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Burning Fire

Movies | Abortion documentary turns up the heat on the debate

Issue: "A mighty fortress is our sect," Oct. 20, 2007

After I finish writing this review and go to bed, I will almost certainly have nightmares about Tony Kaye's new film, the unrated documentary Lake of Fire. I hesitantly recommend this movie, with a warning: The worst thing about this film is not the footage itself, but the fact that none of it contains special effects or computer-generated animation.

The subject of Kaye's almost unbearable film is abortion. Since that procedure is legal, one of Kaye's first scenes shows it. A child-a real, living, unborn child-is murdered on screen by a doctor. It's the single most eloquent pro-life argument possible: Kaye films every aspect of the late-term surgery without any regard for modesty or privacy, intercut with glib rationalizations from people in comfortable offices who explain the importance of a woman's right to choose. After the explanation is finished, Kaye returns to the scene of the abortion, where the doctor sorts out pieces of the "pregnancy," most of which are recognizably human and include a tiny, perfect foot.

Kaye, who spent a great deal of his own money making Lake of Fire, has said that he wants to give equal weight to both sides of the abortion debate, and to some degree he may have succeeded. He frames the film's more hysterical arguments with reasonable figures on both sides: The pro-abortion camp gets the measured voice of Noam Chomsky, while pro-lifers have a wry Nat Hentoff to defend them. Kaye gets some fascinating, valuable interviews, including pro-lifer Norma McCorvey, the former Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, and a pre-killing-spree Paul Hill. Kaye doesn't let the ugly part of the debate end with the images of aborted children-Hill, Eric Rudolph, and others have given the pro-life movement an undeniable black eye. Ultimately, Kaye decides that no commentary is the best commentary, and the final 30 minutes of the film follow one woman through the entire process, from her decision outside the clinic to her tearful collapse afterwards. And I agree with Kaye-I think that says it all.

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