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As the United States nears a presidential election in which party lines are drawn in part by stances either for or against abortion, U.S. citizens can easily fall into viewing abortion as a purely political issue. In a perfectly timed release, the video version of October Baby is poised to explode into homes and strike the people of this nation with the reminder that abortion is not about politics—it’s about human life.
The messages of this family-appropriate film don’t stop there, as the story poignantly communicates other vital messages concerning friendship, love, family, truth, deception, and forgiveness. October Baby fails to do all that it could to make God and Christianity a core presence in the film, but, with unusually high production values and artistry, this faith-based movie has what it takes to change hearts and save lives.
Many teens go through periods of questioning their identity or even of feeling unwanted, but for Hannah the feeling has always been present and only grows stronger. She has no obvious reason for the emptiness and feelings of being unwanted, since she comes from a home with two loving parents and is still friends with her childhood companion, Jason. Nineteen and in college, Hannah doesn’t know of a good reason for her despair, but she can’t deny the feeling that she is falling, drowning, that she sometimes would rather not live.
Then, Hannah does fall, physically, on stage during a college play performance. As she waits for a medical diagnosis that might explain her collapse, she can’t help but notice the suspicious behavior of her parents, who seem unusually nervous, as if they aren’t telling her something. Despite her premonition, Hannah is far from prepared for the devastating news that follows on the heels of the doctor’s verdict—Hannah’s health issues are due to her premature birth as the result of a failed abortion attempt. Hannah, her parents tell her, is adopted and an abortion survivor.
Reeling from the news, Hannah doesn’t know where to turn other than to her lifelong friend. With Jason by her side, Hannah goes on a quest to find her birth mother and answers to her questions about her birth and life. The trouble is, the answers Hannah seeks may not be found in a journey to her mother. The truth she needs to know may be in the life she has, if she has the courage to see beauty through pain and love through forgiveness.
Of all the Christian films that have been shown at mainstream theatres recently, October Baby most deserves to be among them. Sadly, the film had only a limited theatre release, even though it demonstrates the level of quality seen in most bigger-budget dramas on the big screen. Yet, perhaps the limits of the film’s theatre presence are for the best, as the brevity means a quicker video release, allowing the film to reach even more viewers through mass distribution.
The need for this movie to reach a large audience is great, as its messages are critical and packaged in a powerful piece of creative drama that can break through walls of resistance far better than a lecture or debate. To begin with, the cinematography in October Baby is exquisite, even incorporating an element so elusive for many Christian films—artistry. In a movie that works to convey the beauty of human life, this central message is echoed in director of photography Jon Erwin’s excellent and artful approach to shooting every scene. Without being experimental or ever drawing attention to the camera, Erwin brings a painter’s touch to many sequences, making them captivating through a mastery of technique and artistic use of lighting.
As the cinematographer and writer of the picture, as well as co-director with his brother, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin is able to do what every writer/director dreams—to bring his creative work to life exactly as he envisioned it. Unlike some filmmakers who would like to fill all these roles, Jon Erwin clearly has the talent and knowledge to handle his numerous functions, and the result is a pleasing symmetry and depth. Erwin weaves symbolism and themes throughout the story, layering them visually and emotionally into a cohesive tapestry that carries the film beyond what could have been a predictable story concept.
In addition, Erwin adds elements to the plot that similar tales are without, rounding out Hanna’s world with many fully-realized characters who are compelling in their own right and who provide unexpected story moments. These characters are also brought to life by a strong cast of actors that are unusually skilled for a low-budget Christian film.
Erwin hit pay dirt with the casting of Rachel Hendrix as Hannah. With the weight of the film on her shoulders, Hendrix soars, flying through the demands of this challenging role, meeting the broad range of emotion required while being at once appealing and authentic—all this from an astonishingly new actress who must have oodles of talent and aptitude to compensate for her lack of experience.
Hendrix is supported by veteran actor John Schneider as her father, who glows in finally having a role that makes use of his talent, and Jason Burkey who plays the role of Jason with endearing realism and simplicity. There are only one or two actors in minor roles who are weak at times, but these performances are offset by the humorous writing of their scenes. Any memory of falseness is obliterated in the turns by other supporting actors, especially Shari Rigby as a successful lawyer with a broken, guilt-filled past.
With a choppy and piecemeal soundtrack as the only significant production flaw, October Baby is well-positioned to make the most of its meaningful story. As one would expect, the two-fold central theme of this film can’t be missed, but its delivery is respectful, real, and utilizes the vehicle of story to seep past defenses, straight into the heart. The horrors of abortion and the permanency of its consequences, which society does not talk about or advertise, are brought to life as viewers see the effects of the abortion on Hannah, even before she knew of it, on her birth mother, and on all those involved with the act or picking up the pieces in the aftermath.
In addition to the more obvious theme, however, Erwin’s tale illustrates and explores other important issues. Family, so often broken in modern culture, is positively portrayed in this film, but not put on an unrealistic pedestal of perfection. Hannah’s parents make their share of mistakes and are not always the best parents to Hannah, but they have stayed married through tough times and clearly love each other and their adopted daughter, even when they disagree.
With Hannah, this Christian couple makes their greatest mistake when they do not tell her the truth about her birth and adoption until forced to confess when she is grown. The devastation of such a choice is painfully clear, as this deception builds a foundation of lies that leaves nothing for their daughter to cling to when the lies are exposed. The destruction of Hannah’s ability to trust her parents reaps only pain and confusion. At one point, Hannah’s father reprimands Jason for deceiving him, but Jason is only following the pattern that Hannah and her friend have seen exemplified in Hannah’s parents themselves—that lies which spare someone pain are for the best.
By standing with Hannah and supporting her throughout her difficulties, even when she is difficult to get along with, Jason presents a wonderful representation of both friendship and love. Ultimately, love, coupled with the forgiveness it yields, takes form as a theme that perhaps even overtakes the pro-life message. For the love Hannah is seeking is what she must learn to see is already in her life, through her parents, Jason, and in the love she can show others through forgiveness.
These redemptive messages shine brightly in this movie that is void of the negative content that would usually prevent such a film from being seen by the whole family. October Baby’s PG-13 rating is extreme, but, given that the movie deals with mature themes like abortion, parents would be wise to consider if their young children are ready for such topics and, if so, to watch the film with them.
The only fault with content that October Baby is guilty of is failing to emphasize Christianity to a realistic and ideal level. While Hannah’s family and Jason are evidently intended to be Christians, they do not speak of their faith or voice more than a word about God or Christ for the majority of the film. Toward the close of the story, characters begin to make greater mention of God, but it takes a priest to make an overt mention of Jesus and quote Scripture.
The filmmakers likely suffered from a fear of rendering October Baby too preachy or clichéd if extensive Christian wording and content were included. Honoring this apprehension, however, results in those very faults, as the Christian material is thus relegated to its traditional spot and form in the climax, and viewers are left with characters who are do-gooders claiming to be Christians, but do not give convincing evidence of living their daily lives as real followers of Christ would.
Sadly, this means that moments for powerful evangelism to secular audiences are lost as the gospel light is hidden under a bushel. Hannah seems to suffer from the greatest lack of true Christianity, as she apparently has no real knowledge of why she tries to live morally and avoid trouble, but instead chafes under the accusation of friends that she has no “wild side.” Hannah never relaxes her morality, but the idea that she doesn’t “let loose” bothers her greatly and makes her question her good behavior.
[MILD SPOILER WARNING] She even fancies herself judged by the Christian Jason when she sleeps separately from him in a shared hotel room (she takes the bed and he takes the floor), though Jason clearly has no desire to compromise her purity. This sequence, in particular, could have an enormous effect on viewers, but is likely to have little impact when Hannah devalues the moment by bashing herself for appearing as a “Christian home-school freak.” Despite Hannah’s inappropriate comment, the stance that she and, more intentionally, Jason take for abstinence is meaningful. Still more resonant would this and other messages be if they were attached to the Christian meaning and purpose for heeding them.
In the end, this unfortunate moment of unsupported morality is forgotten in the more laudable handling of the film’s main messages—the importance of human life, love, and forgiveness—in which the idea of Christ and God’s forgiveness at least come into play. Given the strength of the light cast by these themes, October Baby is certainly not guilty of hiding all glow under a bushel.
The beaming rays that this film does let through cast radiant hope on a dark world. Even including unexpected humor and comedic moments, October Baby entertains and convicts while illuminating a path of truth amid the confusion of what-ifs and debates that surround the abortion issue. No movie should be expected to do more than that, and not so much as a moment of any life should be wasted on a film that does less.