COLUMBIA – Containing what its director calls “probably the most controversial shot ever shown in cinemas,” a documentary intended to chronicle Americans’ views on abortion over a 15-year span is now finding its way into movie theaters.
“Lake of Fire,” named for the fiery hell which some in the film say awaits those involved in abortion, will be shown in Columbia Wednesday night as part of the “Religion and Politics” film series, hosted by MU’s Center on Religion and the Professions. The free screening will take place at 7 p.m. in Fisher Auditorium.
The film, which director Tony Kaye began shooting in 1992, has received notice for its striking visuals, including a still image of a woman who died after an illegal abortion. However, the most unsettling part of the film takes place in the aftermath of an abortion. In a recent review, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis describes the scene: “... The doctor sorts through a tray of fetal parts, including a perfect-looking tiny hand and a foot, to make sure that nothing has been left inside the patient, which might lead to poisoning or even death. The doctor then holds up the severed fetal head. One eerily bulging eye looks as if it’s staring into the camera and somehow at us.”
Despite the graphic nature of some of the scenes – which have garnered the most attention, Debra Mason, director of the Center on Religion and the Professions, said “Lake of Fire” has something to contribute to the discourse about abortion.
“Just because it’s going to be controversial doesn’t mean we should avoid it. To me, more knowledge, even if it’s painful or disturbing is better than lack of knowledge,” Mason said.
The film’s political relevance and its attempt to portray both sides of the issue were among the factors that led Mason and her staff to put “Lake of Fire” on the film series’ schedule.
“There are very few documentaries or films that attempt to show abortion from both pro and con positions or, rather, try to look at abortion dispassionately, if that’s at all possible,” she said. “And so in that regard, we felt it was unusual and really merited a showing.”
“Lake of Fire” enters the fray over abortion at a decisive moment in the more than 30-year debate over the procedure. Conservative Christian leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have expressed their displeasure that the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani is leading the pack of Republican presidential candidates and have discussed drafting an alternative third-party candidate. In Missouri, Gov.Matt Blunt established a task force last month designed to study what The Associated Press called the “physical, emotional, social and economic effects of abortion.”
Reactions to the film have been mixed. Some critics have praised “Lake of Fire” for its balance while others have called its portrayals of activists on both sides as incomplete or inaccurate. New York Magazine’s David Edelstein called it a “sprawling, scary, nearly unbearable film” that is “more important than ever,” while the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips dubbed it “a work of profound anguish.”
No matter which side of the abortion debate you fall on, Mason said the film is not about persuasion, but enlightenment.
“This comes down to being more than a political litmus test,” she said. “It’s about individual lives. And that’s what I think sometimes gets lost on all sides. We’re not showing this film to change anybody’s minds; we don’t have a position one way or another that we want somebody’s minds changed regarding this. As journalists, we want stories to be told, and we think this is an important story to be told.”