies would be removed via Caeserian section. Even that process is not an easy one to watch: “I will give the child away with a smile on my lips and a heavy heart,” says one of the surrogate mothers at the end.
However, the most disturbing things for me can be quickly listed down to two. First of all, due to the amount of money that the surrogate mothers receive, I realise that her husband quickly became dependent on this. Travelling to Anand in India, the director interview a couple who had previously given birth to a child under the same scheme (they were interviewed in their new house, a modern building that seems at odds with the poor surroundings). “Women are inferior to men as they can’t think straight,” he boldly espouses. “She has to do this again. How will I pay for my son’s education otherwise?”
The second thing is the impersonal nature of the proceedings. It somewhat horrified me how people can decide to have a baby, and then practically disappear for the ten months or so before turning up at the end to pick up their baby. It makes me feel like I’m watching someone buy a car, or a house. You make the down payment, and when the time comes for it, you pick up the keys. It is that simple, but it also takes away some of the emotional attachment that I feel is important during the pregnancy itself. Fortunately, in Doron’s defence, he himself noted this near the end, when he is updating one of his clients about the status of their baby. Blowback, I believe, is the term I came across somewhere, describing the unforeseen but important side effects of a technology considered new and groundbreaking.
This process may well be the future of things to be, but I feel that there will be some blowback from this. ‘Google Baby’ may be a documentary that aims to merely put on screen what is already going on, but perhaps in this way, we can also see and decide for ourselves the kind of things that may well come to bite us in the ass later on.
According to his friend, Fikri’s ass is getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps there’s a surrogate baby inside it…