October Baby is a remarkable work of art, a ground-breaking film that sympathetically introduces the human beings involved in a very sad but ultimately uplifting story about abortion and adoption.
The film begins with a sun-drenched evocation of childhood, followed by a clever twist on an old-fashioned damsel-in-distress sequence: Hannah, a nineteen-year-old college student, collapses in full view of a crowd of spectators. While in the hospital for observation she makes two dramatic discoveries: first, that her devout Baptist parents, Dr. and Mrs. Lawson, had adopted her, and then that the multiple health problems she has suffered from since infancy have a common cause. She was born prematurely after a failed attempt at abortion.
Reeling from the impact of these revelations, Hannah reacts hurtfully, as many young people do when they discover that life is unfair. At the invitation of an old friend, she decides to join a half a dozen other students who set off in an antique van to spend spring break in New Orleans. On the way, Hannah plans to visit her birthplace, Mobile, Alabama, to find some answers. Meanwhile the hapless travelers have a brush with the law. The gently comic scenes between the childhood friends are sweet, and there is sly humor in the quirks and foibles of the secondary characters.
The challenging themes of October Baby are offset by the gorgeous cinematography and the evocative but unobtrusive musical sound track. The writer and director, brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, had previously collaborated on several Christian music videos, and they deploy their talents skillfully and sensitively in their first feature-length film.
The writing is extraordinary; in particular the intergenerational dynamics consistently ring true. The decision to cast very young actors playing their age adds to the realism and freshness, but occasionally their performances are not up to the demands of the script. Rachel Hendrix, who is onscreen for much of the film, vividly depicts the insecurity and bewilderment of her pensive, aspiring, and sometimes impulsive character. Her graceful beauty quickly wins the viewers’ sympathy and compensates for moments when she portrays pain and anger less persuasively, especially during the climactic scene in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
On the other hand, the director was wise to exercise restraint. The character Hannah is an inexperienced adolescent on a difficult emotional quest, not an opera diva. In several long sequences, she watches from behind her defenses and listens to older people who have experienced sorrows and losses of their own. It is to be hoped that the audience, too, learns a few life lessons along the way: for example, that confronting painful truths in charity can heal and strengthen.
Commercial film distributors wanted nothing to do with this film, and only the generosity of several Christian donors made it possible to arrange a limited release starting on Friday, March 23, 2012. As with other independent films such as The Passion and Thérèse, the number of theaters that book the film will depend on the success of private promotional efforts. A large turn-out for showings during the initial weekend might significantly increase the number of potential viewers.
I heartily but cautiously recommend October Baby. All of the intersecting themes work well for those who already hold pro-life convictions. For them, attending this PG-13 film will be an inspiring event and an opportunity to give silent but eloquent witness by their support of it. Personally, however, I would not recommend inviting a relative who is not pro-life or a non-Christian acquaintance to go to the film, unless you have seen it yourself first or have read a favorable review by a woman who knows the pain and sorrow of abortion.
Ten percent of the movie’s profits will be donated to the Every Life is Beautiful Fund, which helps women in crisis pregnancies and encourages adoption. A trailer, theater listings and tickets are available at www.octoberbabymovie.net, along with links for those who would like to promote the film by using the social media or by forming an October Baby Action Squad.
Michael J. Miller is chairman of the Respect Life committee at a parish in suburban Philadelphia.
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