Strong real-life, pro-life theme makes new movie a must see
By David DiCerto
In his prophetic encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Blessed John Paul II perceived that transforming our culture of death requires more than intellectual argument; what is needed is a conversion of consciences “with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life.”
This appeal to the heart and mind, and the assertion that every life is beautiful resonates throughout the pro-life drama, “October Baby,” which opens on March 23rd in about 400 theaters nationwide. It is an earnest and memorable movie that will no doubt reach many hearts in a nation where nearly everybody knows somebody who has been touched by abortion.
Although the plot is not perfectly woven, and the narrative sometimes descends into melodrama, it’s easy to pardon these bumps when the story itself is so important to tell. The acting, uneven in parts, is still several notches above most faith-based productions, helped by the skills of some known commodities like John Schneider and fellow TV veteran Jasmine Guy.
Whatever its technical flaws, this is a movie with a big heart, and a message that can change lives. Conceived by Christian filmmakers, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, and inspired by the true-life story of “abortion survivor,” Gianna Jessen, “October Baby” gives a voice to the silent victim of abortion – the child in the womb.
In this case, that voice belongs to Hannah Lawson (newcomer Rachel Hendrix), a college freshman with a puzzling medical history. When the curtain rises, literally, on Hannah, she experiences a seizure triggered by a panic attack while performing in a school production.
The episode prompts a visit, with her parents, to her physician, who suggests some “early trauma” as the culprit for all her health and emotional woes, including suicidal depression.
At this point, her dad (Schneider) – who is a doctor as well – reluctantly opens a bombshell secret he and his wife have been meaning to reveal at the right time. They had adopted Hannah after her birth-mom had tried to abort her.
From that point, the narrative, somewhat awkwardly, switches into road-movie mode, as Hannah takes off for spring break with her college pals, including nice-guy, childhood best friend Jason (Jason Burkey). Along the way, Hannah and Jason – who harbor feelings for each other but remain chaste – break off from the pack and set out to find Hannah’s biological mother.
Abortion is obviously a delicate subject to deal with on screen, but the film, much like “Bella” (2006), maintains a disarmingly redemptive and hopeful tone throughout, putting a human face on an issue often defined by divisive rhetoric.
That’s not to say it’s naïve. It calls our culture on its tendency to sterilize the truth behind guilt-absolving euphemisms, by which unborn children become “blobs of cells” or “non-viable tissue.”
Noting the danger of this Orwellian doublespeak, Guy, who plays a former nurse at the hospital where Hannah’s birth mother underwent her botched abortion, states remorsefully, “When you hear things, somehow you start to believe them.”
Having witnessed the consequences of those lies firsthand, she adds with chilling and ominous economy, “There were things that happened there – terrible things.”
In that same pivotal scene with Hannah – the most powerful in the film – Guy cuts to the heart of the matter when she, as if seeking absolution from Hannah, tearfully confesses, “I didn’t see no tissue – I just saw the face of a child.”
(Parents should note that during the exchange Guy describes the grisly procedure, including mention of dismemberment.)
While the movie doesn’t hide its pro-life allegiance, it doesn’t vilify women who have abortions, compassionately pointing to forgiveness as the key to healing. In fact, actress Shari Rigby, who plays Hannah’s birth-mother Cindy, has told her personal story of her own abortion and how playing this role helped her to find forgiveness in God’s mercy. (The movie’s website features a video of Rigby telling her story.)
Though Hannah identifies herself as Baptist, the Catholic Church is cast in a particularly positive light during a pastoral exchange with a priest. The scene, which takes place in a cathedral, has a mild evangelical flavoring, but to their credit, the Erwin brothers refrain from the kind of sermonizing that would have undercut what is a really wonderful moment of hope and forgiveness. (Catholic resources for abortion counseling and healing are provided on the website.)
Also welcome is the refreshing portrayal of Hannah’s parents as good, well-adjusted role models, in whose lives faith plays a central part. Schneider, in particular, brings an appealing blend of strength, compassion and vulnerability to fatherhood that rings true.
In one scene, a character tells Hannah that, “To be human, is to be beautifully flawed.” Perhaps the screenwriter was trying to convey that imperfections don’t disqualify one’s inherent value – one could say the same for this film. Whatever its shortcomings, given the prevailing culture, when it comes to “October Baby,” – to paraphrase Samuel Johnson – one marvels not that such an unabashedly pro-life movie is made well, but that it is made at all!
David DiCerto is a Catholic film critic and co-host of “Reel Faith” on NET TV.