Monday, January 02, 2006

A Distant Thunder

There's a fact about abortion that has been all but ignored by the secular press -- it messes with your head. So many studies have been done showing that women who have had abortions are more prone to suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse, abusing their living children, severe depression, etc., etc., that the lie has been shown of how good this procedure is for women. (See the excellent work documenting this by the Elliot Insitute.)

A new indepedently produced short from Disney DVD producer Jonathan Flora and his friend Kip Perry puts to film how much abortion messes with people's heads -- and with the lives of all of us. When I first heard about this film and learned that it was about partial-birth abortion, I was very afraid that, like all too many films before it, it was going to be pure, unvarnished, hoaky and ugly allegory. Billed as a courtroom drama and a spiritual/psychological thriller, it was just too easy for me to imagine another Christian flop like the Left Behind series. (Check out Thom Parham's article on Godspy on "Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?")

Fortunately, it is not. The use of symbolism in this very short film is so dense that you're left wondering if your head just got messed with. I was left with the questions of what just happened? Who is this lawyer? Why is her mother put on the stand when she really has nothing to do with the action in question? But the searching I was going through was not the searching one is left with after a bad film. No, this is a completely different type of searching -- the kind that one is left with after viewing a profound piece of art or reading a great piece of fiction. And I am longing for more. (There is talk of making a longer film, to which I say, "Go for it -- ASAP!)

I have told many people that a great film is a simple story well told. Films like Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon of the Spring or Babette's Feast are exceedingly well done; they're great but simple stories and they are well and beautfully told. We're left with obvious lessons for life without the obvious pitch of that lesson. Contrarily, A Distant Thunder is not a simple story because abortion is not a simple matter; the killing of the innocent is never a simple matter. But it is still a story well told -- and disturbingly so.

The producers do not fall into simple clich├Ęs. They don't portray the abortionist as an outwardly evil man. Indeed, he's a well-dressed man who is good looking and composed. The situation put on trial is not at all far-fetched and the producers and writers were brave for putting it out there. They make sure that everyday life for Ann, the main character, is shown as it typically is.

But that everyday life keeps getting interrupted with flashes of nightmares. As Ann's on an elevator, a big, bald man with empty eyes turns his gaze on her. A black and white image of a cocooned person wriggling its head uncontrollably. The grainy ultrasound image of an unborn child's spine. Blood coming out of the showerhead as she showers one morning.

But even her everyday life isn't that great. Her mother, whom she visits, is catatonicly stuck on a videotape of her daughter growing up and won't respond when Ann stops in.

There are two different versions of the film on the DVD -- a director's cut and a general audience friendly version. The main difference from what I can tell is that the director's cut has more of the shower scene; the other version simply shows her sitting in the shower crying without the blood coming out. They both last the same amount of time, so there are other differences which I didn't catch on first viewing.

While the producers go out of their way to say that this film is simply a story about partial-birth abortion and that they only wanted to get the facts of PBA out there and are not really taking sides, it's clear that they are wanting you to question all the assumptions made about PBA and abortion in general. When Ann, who is a prosecuting attorney, is questioning what the baby was thinking before she had her brains sucked out by the abortionist, this is not a question a "pro-choice" gal would even allow to enter her head. But the film makes you question -- it begins the process to get people thinking about what's going on. And that is absolutely essential for what many people think is simply an emotional and religious issue.

Abortion is a corporate nightmare shared by the entire human family and Jonathan Flora and Kip Perry have done a fantastic job of showing that nightmare to the rest of us. It's a job we wish didn't need to be done. But it did and one hopes this film will bring us one step closer to where we can all wake up from that nightmare sooner rather than later.


Cara T. said...

Please note, however, its detriments:

Poor acting, especially on the part of its lead, left me, an actress myself, wholly unconvinced.

Poor writing slipped in sensationalism where is was wholly unneeded, especially during Audrey's testimony ("her angelic little face").

A plot which, at the end of the day, made little sense. The twist was a good idea, but Ann's identity and the reality of the whole situation were undermined in a film that is meant to make the viewer face reality.

I hate horror/thriller flicks. I hate them because they scare the tar out of me and prevent me from sleeping. The effects were so bad I had no problem blowing them off.

Not that the film was impure in intent. They pose a very interesting question. But I would be far more convinced had it been based on a real-life case. Its the same as when pro-choicers talk about rape when in fact rape accounts for less than one percent of abortions. They spent too much time on "three inches" and not enough time on partial-birth abortion itself.

Mind you, I'm rabidly pro-life. The reason I watched the film was to preview it for the student-run pro-life group I co-head at my school. We're having an educational meeting. This just didn't seem worth the 35 minutes to me.

Please correct me, argue with me, convince me. I'd like to showcase its virtues.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

You are right that the film is rough around the edges. For instance, the lead didn't (and I'm not sure that she could) convince me that she was "a pro-choice gal."

However, I applaud them mightily for their attempt. And even though, like you, I'm not a fan of the horror genre (in fact, I hate it passionately), I thought that this was more than appropriate for the subject matter. Abortion is a horror and it should be presented in a way that shows that horror.

As for the plot, you're right that it makes little sense. But abortion makes even less sense. That's why I said that the film messes with your head, and why it is making people face reality.

Here are the questions that run through my mind -- Is Ann alive or dead? How is she interacting with all those other people? Why is her mother watching that video over and over again?

In a way, there's a certain sense of "It's a Wonderful Life" here, only as if it was played out in real life, not in the tame and more easily understood way that Frank Capra made it. That's no criticism of that film, by the way. Capra was showing in a rational way how irrational suicide is, and that's great.

But it seems to me that the Thunder producers are showing the bifurcated world that abortion is -- destroying what is and therefore destroying also the future of humanity -- and exploring how that might effect real life.

In C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, Alsan tells Lucy that she can never know what might have been, only what is and what was. He's right, of course. But we are always trying to figure out what might have been and Thunder, it seems to me, is trying to find out what might have been with one person's life had she been allowed to live.