If you are you looking for a way to stand up for life during this week of the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, take someone with you to see the movie Gimme Shelter, which opens tomorrow, January 24th in a somewhat limited release. (Hopefully it will roll out in the next few weeks to more theaters.) Based on the true stories of several homeless teenagers, the film focuses on Apple Bailey, who at sixteen years old works up the courage to leave her addicted, abusive mother, but ends up on the street pregnant and homeless.
Director Ronald Krauss gives us a film that is not meant to make us comfortable, bravely taking us beyond predictable “Hollywood” choices. Gimme Shelter demands a lot of its audience with its realism, extreme close-ups, intense emotional scenes, and unrelenting honesty. In return, we are rewarded with a film that draws us immediately into the depths of what it might really be like to be a pregnant teen who finds herself on the streets. The filming and acting is superb and includes the convincing, often understated performances of Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, and James Earl Jones.
The film is powerful yet restrained enough that younger teens who are mature enough to appreciate the storyline could greatly benefit from seeing it. The theme of honoring life is beautifully portrayed throughout the film, as well as the themes of the meaning of family (even when it’s broken), finding family outside of one’s own home, and the importance of outreach and ministries such as Several Sources Shelters, whose founder, Kathy DiFiore, is compellingly portrayed by Ann Dowd.
I rejoiced in the many details of being Catholic that this film gets right—and without preaching! While in some ways Gimme Shelter could be considered a “message movie” because of its many powerful, life- and family-affirming themes, it uses the power of film artistically to draw us in close to Apple’s experience. This is not your typical Christian “message movie” that we need to cringe at the artistry…it’s way beyond that.
Gimme Shelter isn’t a perfect film. I would have appreciated a protagonist with a better defined character arc that is less passive, as well as tighter dialogue with more subtext. But given the challenges that arise in making a true-to-life film on such a demanding topic accessible to a wide audience, Gimme Shelter is a solid film, offering an insightful story that rewards and enriches on both a human and spiritual level. Going to see this movie on its opening weekend is one way that we can promote Gospel and human values, building up a civilization of love.