Over the course of 18 years, director Tony Kaye filmed a 2-1/2 hour documentary about abortion called Lake of Fire, released on a limited scale 1 week ago. By limited I mean one theater in NY. It will open in LA this Friday, likely on just as small a scale.
I first read about Lake of Fire when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last September. I had hoped to personally review it, but this now appears unlikely until it is released on dvd. Instead, I will piece together a review based on reviews, all by pro-abort movie critics as far as I can tell. All who identified their positions were such. Before I go on, here’s the trailer:

Despite anticipating skewed reviews, I was interested to read their take since I knew the movie was bookended by footage of two abortions – the first late-term and the last early-term. Most pro-aborts avoid the truth of abortion like the plague that it is. But because Kaye, one of their own, made the documentary, reviewers let down their guard and agreed with the need to sit through them for balance and objectivity’s sake.
Sniffed TV Guide’s Ken Fox:

Showing the torn arms and legs and crushed skulls of aborted fetuses as they’re washed and reassembled on a steel tray (the only way to ensure a late-term abortion is complete) simultaneously reveals a plain, painful truth about abortion while defusing one of the radical pro-life movement’s favorite tactics of displaying graphic photos of aborted babies by finally putting them into their proper context

lof3.jpgI can’t imagine how showing an abortion “defus[es]” our “tactics” by putting abortion in its “proper context.” But whatever.
LOF’s title comes from Scripture quoted by a pro-lifer in the movie, Rev. 20:12-15. Kaye shot the film mostly throughout the 90s, using footage of the 2006 SD abortion ban battle to reflect back.
Almost every reviewer thought LOF was important. How important? Tom Hall:

I believe that in 20 years time, as our nation’s political landscape changes in whatever ways it will, we will return to Lake of Fire… as an essential documentary; A piece of the cinematic puzzle of our nation. I knew Lake Of Fire would be difficult (any responsible film about the issue of abortion must be), but I was not prepared for the film’s epic complexity; I have used the word masterpiece on this site before, but Lake of Fire is one of the most important documentary films ever made. Shot entirely on gorgeous black and white film and utilizing extreme close-ups of many of his interview subjects to tremendous effect, Kaye… has crafted what is, both aesthetically, politically, and cinematically, what I can only imagine will be remembered as the film of record about our battle over a woman’s right to choose an abortion….
[T]he film is much more than a simple roll-call of the names and faces that have lead the fight over abortion rights in the last two decades; it is, quite simply, a devastating chronicle of America’s slow and steady slide into political intolerance. With unimaginable access to people on both sides of the issue, Kaye refuses to flinch from the comprehensive presentation that the subject requires…. Most difficult of all, two abortion procedures are shown in detail.

Against that backdrop, reviewers had a hard time stomaching the film. Kenneth Morefield:

Watching it… comprised two of the most grueling hours of my life.

David Edelstein:

… sprawling, scary, nearly unbearable film….

It’s certainly not the heated debate they had a hard time with. Still, reviewers agreed Kaye was evenhanded. By that they meant he devoted much footage to pro-life extremists. According to John Horn of the LA Times:

[H]e clearly is drawn to people on the fringes of the debate, chiefly religious activists who feel they are called by God to demonize and even kill abortion providers.

Nick Van der Graaf:

I couldn’t help but think that nearly all the pro-lifers interviewed came across as deeply disturbed, with a couple of exceptions.

Even so, there was still truth in the cliched debate for those with eyes. The New York Post’s Kyle Smith:

While Kaye portrays nearly all abortion defenders as eloquent and reasonable, he doesn’t seem to notice how often these activists change the subject to things no reasonable person supports, such as racism and gay bashing.

Because he offput pro-lifers while devoting so much time to offputting pro-aborts by the graphic display of abortion, reviewers wondered who would want to watch the film, and which side was more convincing?
We don’t know who will watch the film, but I do know which side had the greatest impact, and it was the pro-life side, because, thank God, Kaye showed the reality of abortion. That’s all it takes. Pro-lifers are used to being called nutcases and most let it roll off. But pictures are worth a thousand words and make stereotyping of pro-lifers worth it.
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis:

Not everyone will agree about the abortion visuals, including, perhaps, those who worry that such explicit imagery can speak louder than any pro-abortion-rights argument. It’s an understandable concern.


Because they are filmed (the dead woman is immortalized in a still photograph), the abortions are unnerving, which is why I suggest that the faint of heart skip the rest of this paragraph. After the first operation, a second-trimester abortion, the doctor sorts through a tray of fetal parts, including a perfect-looking tiny hand and a foot, to make sure that nothing has been left inside the patient, which might lead to poisoning or even death. The doctor then holds up the severed fetal head. One eerily bulging eye looks as if it’s staring into the camera and somehow at us….
It’s possible that Mr. Kaye opted to show several abortions because he wanted viewers, particularly those sympathetic to a woman’s right to abortion, to understand what stirs some people not just to action, but also to kill doctors. If nothing else, the first abortion in the film (of a 20-week-old fetus, though that information is not in the film) reinforces what an abstraction the term pro-choice really is. Abortion does end the life of something.

Kim Voynar:

It’s disconcerting, after all, to see what abortion actually looks like; if your beliefs around abortion are based on holding it firmly in your mind that a fetus is just tissue and an abortion a medical procedure no more morally meaningful than an appendectomy, you may be a little turned off by seeing a doctor measuring a tiny severed foot. The more graphic dead-baby abortion footage in the film is mostly from later-term abortions, but we also see abortion from the doctor’s perspective, planted firmly between the stirrup-splayed legs of naked women….

Horn again:

No matter where people stand on the issue, the abortion Kaye presents just 20 minutes into the film will certainly become indelible to many: Concerned that he leave no fragments of an aborted fetus in his patient’s uterus, a doctor reassembles the body parts — tiny feet, arms, a head with a clearly discernible face — into a nearly intact whole. And the camera never blinks.

NPR’s Bob Mondello:

Still, when the focus narrows to the personal – to the story of a woman undergoing first counseling and then the actual procedure of terminating her pregnancy, for instance, or to the transformation of Roe v. Wade’s original “Jane Roe” into a fervent right-to-lifer – the film becomes undeniably powerful in its specifics.

Smith again:

And the two most memorable portions of the film are powerful propaganda for pro-lifers. The scenes of shredded bloody fetuses at a clinic contain some of the most shocking, revolting footage I’ve ever seen.

Chris Cabin of FilmCritics.com:

None of the footage outweighs the sight of the actual procedure, which is shown twice as a set of bookends for the film. At first rather faceless, easy-going and clinical, the first procedure only becomes shocking when the doctor explains how he must put together the aftermath to make sure they got it all, holding the gelatinous beginnings of a head between his thumb and forefinger. By actualizing the event early, Kaye guides us into the argument with fresh eyes.

Fresh eyes. Sick pun.
Read more reviews here.

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