You may know Ilena Glazer as a funny person, but she shows a different side in False Positive – a woman desperate to have a child, steeped in guilt and shame about infertility despite her otherwise privileged life. She has a loving husband (Justin Theroux), a successful career, and enough income for a luxurious home in NYC. But she doesn’t have a baby and isn’t getting pregnant after a long time of trying.
It’s not explained if they did the testing to see if the problem really is her ovaries, or if perhaps her husband’s sperm aren’t as motile as they could be, but it doesn’t take long before that missing piece becomes evident as purposeful. It foreshadows what is to come, a story of men controlling women’s bodies, as men have done for centuries.
Her husband, Adrian, takes them to see a fertility doctor he knows from his own medical career. Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. John Hindle, a genial, confident expert who devolves into a casual racist, then a cartoonishly evil genius over the course of the film This excellent cast is rounded out by Gretchen Mol as a psychotically cheerful nurse at Hindle’s clinic.
Lucy grows more suspicious of Dr Hindle – and Adrian – as her now-pregnant belly grows. She hears them conspiring when she’s dopey from the clinic’s medication, and she finds strange things in the apartment. But she is gaslit again and again, told that she has “baby brain”, and that she’s done things she knows she didn’t do. Finally she finds proof, and brings it to a friend, but even her friends are against her.
There’s a lot of blood imagery, which might seem overdone, but given that vaginal bleeding is a pregnant person’s nightmare, I thought it was appropriate and evocative. There was one part where Lucy spies on her husband and Hindle in a scene that seemed like unnecessary shock-value to me. The gaslighting goes on for a very long time, but I’ve seen firsthand how everyone treats a woman differently once she’s pregnant, and that takes a whole nine months. (And then they treat her differently because she has a baby!)
However the gaslighting is as extensive and obvious as it is for a purpose that director/writer John Lee and writers Alissa Nutting and Ilana Glazer are leading to near the end. There’s a twist that I thought was very daring, and likely to be unpalatable to many who consider themselves progressive. False Positive has things to say about patriarchy, sure; but it also has something stark to say about the racism of affluent white liberals.
False Positive is available on Hulu and on-demand from A24.