Thursday, April 24, 2008
Lake Of Fire
After hearing about Tony Kaye's follow-up to the terrific American History X, I was intrigued. It was a close to three hour documentary about both sides of the abortion issue called Lake Of Fire, and it was garnering a lot of attention and critical acclaim. So finally, two years later, I was able to get a copy of the DVD and watch it.
The documentary is a harrowing and exhausting look at the arguments on both sides of the abortion debate, and some arguments from the centre as well. Featuring such famous speakers as Noam Chomsky and some anti-abortion activists as Paul Hill, and even Jane Roe herself, Norma McCorvey, this film touches on practically every possible argument one can make for or against abortion.
It's shot in gorgeous black and white, a huge palette of grays, on purpose, as to show the complexity of the debate. It's probably Noam Chomsky who sums up the argument perfectly, in that preserving life is a legitimate value, but swatting a mosquito is also a legitimate value, and values are only values as contingents. They only exist in relation to conditions and other values. He's at the centre of the debate, and says nothing definitive about his position.
On the other hand, more than one person gives their opinion, often with rhetoric or vitriol or self-righteousness, people from both sides. Each political side or religious side gets their fair share, and with varying degree of eloquence and sanity, make their point.
A terrific motif that comes up again and again is the power of language. Abortion debates often come down to the definition of abortion, whether or not it's murder or if it's simply the abortion of a cluster of cells. People in the documentary comment on the power of propaganda, used by both sides. There's talk of "killing little boys and girls" and there's talk of "terminating the fetus". Each side uses specific language and buzz phrases to make their points. It's interesting, and maybe not so coincidental that famous linguist Chomsky summarizes the debate so perfectly.
There's people who are "pro-choice" who waver on their position, based on pictures of their own unborn daughters. There's people who stumble from the hands of God in light of their own personal conditions.
Tony Kaye expertly gives each side a chance, and the end result is not a definitive argument for or against abortion, but rather a definitive statement on the arguments themselves.
When I started watching this film, I was wrestling with my own political beliefs about the abortion issue. I don't mean that I had wavered from my unflappable belief in the right to choose, but rather, can one discuss such a film without bringing in their own opinions. Can a review such as this be unbiased? Do you not cling to one side of the debate rather than the other?
I kept being taken aback by the ignorance and the poison spewed by people of my own ideological background. These people would say the most vile and stupid things about their "opponents", rather than try and focus on the issue as an anatomical or biological issue. And often, the opposite side would come up with something so convincing, that I had to stop and think, if only for a moment.
It's a testament to Tony Kaye's skills as a film-maker that such a profound and nuanced statement can be made. What is at the heart of the fight for life or for choice is language and perception. What is also presented more than once, is that each ideology is "right". This debate cannot be won by political rhetoric or by force.
I can't say that my position has changed based on seeing this film. I still believe in the right to choose. What I can say is that this film is heart wrenching, emotional, beautiful and tragic and I would recommend it strongly to anybody with an opinion on the issue.