...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Some films show with startling clarity the growing chasm between secular Hollywood and the Christian worldview. Often, this contrast is obvious in the liberal agendas that are, with increasing boldness, proclaimed in mainstream movies. With Gimme Shelter, a rare case of the reverse presents itself. Gimme Shelter unashamedly communicates a message that is in complete opposition to the views of liberal media.
In response, secular film critics have taken to slamming Gimme Shelter. Their reasons, though thinly disguised as artistic criticisms, are amusingly based on topical foundations. Namely, these critics find the idea that Apple would not get an abortion “unrealistic” and perceive the entire film as having an “agenda.”
Without going into the absurdity of film critics identifying Gimme Shelter as being too agenda-heavy from an artistic standpoint merely because they disagree with its message, their panning of this picture as low-quality needs to be answered.
Yes, Gimme Shelter does indeed have a message, as do all well-crafted stories. One of the overarching themes is the beauty of human life, in all its forms. But critics actually do this picture an additional disservice by judging abortion to be the only topic explored. Rather, Gimme Shelter presents multiple positive messages, bringing them into the light from some of the darkest crevices of human experience.
Whatever side of the abortion issue one supports, any honest viewer will not deny that Gimme Shelter is a raw, realistic, and well-crafted piece of powerful filmmaking. For mature audiences, the gritty and emotional Gimme Shelter will touch hearts and inspire change.
Agnes “Apple” Bailey tells herself she’s not afraid. As if saying the words enough times will change the terror she feels inside. She knows she has to leave the woman who’s supposed to be her mother, but who only keeps Apple around to get welfare for her drug habit. Apple has had enough abuse, enough lies, enough abandonment, and enough of the social services system that only gave her more heartache and dysfunction.
With only the clothes on her back and a few dollars stuffed in her baggy jeans, Apple manages to fight her way out the door and leave her screaming mother behind. Apple has only one hope: the father she has never met.
When her father does not turn out to be the savior she hoped for, Apple’s circumstances take a quick dive from bad to worse. A homeless sixteen-year-old girl wandering the streets is bad enough. But this one is also pregnant. Under much better circumstances, many girls choose abortion. Will that choice be Apple’s way out, or is there a way that two lives can be saved?
This film could have been preachy. It could have been the browbeating “pro-life” club secular critics claim it to be. But it’s not.
In reality, Gimme Shelter is nothing more than a beautiful story, told skillfully in a polished production. The beauty of this tale isn’t clear at first. Director Ron Krauss employs a gritty style of cinematography to paint a sordid picture of Apple’s life. The first difficult sequences pack a punch, as viewers are not allowed to dismiss the depressing reality of Apple’s situation.
A sorrowful invitation to pity the poor abandoned girl? Not a chance. Even Apple herself pushes viewers away. She’s not asking for their pity any more than this film is. Instead, the filmmakers are brave enough to show a real person—someone who is prickly, angry, and ugly enough to make pity or compassion nearly impossible for most people to feel for her.
Her slow, arduous transformation throughout the film, then, is achingly authentic—even inconsistent, unpredictable, and faltering as any such change would be for such a damaged person. The help that she does receive is all the more poignant and believable because of the fight anyone has to make to reach past Apple’s mistrust and anger, even when they are only reaching with compassion.
Sadly, however, many of the adults Apple meets are not interested in sympathy or kindness. Instead, she is surrounded by people who lack even the degree of morality that she tries to retain. By the grace of the God she prays to when at her lowest point, she recognizes that the baby inside her is just that—a baby, a human being who, despite all outside pressures, she cannot kill.
Again, the filmmakers handle the abortion issue without becoming heavy-handed. They let Apple live her story and make her choices without interference. Apple is the one sitting in the abortion clinic and staring at her baby’s picture, making the decision. Apple is the one who holds a baby during her pregnancy and looks with wonder at its tiny face and hands. Apple is the one who chooses to love and protect her baby.
These sequences, as with any screenplay this well-written, depend heavily on the actors. Vanessa Hudgens’s now famous physical transformation for this role is nothing compared to the strength of her acting. All the bad hair days in the world couldn’t match the impact of her nuanced performance. She shows a remarkable ability to emote without words and living in the skin of her character, skills which allow her to take this film to unexpected emotional and thematic depths.
Rosario Dawson also reveals impressive chops in the role of Apple’s drug-addicted, abusive mother. Dawson flies with her character’s rapid mood swings, giving each one a frightening authenticity. She even manages to give viewers a glimpse at a roundness of character that one would not typically expect from such a role.
Indeed, the depth of character development in Gimme Shelter is exceptional. Without detracting from Apple’s story or losing her point of view, the film deftly gives many secondary characters a rare fullness that contributes to this movie’s impact and reality.
There are only two missteps in Gimme Shelter that detract from its strength, one of which is the inclusion of offensive language. Clearly, the filmmakers allow such language in the film because of their commitment to realism. However, applying a bit more effort and ingenuity would have resulted in the same degree of authenticity without the harmful content that Christians will want to avoid. The bulk of the problems come from Apple’s mother, who repeatedly calls her daughter “whore,” “b--ch,” and “slut.” The Lord’s name is misused casually a couple of times, while characters also spew out several uses of “d--n” and “h--l.”
The filmmakers employed more creativity in navigating other aspects of the film which involve drug use, physical abuse, and potentially graphic content. Careful editing, script, and shooting choices prevent the depiction of these realities from being detrimental to viewers, without dimming their impact.
That said, Gimme Shelter is only appropriate for mature teens and adults because of this content. For example, Apple’s mother attacks her several times (though these sequences are tactfully shot so as not to be gory or desensitizing), Apple speaks of being sexually abused as a child, and other girls joke about their babies’ fathers and being a prostitute. Apple’s mother is also shown wearing a skimpy dress, Apple wears low cut shirts in a few scenes, and drug use is indicated.
The only other criticism to be made has more to do with a missed opportunity than problematic content. For a secular film, Gimme Shelter includes an unlikely amount of Christian content and an astonishingly positive portrayal of at least one Christian character (a pastor). Such a positive portrayal isn’t likely to be achieved without one or more Christians being involved in the film production.
This Christian influence, coupled with the fact that Gimme Shelter was inspired by a Christian woman (who is portrayed in the film without any mention of her faith) and her shelters for young mothers, means that there is reason for disappointment that the filmmakers did not expound on the opportunity they had to share a truly Christian message with this story. God is mentioned, prayed to, and some Bible verses even quoted, but He seems to be cut out of the film in the later portions, sadly when He should be credited for the salvation for which Apple had once prayed.
[SPOILER WARNING] Even more disappointing is that the salvation Apple receives at the end of the film is not spiritual, but rather physical and temporally emotional. She finds her comfort in shelter, her baby, and the love of an adoptive “family” of young mothers. These types of comforts are beautiful to see Apple experience after so long, but, in reality, she is still missing the one Person who will never leave her and always be with her. She forgets to thank or credit Him for His care and completely overlooks her need for His love and eternal salvation.
In a traditional secular film, one would expect nothing so spiritual to be shown. But since Gimme Shelter seems early on like a film that is headed for such a spiritually meaningful destination, the story’s arrival instead at a more humanistic conclusion is anticlimactic.
Yet, the offensive language and a failure to pursue the greater possibilities of Apple’s story are the only aspects of Gimme Shelter that disappoint. This film is still a triumphant example of film’s exciting potential when gifted filmmakers come together to produce more than just entertainment. Gimme Shelter is as entertaining as any movie needs to be, but carries a depth of meaning and vital importance that few modern films can boast.
In addition to showing the value of human life far better than any lecture, Gimme Shelter weaves in thought-provoking explorations of the concept of family, the difference that service and simple kindness can make, the importance of present and loving parents, and the need to help the hurting. Thanks to its realistic approach to these issues and the sensitive topic of abortion, Gimme Shelter is a perfect film to watch with teens to get them thinking, to open discussions about the difficulties they face and about the unborn.
Certainly, if you are in favor of saving the lives of the unborn, you’ll want to watch this movie. But if you are simply in favor of good films, you’ll want to see Gimme Shelter, too.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” – Luke 1:41-45
Check out these similar titles:
October Baby (Gravitas, 2012)
Bella (Metanoia Films, 2006)
Sarah’s Choice (Pure Flix, 2009)
Caught (World Wide Pictures, 1987)
Ellen Foster (Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1997)
Loving the Bad Man (Eastlake Films, 2012)
For more ideas, visit our What to Watch page!