Abortion is a complex, often galvanizing issue that in some ways divides this country more than any other. It takes a brave documentarian to take it on, so Tony Kaye gets points for bravery. He also gets points for trying to portray both points of view. But ultimately the issue overwhelms the film, and what “Lake of Fire” lacks most strikingly is any sort of organization to guide us through. As someone famous once said about something totally unrelated, It’s just one damn thing after another.
It feels a little shallow to talk about filmmaking techniques with such a tough issue on the table, but a few notes should be made. The whole thing is filmed in black and white. I’m not sure why. Kaye is fond of extreme, up the nose closeups of the people he’s interviewing. And, unlike a Michael Moore, he himself only appears once onscreen.
A lot of time is spent focused on Christian fundamentalists, so much so that you might think they are the only group in American that opposes abortion. They’re not, certainly, but they’re the most interesting to put on film. They willingly provide soundbites like the one that gives the film its title, and they’re the ones bombing clinics and assassinating doctors. They also tend to implicate homosexuals, which I found bizarre; there can’t be many members of the gay community getting abortions. “Lake of Fire” asks the fundamentalists what they think about abortion, then asks the pro-choice advocates and clinic workers what they think about the fundamentalists, and then backs way off and asks a series of professors and philosophers what they think about abortion. It gets hard at some point to take anybody very seriously; the philosophers are too removed, the clinic workers too defensive, and the fundamentalists too aggressive. Is there no reasonable voice in this debate? There certainly isn’t in this documentary.
- if you’re looking for someone to hate.
- if there’s an abortion bill on the ballot and you’re unsure of how to vote. (But do some other research, too.)
- if you think the world is made up of good people and bad people, and nobody in between.
- if pictures of mangled bodies will give you nightmares. (These aren’t CGI.)
- if you already feel strongly one way or the other about the abortion issue.