After a nine-year hiatus from feature filmmaking since he infamously battled with New Line over the cut of American History X, Tony Kaye returns to the big screen with this epic documentary on the issue of abortion in the United States. Work on Lake of Fire actually predates his previous movie, with footage going back almost two decades. Although the film is indulgently long, redundant and guilty of veering off-topic, the time and attention spent on the project is at times overwhelming but ultimately the most thorough examination of the topic to date.
Along with Kay’s masterful compositions, effulgent black and white cinematography elevates the material over typical documentary filmmaking. It also tempers the effect of the graphic content, a technique also used by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill. Most significantly, the choice serves as an aesthetic manifestation of the film’s overall theme—that the abortion debate is not black and white but a palette of grays.
Kaye includes extremes on both sides—one religious zealot accuses pro-choicers of being Satan worshippers who barbeque aborted fetuses, while a bioethicist wonders where to draw the line along the continuum between skin cells shed during a routine hand-washing and a three-year-old child. Ultimately, though, Lake of Fire, more than any other analysis, devastatingly demonstrates the impossibility of compromise. For pro-lifers, abortion is murder. The pro-choice movement cites the danger of illegal procedures; the effectiveness of financial freedom, education and medical care for women in decreasing both pregnancies and abortion; and any number of more pressing problems. It’s heart versus head in an impossible debate with which the country’s greatest minds—Alan Dershowtiz and Noam Chomsky among them—continue to grapple.
Solidifying this ambiguity is the film’s final moments, in which the audience follows a Minnesota woman on the day she gets an abortion. As the camera lingers in the extreme close-up used throughout—at first irritatingly, then arrestingly—her pain, exhaustion and inner turmoil evince the sociopolitical miasma of the issue at large. —
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Tony Kaye
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 152 min.
Release date: October 3, 2007 NY