Not black and white, not wrong or right

‘American History X’ director explores the abortion debate in a stirring documentary

by Kara Nesvig

If we could reimagine our world as a Norman Rockwell painting, our nighttime news would look a whole lot different than it does today. There would be no intolerance, no hatred, no murder; the news would run wonderful stories about miraculous recoveries, helpful discoveries and moments of happiness large and small.

“Lake of Fire”

PLAYING AT: Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. S.E., Minneapolis

But wake up and smell the roses: Lines have been drawn, splitting our nation into opposing, divided halves on countless issues and causing unrest throughout the country. The swirl of controversy surrounding abortion and the right to life is one of the hottest-button topics of them all, and British director Tony Kaye, best known for the controversial film “American History X,” proves this with his exhaustive 2006 documentary “Lake of Fire.”

We follow Kaye on his journey, which begins in 1993 during the liberal, abortion-rights Clinton years and brings us into the present with the staunchly anti-abortion Bush administration. Both sides are equally represented by an assortment of scholars, preachers, doctors and politicians. Because of this, one cannot call “Lake of Fire” a biased film, though the arguments of the more devout Christians tend to shock and offend in their extremity. One man claims anyone uttering the word “God” in a derogatory manner should be killed for blasphemy. Another imagines hell as a proverbial “lake of fire” and proclaims that all “baby killers” will go straight there and drown in anguish for all eternity.

This is not to say that there are no reasonable arguments for the preservation of life, however. Many respected scholars and critics express their own qualms about abortion. In the midst, anti-abortion groups clash with abortion rights advocates, sometimes violently, and the viewer is placed right in the thick of things.

But beware, because “Lake of Fire” is certainly not for the faint of heart. Kaye does not shy away from anything in his eye-opening, no-holds-barred look at the abortion conflict.

The viewer is witness to two abortion procedures and no detail, no matter how small, is overlooked. The tiny feet and hands a doctor assembles, post-abortion, are horrifying reminders that this is not simply a political issue, but an impossibly hard decision and an emotional heavyweight. The film is shot in black and white, blanketing every scene in an eerie melancholy. It’s a wise choice on Kaye’s part due to the graphic content, but it also cleverly addresses the murky waters of the issue. Things are never so easily laid out in black and white, but rather in varying shades of gray.

Kaye has certainly done his homework. Even the woman responsible for the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in the United States, plays a part. Norma McCorvey, better known to the American public as Jane Roe, found herself struggling with her decision and turned toward the anti-abortion movement late in her life. It seems the anti-abortion group gave her the closure and support that the abortion rights camp failed to lend, and hearing the tale of such an important figure and her radical change of heart is engrossing.

Abortion is such a touchy subject that often we find it difficult to address, but Kaye refuses to tiptoe on hot coals; he confronts each and every right and wrong, demon and angel.

A Minneapolis woman plays a small but incredibly moving role in the finale of the film; 28 years old and pregnant, she is documented having her fourth

abortion. This does not make the process any easier – her emotional struggles are written clearly on her face. Hearing her tumultuous life story and watching as she grapples with her decision, she absolutely breaks your heart.

“Lake of Fire” is not an easy film to watch. It’s riveting, but it’s difficult. No matter your opinion on the situation, you will find things you disagree with. You’re guaranteed to be offended, and that’s what makes “Lake of Fire” so affecting. The film has the ability to make the viewer question his or her beliefs, to re-examine political and religious standpoints. You find yourself wondering where evil truly lies, where the line between church and state should be drawn, whether a politician has the right to lay claim to a woman’s body and when life truly begins. These are questions nearly impossible to answer, but “Lake of Fire” forces you to think, discuss and formulate opinions.

Though it’s by no means an enjoyable popcorn-and-soda picture, it is absolutely, undeniably powerful. No matter your religious or political beliefs, it is necessary viewing for any young American citizen with the power to cast a vote that could end up rewriting history.