Director Tony Kaye, the director of American History X, gives us another lesson in American history. Only this time it's not about racism, but a thorough and balanced argument, both for and against, with both religious and secular points of view on the very hot topic of abortion.
LAKE OF FIRE does not offer the director's subjectivity or bias. It's a black-and-white film, funded by himself, shot mainly himself, yet Tony Kaye does not make any one side out as evil or bad. He does not spend more time with one side than the other. He doesn't offer just a bunch of philosophical or ideological types as his interviews.
No, he offers real people with honest opinions that are reasonable. These are real people affected by this issue. You never hear from Tony Kaye nor see him. There is no narration. This film is comprehensive and totally objective, yet never boring but instead thought-provoking, emotionally powerful, smartly balanced and cinematically superb.
Reportedly, Tony Kaye has been working on this film for 15 years, which means this project pre-dates American History X, meaning this movie was clearly a passion project for Kaye. And, if nothing else, American History X proved Kaye does have a penchant for telling narrative fiction. This work of non-fiction, however, is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Sometimes when people talk about an issue such as this one, they don't really talk about it. What they do instead is dance. They dance around it with euphemisms, dance with the intent of distancing themselves from the ugliness of the topic. Gladly, Tony Kaye does nothing of the sort. Instead, he hits you straight with the issue.
The film is bookended with South Dakota's 2006 abortion bill, which certainly brought out supporters and protesters on the streets with signs and posters. But Kaye takes us beyond that. He takes us deeper. He takes us back to the beginning of his journey, to Washington, D.C. in 1993, where Kaye shows us a cemetery filled with tiny little white crosses.
The movie opens with showing the viewers these tiny little white crosses and then showing us what abortion really is by showing us how it actually happens. Kaye takes us directly into an abortion clinic and into the actual surgery room and graphically shows us an actual abortion, which occurs right in front of our eyes, close-ups of everything, and I mean everything. Kaye doesn't hold back. He displays it all right up to the actual dead fetus, immediately after it's been ripped to pieces out of the woman's womb.
It's shocking and gross, but I thank Tony Kaye for having the courage to go the distance. But just as Kaye can be shocking visually, he can also be shocking verbally, verbally by way of which sound bytes he chooses from his interviews. Kaye spoke with a myriad of people, each one more interesting than the last and their words solely compose and drive this piece. He interviews an atheist who is against abortion to Alan Dershowvitz who says, "Everybody's right." He also interviews Bible thumpers who say we have a Holocaust at hand in our country as well as Norma McCorvey, the woman who was personally involved in the original Roe v. Wade court case.
Most of the interviews have the subjects looking directly into the camera, making the power of what they say even more powerful. But, despite having a bunch of people give us their opinions on the abortion issue, Tony Kaye does maintain intrigue by following the progression of two murder cases, one that happened in 1993, which probably prompted the project in the first place, and one that happened a year later.
In March of '93, 47-year-old David Gunn was shot three times in the back after he got out of his car at the Pensacola Women's Medical Services in Florida. He later died in surgery at a nearby hospital. On July 29, 1994, 69-year-old John Bayard Britton was fatally shot at the Pensacola Ladies Center with a shotgun, along with two other people who were escorting him.
Two different individuals killed these men, but another man, a former Klansman and minister named John Burt, was the one who was blamed for both the slayings. Through an examination of the people and the climate at the time, a fascinating portrait is painted. Is Burt responsible? If you haven't heard of the particulars involving him, I won't tell you, but it does become a very interesting question posed.
And, it's there just to let you know that there's horror to be found on both sides. Kaye depicts that wonderfully and poignantly and with a tone that is highly respectful and highly studied and highly meaningful. I cannot say enough amazing things about this documentary. It's one for the film archives to be preserved forever and ever.
Five Stars out of Five
Unrated but for mature audiences only
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 32 mins.