Politics & Policy

Lake of Bias

No choice but pro-choice.

An AFP review that emerged yesterday of the movie Lake of Fire suggests that the movie might just be the thing we’ve all been waiting for.

“The concept was to make a film about the debate over the issue of abortion,” says its director “but to make it a non-propagandist way and to create a kind of war of words.”

But ask him where the name comes from, and you might start to smell a set-up. “Lake of fire” is one pro-lifer’s description of what awaits abortionists.

The “non-propagandist” director in this case is Tony Kaye. He started as a music video director (he did a classic video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and an edgy video for the classic Johnny Cash) and TV commercial creator. He dipped his foot into cinema with 1998’s American History X. But that film became more famous for the director’s bizarre attempt to have his name removed from it than it did for the examination of skin-heads he made it to be. (He wanted his name to be changed to Alan Smithee, the perennial Hollywood pseudonym for an embarrassed director. When that was rejected, he tried “Humpty Dumpty.” But the film says “Tony Kaye.”)

Depending on who you talk to, Kaye is a mad genius (Marlon Brando cozied up to him by saying, “I hear that you’re as crazy as I am”) or simply a nut (one star was scared away from a Kaye project when the director showed up at a meeting dressed as Osama Bin Laden for no apparent reason).

But in yesterday’s AFP article, he says he made his new movie (over a 15-year time span) “to create this kind of a weave where we really explore the issue without taking any sides.”

“It’s very easy for me to do that because… I don’t really have a point of view. I’m not a politician or a commentator,” he adds.

This noble and enlightened posture sounds very impressive. Impressive, that is, until you stop to think about it. What kind of person claims to have no point of view on abortion, and yet spends 15 years filming different sides of the question? And what kind of person spends 15 years filming pro-lifers and comes up with the kind of material reviewers describe in Lake of Fire?

An earlier review of the movie, by Stephen Whitty of the Newark, N.J. Star-Ledger, described some of it:

Yes, the anti-abortion crusaders are here, and few of them come off well (although Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff talks, with some articulate insistence, about how human life is sacred at any stage)…Too many go off on tirades against the ‘pagans’ and ‘sodomites’ arrayed against them. Others reveal a variety of frightening links, from the KKK to anti-government militias to mad bombers.

Well, now. It would seem that the documentary is a skewed and twisted look at the pro-life movement. Mix and mingle at the March for Life this January, and see how many people you can find with links to the KKK, anti-government militias, or mad bombers.

But perhaps Kaye, in his edgy way, is focusing on the fringe of both movements? Whitty suggests that he is doing just that. But listen closely as he warns …

“Kaye still remains too much the provocateur — the punk-rock pro-choicer and the mad anti-abortionist who claims to have seen a Satanic baby-barbecue add nothing to this debate except noise.”

So, Kaye provides “balance” by presenting a guy whose pro-life philosophy resembles a Robutussin-overdose-fueled nightmare on the one hand, vs. — a guy who shares the director’s musical tastes on the other.

The baby barbecue guy sounds like he would get kicked out of an Operation Rescue meeting. The pro-abortion guy sounds, well, not so bad — even like Kaye may have originally interviewed him as a potential music director for the film.

The image most often associated with the film in stories is a grim reaper with a skeleton mask sporting the word abortion on his chest and waving a naked baby doll in his hand.

You know — the typical sidewalk counselor uniform we pro-lifers like to wear to the local Planned Parenthood on Saturday mornings.

You can hear the self-congratulatory voice behind the words of the director, and the news reporters who are lauding his efforts: “Let’s be really honest about abortion, for a change. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s admit that abortion really is tough on women, and let’s admit that pro-lifers really are violent nut-cases.”

Well, everyone already knew that abortion was tough on women. Most of us have seen our own children — or our families’, friends’ or officemates’ — first on ultrasound pictures and later in person. We all know children who were named in the womb. Everyone talks about their unborn children, and no one talks about their abortions.

And all the media has ever taught us — from the TV show Without a Trace to the Nightly News with whomever — is that abortion foes are angry and nutty.

That said, we must laud Kaye for the most talked-about scene in the movie: It shows an actual abortion. You see body parts as the doctor assembles them on a table.

And Kaye’s words are revealing:

“From the moment I started making the film I thought I have to show an abortion, which at the time had never been done before.”

That’s right. You see lots of bloody hospital procedures on Grey’s Anatomy each week, you see grisly autopsies on CSI nearly every day, but we have never once seen the most common surgical procedure performed on women under 40 — not even on Nova.

That might help the abortion debate.

But Lake of Fire comes to a different conclusion. That conclusion is voiced by Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, according to the AFP article:

“Everybody is right when it comes to the issue of abortion,” he says in the film. “In the end human beings have to decide. In the end each of us has to decide using whatever resources we have available to us: religion, our mind, our sense of what is right and wrong in society.”

In other words, the grand conclusion of this ground-breaking non-propagandist documentary is: Believe whatever you want to believe, but whatever you believe, you had better be “pro-choice.”

Tom Hoopes is executive editor of the National Catholic Register and, with his wife, April, is editorial co-director of Faith & Family magazine.

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