Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lake of Fire: C (revised)

I'm trying to get through Tony Kaye's documentary Lake of Fire this evening. I've read some positive reviews and wanted to see it when it was in town a few months ago, but I'm finding it a grueling DVD to get through.

At about two and a half hours, it's an excessively long documentary that doesn't offer much new to the abortion debate. The monochromatic video was an interesting way to distance the viewer from the many super-close-up face interviews and yelling protesters. Strangely, the pro-life activists seem even more cartoonish and creepy with only the texture of their caked-on make-up visible in the black & white footage. Maybe the documentary was intended to be a primer for future historians, foreign audiences, or possibly extraterrestrial conquerors. However, few people are unaware of the rhetoric of conservative Christian pro-lifers and liberal pro-choicers.

The movie predictably displays the outrageous statements from activists on both sides of the issue. There are graphic scenes of an abortion, an abortion doctor reassembling fetus parts, a disturbing photograph of a woman who died from an self-abortion attempt, and photographs of murdered abortion providers. While the abortion footage is disturbing, I can't help but think the documentary is a little too late to be groundbreaking. The harsh reality of the abortion procedure has already been depicted (or at least suggestively portrayed) in movies and shows (Vera Drake, Six Feet Under's "Twilight" episode, The Sarah Silverman Program, etc.) The final powerful scene does salvage much of the movie and cuts through all the rhetoric by following a woman through an abortion and her feelings afterward.

Some reviews mention that Kaye still has not made up his mind on the issue. However, nearly all the seemingly academic, philosophical experts Kaye presents seem to lean toward giving people the individual choice to make up their own minds. There is plenty of material to offend people on both sides of the issue, but the anti-abortionists are portrayed as primarily fringe, religious fundamentalists while pro-choicers are more often seen as well-spoken professionals. Although pro-choicers are not free from some outrageous statements as well. A naked rock singer implied that conservative Christians are racists and a clinic activist suggested that pro-life male protesters have a fetish for watching sexually-active women enter abortion clinics.

The movie was released in 2006, but it seems most of the footage and interviews were gathered in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. It's interesting seeing conservative Christians in 1990s clothing expressing disillusionment with the Bill Clinton administration and the homosexual movement. (The movie reminded me of my own strange conservative Christian life in the mid-1990s. I wonder how many conservative Christians in the movie have had journeys similar to mine since then.)

Most of the documentary predates the election of election of George Bush Jr. so its politically nostalgic to a time before religious/political conservatives held the White House. It would have been more compelling and interesting to me to see follow-up interviews. What do the pro-lifers in the movie think now that have had a two-term, pro-life, conservative Christian president who had a cooperative congress during much of his administration? Pro-lifers have certainly scored some major victories from the US Supreme Court and yet their movement seems to have stagnated. While still powerful, the religious right has lost some of it influence and there seems to be a growing backlash within conservative Christian communities against the narrow focus on anti-abortion and anti-gay rights issues. As mentioned by one commentater, pro-lifers need pro-choice politicians in power in order to unify support from political/religious conservatives.

(06/12/2008 REVISED AND EXPANDED A FEW TIMES: 'Cuz I wanted to.)

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