Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lake of Fire (2006, Tony Kaye)

If anything can be said to be the defining domestic policy issue of our time, it's abortion. This is due in no small part to the fact that it opens so many other cans of worms- religion, science, family, women's rights, and personal freedom, among others. While most films (fiction and documentary) about the abortion debate in America limit themselves by sticking to a particular political agenda, Tony Kaye's searing film- more than a decade in the making- approaches the issue from all sides. Kaye's film is nothing if not comprehensive, covering in its 152 minutes everything from the scientific debate over when the fetus should truly be considered a living being, to the gory details that many pro-choice advocates tend to shy away from while their pro-life counterparts use to draw attention to abortion's unpleasant reality. By examining both sides of the argument, Lake of Fire is neither pro- or anti-abortion, but it's definitely anti-zealot, devoting a good deal of attention to the brutal slayings of doctors who perform abortion, which in the eyes of the film only serve to intimidate other doctors and to create martyrs for the pro-life cause. But Kaye never has an axe to grind, instead training his often pitiless yet humane camera on his subjects with a great deal of patience and curiosity. In doing so, Lake of Fire illuminates what may be the only reasonable method of trying to resolve the abortion debate- not shouting, but listening. To take time to hear the beliefs of others with an open mind rather than simply propping ourselves up with our prejudices. To learn to see the complexity of the debate, rather than operating simply in shades of black and white, like children or, yes, zealots. And to try to understand the women- the conscious centers of the abortion debate- rather than simply demonizing them. Lake of Fire- at last, the great film this issue deserves- does all these things and more, which makes it not only the year's best documentary, but its most empathetic film as well. Rating: 9 out of 10.

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