A number of pro-life feature films have been made in recent years, covering life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genocide, and human trafficking. These films vary greatly in quality, ranging from thinly-disguised sermons to corny fables to deeply moving tear-jerkers.
Because abortion has been legal in North America for over forty years, feature films that realistically deal with abortion have a particular urgency to challenge the mainstream attitudes towards abortion. But movies about this topic face special challenges as well. A well-done, pro-life film that handles the issue of abortion must:
- be true to life but presented in an original way
- address a difficult, demanding topic
- make the subject and story accessible to a wide audience, avoiding preachiness or being a “message movie”
My favorite pro-life film so far was not probably not intended to be pro-life. Oscar-winner Juno is a powerful movie about a young woman who learns about love, life, procreation, and motherhood backwards. The scene where Juno visits to the abortion clinic is one of the most powerful pro-life scenes ever filmed.
Although not as successfully as Juno, the recently-released-to-DVD Gimme Shelter stands up to these challenges too. In particular, the film’s strong performances and realistic perspective gives this film an honesty that even Juno lacks.
I reviewed Gimme Shelter back in January to encourage people to attend its limited theatrical release. Because it’s now available on DVD, iTunes and amazon, I want to bring it back to the attention of those who haven’t seen it yet. My previously-posted review is below, and I also spoke on Salt + Light Radio this week about the film.
Based on the true stories of several homeless teenagers, Gimme Shelter 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 will greatly benefit from seeing it. The theme of honoring life is beautifully portrayed throughout the film, as well as exploring 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! To me, the film feels a bit heavy due to the subject matter, but it’s far from preachy. While in some ways Gimme Shelter could be considered a borderline “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…goes beyond that.
Gimme Shelter isn’t a perfect film. I would have appreciated a protagonist with a better defined character arc, and tighter dialogue that has more subtext. But Gimme Shelter negotiates its challenges in more than adequate way, offering an insightful story that rewards and enriches on both a human and spiritual level. You don’t need to be pro-life to enjoy this film—it’s a beautiful and powerful testament to a mother’s love. And it’s not so gritty that it limits its audience: a mature 11 or 12 year-old could get a lot out of this film.
Seeing and sharing this movie with others is one way that we as Catholics can promote Gospel and human values, building up a civilization of love.
What other pro-life movies would you recommend? Here’s a list from Students for Life.