So it's surprising that the third act of the film (at the shelter) is dramatically the weakest. But none of the other residents of the shelter get fully drawn. Apple has a change of heart about a key decision near the end of the film, and it is so sudden that for the first time the script calls on Hudgens to deliver a dramatic monologue rather than talk naturally. This seems to come from nowhere—a fact reinforced by teens at a test screening, who interpreted Apple's decision as a rejection of her father, rather than an embrace of her life at the shelter.
But the movie remains deeply disturbing and emotionally compelling. The film's pro-life message is so strong in part because it is lived out rather than presented in the form of a rhetorical argument. Apple's inner moral compass overrides the devil's logic that the abortion is a necessary step towards a renewed relationship with her biological father.
Her father and step-mother are not presented as self-aware monsters but as deeply morally confused. Their arguments for the abortion—and their inability to see the faulty assumptions on which they stand—are less an indictment of them, more of the cultural environment that helped spawn their attitudes. Dad never disavows his advice to terminate the pregnancy, nor does he seem aware that if his argument is carried to its logical conclusion, it implies to Apple that she herself should have been aborted. Hudgens's portrayal is spot on as she shows that Apple's emotional scars stemming from dad's rejection are as deep and painful as any of the physical marks left by her mother's abuse.
Although the film has a strong pro-life message, it doesn't reduce Christian faith or social justice to just that one issue. Difiore said, "I think we inhibit ourselves when we tie ourselves to nomenclature." She added: "The film is 'pro' a lot of things. It's pro-compassion. It's pro-God. It's really pro-love." That it cares about being all those things makes Gimme Shelter an easy film to endorse despite its less polished style.
At PG-13, Gimme Shelter is perhaps grittier than many inspirational films, but it avoids the more explicit representations of the world it depicts that might offend the sensibilities of its viewers. Disturbing content is suggested rather displayed. The scene in which Apple is attacked by her mother wielding a razor blade is the most violent. In it, director Ron Krauss uses some quick cuts and careful editing to avoid showing what is happening. There is some interpersonal violence. Apple's mother strikes Kathy as she tries to guide her out of the shelter, and Apple is momentarily threatened by a man who senses she is homeless and appears to try to kidnap her. Apple's child birthing scene is loud but filmed chastely, and while it is (naturally) implied that Apple has been sexually active, that fact is only spoken of, not depicted.
Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.