Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire (USA, director Tony Kaye): A monumental (152 minutes!) documentary on the abortion issue filmed over a 15-year period, Tony Kaye’s film is likely to become a classic. The film covers all kinds of ground and features interviews with many people on both sides of the issue. Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few of them have intelligent things to say.

There is quite a lot of (and I’d say too much) coverage of the extreme fringe of the pro-life movement, including the string of killings of abortion doctors in the 1990s, and a very strange and possibly insane man who runs an organization called Lambs of Jesus. Too often, the pro-life camp is described as simply an extension of the Christian Right’s agenda. While that may be largely true, there are millions of other people with pro-life views that are much less extreme, who are not necessarily marching or picketing abortion clinics. It would have been nice to hear from some of them. One interesting pro-life advocate was writer Nat Hentoff, a liberal atheist. In the pro-choice camp, there were a few notable voices, including lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice. Then there were those who appeared to be in the middle somewhere, including several medical bioethicists and even Noam Chomsky, who was perhaps the most eloquent voice in the film.

I suppose the extensive coverage of the shootings of abortion doctors may have been included to balance the equally disturbing images of abortion procedures, including the doctor “piecing together” the body parts of the fetus after the procedure. Any honest film about abortion needs to address these very real images.

I believe it may have been Chomsky who stated that abortion comes down to a difficult choice between two (and possibly more) competing but authentic values. He also pointed out that if pro-life supporters claim to be concerned about children, there were lots of easy ways to help the many suffering children in the world, but that few were actually doing much about it.

The film concludes with two segments where I found the use of music to be manipulative. One is the statement by a nurse who was severely injured in an abortion clinic bombing, and the final longer segment follows one woman as she goes through the entire abortion procedure, from filling out forms to her sudden breakdown as she tries to tell the interviewer she’s “relieved.” The images and stories were powerful enough without the need for swelling strings in the background. As well, it’s not always clear when each part of the film was shot, or whether we’re seeing things in chronological order at all, and for a film that covers 15 years of a changing political landscape, it would be nice to have a timeline and even some statistics to see how things are changing.

Other than those relatively minor misgivings, this is a landmark film and has set a high standard for feature length documentaries dealing with this relatively neglected subject. The two and a half hours went by very quickly, and I was even left wanting more. Director Kaye says he has lots more and could even make the material into a television series. I for one would be interested.

8.5/10(8.5/10) – my graphic doesn’t show half-points