Lake of Fire
Lake of Fire, the much-anticipated abortion documentary from British director Tony Kaye (his first film since 1998's searing American History X), has been touted as the "definitive" film about abortion. It has also been heralded as being aggressively even-handed—a documentary fair to both sides of the debate. Both of these claims, as it turns out, are a bit exaggerated. Lake of Fire is a remarkable film in some respects, but it is not groundbreaking or particularly definitive. And it is certainly not a fair take on the debate.
Coming in to the film, one expects (or at least hopes) that it will be a thoughtful consideration of the issues at stake in the ongoing abortion debate. Heaven knows we are desperate for a congenial sit-down in which all perspectives, arguments, and scientific evidence are presented and considered evenly—apart from personal attacks, cynicism and vitriol. But in this respect the film is a huge letdown—a wasted opportunity to truly consider the issue/act of abortion and its moral meaning.
Instead, we get a lopsided parade of talking heads in which well-mannered, intellectual liberals (Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, Peter Singer) represent the pro-choice viewpoint and firebrand country bumpkin fundamentalists represent the pro-life side. Defenders of the film might point out that the brunt of screen time goes to Christians and pro-lifers, which is true. But the majority of time devoted to the "pro-life" contingent centers upon the fringe extremists who picket and sometimes bomb abortion clinics, and occasionally assassinate abortion doctors. This is the face of the pro-life movement, as represented in Lake of Fire.
The messages proclaimed by the Christians in this film are predominantly "turn or burn" in nature. Shouts of "woe to this evil generation" resound, as do warnings to "get back to the Bible" or face eternal torment in the Lake of Fire (mentioned by more than one pro-lifer in reference to the destiny of "death-lover" pagans and pro-choicers).
Among the colorful-if-skewed collection of "Christians" in the film are John Burt, a Pensacola-based Klansman-turned-abortion zealot; Paul Hill, executed in 2003 for killing an abortion provider; and Eric Rudolph, Olympic park bomber/abortion clinic terrorist. These are people convinced that abortion doctors must be executed, along with homosexuals and other blasphemers (a category which includes, as one Christian in the film says, anyone who says "God d--- it"). These are people who earnestly pray for the death of abortion providers. As one particularly fiery Catholic priest remarks in the film: "We pray for the baby killer everyday. We want him to go to heaven … but we want him there SOON."
This is just a taste of the freak show that is Christianity in this film. Sadly, all the footage and events depicted are real. We shouldn't offer excuses for how bad Christianity looks in this film; we should only ask for forgiveness. Still, some blame must be laid at the feet of Tony Kaye, who purposefully avoids featuring any thoughtful, articulate, or moderate Christians in the film. Even the most peaceful and loving of the Christian figures in the film, such as Norma McCorvey ("Jane Roe," who converted to Christianity in 1995 and is now a pro-life activist), are presented as mindless pawns in a larger and more malicious march toward theocracy. Thus, instead of being a profound inquiry into one of the most difficult questions of our time, Kaye's film is simply an examination of the people most active in the debate—and all their psychological delusions and misguided neuroses.