As the presidential campaign season got underway four years ago, a Hollywood documentary about abortion hit the theaters. Lake of Fire was critically acclaimed but was a lot less than a box office smash. I watched it again recently, and am glad I did. The film is an exceptionally thoughtful — and volatile — consideration of both sides. And it is now available on You Tube.
Lake of Fire was many years in the making, although much of it was filmed in the 90′s when the first wave of the assassination of doctors and attendant controversies were making headlines. Director Tony Kaye interviewed leading antiabortion militants and murderers as well as such victims of their crimes as nurse Emily Lyons, who was maimed by a pipe-bomb. Kaye unflinchingly shows burning clinics and the bodies of dead doctors. He interviewed a very wide range of people — as well as some expert talking heads, including among others, Fran Kissling, Noam Chomsky, Nat Hentoff, Kate Michaelman and the late Professor Dallas Blanchard. I was and am deeply honored to be among them.
The film opens with a discussion of the then-recently passed ban on all abortions in South Dakota. The bill was later overturned by the voters in a referendum. If that opening now seems a bit dated, the film could just as easily now open with the massive sets of restrictions on access to abortion in many states. And if the murder of doctors in the mid-90′s seems historical, those sections could easily be replaced by the story of the assassination of Dr. Tiller. I think it stands up well.
People who are serious about understanding the dynamic role of the Religious Right in America owe it to themselves to check it out. A few words of warning. Lake of Fire can be hard to watch. It may force you out of your comfort zone in considering things you had rather not no matter which side you are on. Additionally, the graphic depiction of abortions can be hard to watch for many people. (Personally, I did not find it so.) Shocking though the film can be in its many dimensions, it is not in any way gratuitous. I wrote at the time:
The film deliberately fits none of the well established narratives about abortion. It is apparently such a powerful, well-made film that even at two and a half hours, reviewers say amazingly enough — it’s not too long. The film is shot in black and white in part, Kaye says, because with this issue, there are only shades of gray.
I wrote this based on what I had read, not based on having seen the film. But the reviewers were right. The film will hold your interest, and may even leave you wanting more.
Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.
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