Electricity & Lust

Review: Lake of Fire

Posted in Column, film, review, Sam by Sam Unsted on March 25, 2008

Lake of Fire
Dir: Tony Kaye
Rating: 5 out of 5

Perhaps the place to start with a film like this is the central achievement on a level of filmmaking. Sixteen years in the making, Tony Kaye’s mission to make a balanced documentary on the inflammatory and deeply complex issue of abortion and choice is a startling work of documentation. Made entirely on 35mm black and white film and employing the unsettling musical cues reminiscent of Errol Morris’ work, it’s an astounding notch on Kaye’s belt as a filmmaker. But the likelihood is that those achievements are some distance from his aims with the film. The length of time it took to make and the epic, two-and-a-half hour running time, partnered with the graphic images and equality of opinion time given to both pro-life and pro-choice activists places the text as a debating piece, a work designed to provoke debate on both sides of the argument with a view to finding a medium, however impossible that may prove to be.

Abortion is a divisive and painful political issue in the US. It goes beyond the symbolism of other secular versus religious issues like gay marriage. This is partly because it goes beyond a basic principal of theocratic arguments into a more fundamental debate of science and the Bible. Gay marriage is an important issue but it is only important for progression, for undoing the wrongs of the past in marginalising the gay community. It’s also a whole other essay. Abortion is a more personal and provocative political issue because the arguments for and against are so difficult that finding a central balance between the two is near impossible. The perception that all pro-lifers are fundamentalist maniacs who bomb and murder doctors carrying out abortions is some distance from the truth and this perhaps forms the key issue that Kaye tries to portray in his work.

He gives credence to the views of all involved engaging lucidly those who believe all ‘abortionists’ to be murderers, Satan-worshippers and sodomites. Yet he also allows arguments from the pro-life side to be heard outside of zealotry and hate speech, those who question the right of humans to place a line on the point at which a foetus becomes living being.

Any rational Christian who holds a pro-life belief would surely be hard-pushed to show any compassion for those who murder innocents for the crimes they perceive them to have committed. Kaye shows chilling footage of those committing these crimes, including Paul Hill, who stalked his victim for months prior to committing a violent murder. Kaye rhymes the graphic images of dead foetuses with these pictures of slaughtered doctors and bullet ridden offices. He portrays the indignant pro-choice protesters refusing to talk with pro-life activists outside clinics. The overarching aim is to make the viewer understand the myriad choices and issues involved in the subject.

There are two key motifs or occurrences in the film. One is a constant evocation of the word ‘Holocaust’ by the pro-life campaigners, equating the legal service provided by these doctors with the evisceration of a race by a fascist dictator. Not only is the comparison offensive, but it more importantly portrays the degree of shock tactics and scare-mongering used by religious groups on key issues to persuade people to their way of thinking. Probably the most potent representation of this scare-mongering context comes in a radio show on which the DJ utters his would-be immortal words, ‘intolerance is a beautiful thing’.

But the really amazing point of the documentary arrives in the final reels. This seems finally to give a strong indication of Kaye’s opinion on the issue after successfully managing to create an aura of subjectivity throughout. We watch a women come in to receive an abortion, taking her through the entire process of questioning the decision to the procedure and then the post-operation emotional drain. The sequence is devastatingly effective and moving and speaks volumes in the final images where the woman breaks down while maintaining that it was the right choice, if the absolute hardest. Among the key arguments of pro-lifers is that women undergoing an abortion do so without thought and with a callousness that betrays the preciousness of life. Any rational person who watches this woman’s experience and doesn’t understand the difficulty of the choice made has no place in the debate.

My own views on abortion and choice are likely as complicated and difficult as any. The right to choose is central to any argument but on both sides of the debate exist gargantuan grey areas that engulf the few black lines. If I’m to place down a one sentence manifesto, my belief is that abortion should be categorically legal and the choice placed in the hands of the men and women personally involved in the situation. I am fully aware though that even this holds grey areas for debate and argument and point the strategy to be flawed. My belief holds true though for the most simplistic of ideological and political lessons, that every political decision on which the institutional choice impacts the lives of citizens is never perfect. The nature of humanity is to disagree, to debate and to be different in our views and therefore, with all these conflicting and equally fundamental ideologies battling, there will never be a time when all is agreed.


One Response

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  1. Rev. Spitz said, on March 25, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Paul Hill did not perform violent murder. He stopped the murderer, the babykilling abortionist, from murdering the babies that were scheduled to be murdered that day. Paul Hill’s actions were justified and right.

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