By Dave Andrusko
I was wrapping up work yesterday when my wife, Lisa, shot me an email. Did I want to go see “Gimme Shelter” at the local AMC multiplex?
Of course! We’d run Brent Bozell’s laudatory review of Ronald Krauss’s film that stars Vanessa Hudgens as Agnes “Apple” Bailey (see “You’re Right to Choose This Movie”), and I was eager to see if this film the director insists Hollywood didn’t want made could live up to Mr. Bozell’s kudos.
Last night was another bitterly cold end to the kind of day many states have endured (and far worse). I got to the parking lot early and while waiting for Lisa I listened to the audio book of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest work, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”
The section I heard was about a teenage Canadian girl who had been abducted while walking home and killed. By the time we walked into the door I was doubly primed: a pro-lifer witnessing an unabashedly pro-life film and someone who had just been reminded how fleeting life can be, how dangerous even life in a “safe” area can be, let alone on the streets. Talk about prophetic.
Now, of course, just because a film has recognizable stars—Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones, and Rosario Dawson—doesn’t mean the usual media suspects won’t dismiss it as cheesy and preachy and (as the New York Post review put it) “a clunky movie that feels as if it’s underwritten by the Roman Catholic Church.”
Is “Gimme Shelter” as good as Bozell concluded or as off-the-rack as the Post reviewer determined? Let’s see.
Apple Bailey is a sixteen year old living with her junkie mother (played by Rosario Dawson) in a hellhole. As we later learn she’d been taken away as a child and had lived in 12 foster homes before being returned to her mother. When “Gimme Shelter begins,” Apple is cutting her hair and telling herself, “You can do this!” Escape.
Over the violent protestations of her mother, she races out the door. She makes her way to the home of the father she has never seen (Tom played by Brendan Fraser) and his wife Joanna (played by Stephanie Szostak) where she brazenly tells them she just needs a place to stay for a while to get her life together and then she’ll be gone.
The encounter with her rich father and his wife and two young children is as awkward as you expect it to be. An already tenuous situation grows exponentially worse when they find out she is pregnant.
The film’s narrative heart and soul is how Apple overcomes the forces that are pushing her to abort. She is rescued by a Catholic priest (James Earl Jones), is brought to a home for teen mothers based on the real-life experience of Kathy DiFiore, the founder of Several Sources Shelters, where she discovers in Kathy and her housemates the family she has never had.
But what makes “Gimme Shelter” just an awesome film is that it is also a story of forgiveness and redemption. Fraser, as her birth father, was a lout for abandoning her mother and hasn’t changed much in the ensuing years.
His manipulative advice to Apple–after her pregnancy is confirmed and her response–is the movie’s linchpin:
“It’s time you turn the page on this, move forward, and before you know it; you will have forgotten that it ever happened.” In a word, abort.
Not missing the irony, Apple responds, “Turn the page, like you did with me.”
That memory of abandonment—and the ultrasounds photos of her baby that she’d been given and kept in her shoe—provide her with the moral resources to run out of the abortion clinic at the last possible minute. She is not going to abandon her baby, as Joanna had abandoned Apple to the abortion clinic’s tender mercies.
But just as Apple’s hard shell of survival mechanisms soften as she experiences the love of the young women at the shelter, so, too, does Tom as he gets to know his daughter. Apple reads the one correspondence she’d ever had from her father and it is a familiar story: young, wasn’t ready to be father, didn’t want to disappoint his family.
By the end of the film, her father lovingly embraces Apple’s new baby, whom she has appropriately named “Hope.” The reason I have always loved Fraser as an actor is that his expressive face shows not just pain, but pain that is the expression of hurt deep in the soul.
His character knows how horribly he failed Apple and Apple’s mother. He is trying to do his best to make up for his act of cowardice 17 years before.
Click here to read the January issue of National Right to Life News,
the “pro-life newspaper of record.”
Jones as Fr. McCarthy and Ann Dowd as Kathy DiFiore avoid the trap of coming off as plaster saints. They are deeply devout and dedicated to helping these young women and their babies, but their responses a couple of times almost make you cringe. Faced with a defiant and belligerent Apple, those are the kind of responses I suspect you and I might make.
Likewise the young women in the shelter (my wife tells me some of the actresses actually were clients at a shelter) have the baggage that comes with living disorganized lives, and at least one deeply resents having to help Kathy raise money for the shelter. In a “cheesy” “preachy” movie, everyone would be flawless, running over with gratitude for a warm bed and a hot meal, and incapable of saying anything problematic.
Krauss told Anne Morse that he got the idea for the film a few years ago while visiting his brother.
“One of DiFiore’s shelters was about a mile from his brother’s house, and he decided to pay it a visit,” Morse wrote. “’I knocked on the door and introduced myself, and saw what was going on. I actually borrowed Kathy’s video camera and started interviewing the girls.’ Krauss visited again and again, and one day he encountered a young girl ‘who had walked about 25 miles to get there in freezing weather with no jacket. And she was three months pregnant.’”
Hudgens prepared for the role, Keith Fournier notes, by “living in crisis pregnancy shelters, spending time with the heroic mothers who overcame great odds to choose the life of their children.” Fraser quietly donated his salary to the shelter.
Which brings me full circle back to the audio book. Shelters like Kathy DiFiore’s not only save the lives of countless babies, they have rescued young women and given them a chance against all odds. After she ran away from her mother, Apple was reduced to eating food she’d snatched out of garbage containers and sleeping in cars whose owners had left them unlocked. Without the love and assistance of Fr. McCarthy and Kathy DiFiore, it’s not difficult to guess her fate.
There were only a handful of people at the theatre last night to watch “Gimme Shelter”; my guess is, given the weather, none of the 18 films showing had more than a few dozen patrons.
But the symbolism was hard to miss. In a cold, hard world, where unmarried pregnant teens come under siege to abort, it is that saving remnant who reaches out to them that will save both them and their little ones.
Please join those who are following me on Twitter at twitter.com/daveha. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.