Directed by: Tony Kaye
Premise: A documentary on the abortion debate, interviewing individuals on both sides of the issue.
What Works: Lake of Fire is an extraordinary piece of documentary filmmaking. As a technical piece of work, the film is well conceived and beautifully done, shot in black and white, which of course ends up gray on the screen, suggesting the moral ambiguity of the topic. It is also edited exceptionally well, using sounds and images together and in some cases against one another to foil oversimplified interpretations of the subject. Lake of Fire accomplishes something that seemed impossible: an evenly balanced portrayal of the abortion debate. Rather than coming at the issue from one side or another, Lake of Fire is about the debate itself, including academic and legal voices like Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, Roe v. Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey, and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry. The film is not easy to watch; it includes footage of abortions being performed as well as crime scene photos of doctors who have been murdered because of their profession. And although this content is gristly, it is never used in an exploitative way. Rather, the film uses these images to keep audiences and the rhetoric exuded by the commentators from slipping into abstraction. Whether it is the arguments in favor of choice or those who advocate the execution of abortionists, Lake of Fire links the rhetoric to the actions that follow from that rhetoric, and as such this documentary captures a snap shot of a cultural debate that has been distorted and in some cases has spiraled violently out of control.
What Doesn’t: Lake of Fire demands a lot from its audience. This is not a film that can be viewed lazily. While that is not a fault of the film, audiences should be aware that the filmmakers seek to challenge their viewers and those who are true believers on either side of the debate might struggle with the piece.
Bottom Line: Lake of Fire is a terrific documentary although it is unsettling and requires a great deal of intellectual engagement by the viewer. It is an extremely important film that ought to be more widely seen, especially by those active in either side of the abortion debate.
Episode: #242 (June 7, 2009)