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“Christian” movies are often rightfully criticized for focusing more on the message than the art of moviemaking, more concerned about pressing a point than telling a good story.
This can be especially disconcerting when making a movie about the emotional minefield of abortion.
Which is why “October Baby” is such a special and unique film.
With production values far exceeding other faith films like “Fireproof” or “Courageous,” “October Baby” handles its heart-breaking tale – the story of a girl named Hannah who survived her mother’s abortion attempt – with grace and a gentle consideration that makes its message all the more powerful for engaging the audience in a story, a life, a dialogue – rather than a diatribe.
In fact, it may not even be fair to call “October Baby” a “Christian” movie – despite the involvement and partnership of dozens of churches and pro-life organizations in its creation – because there’s no effort to preach, convert or shoehorn Third Day songs into the script. The film really deserves to be considered on its own merits as a movie and a story in the wider world of filmmaking, not just the “Christian” genre.
The story really begins over 20 years ago, on an October day when a teenage girl looking ahead to her education and career decides to abort her pregnancy. But the abortion fails, leaving her in labor with a wounded baby and an excruciating decision to make. Though I have to leave out details to avoid a major spoiler, that woman’s child is born live, adopted and grows up in a home never knowing of her traumatic birth.
But when that college-aged girl, Hannah, discovers she’s adopted and that her birth mother tried to abort her, she runs from home on a journey to find her birth mother, her past and herself.
The story is phenomenal. The acting is top-notch, with a dynamic performance from the lovely lead actress Rachel Hendrix, surprisingly solid acting from her on-screen father, John Schneider, and several great moments from Jasmine Guy.
The movie is not without its flaws, especially its very slow pace and too many scenes of characters merely emoting without any dialogue, both of which do make the movie feel at times like a typical, self-important indie film.
Nonetheless, the film suffers from none of the stilted dialogue and “I cast my pastor” raw acting that makes viewers of “Christian” films wince. In fact, it’s often funny – the presence of former “American Idol” contestant Chris Sligh is comedy gold – and becomes gut-wrenchingly real when, in an interview that plays during the credits, audiences discover that Shari Rigby, cast as Hannah’s birth mother, isn’t acting in the scene where she emotionally breaks down, but that having had an abortion herself years ago, her tears were real during the filming of the scene where she finds forgiveness.
And it’s in Rigby’s role that the movie really shines. As the director explains during the interview, the filmmakers were trying to be very sensitive to women who have had abortions, to depict the pain that “choice” causes in both mother and child, while at the same time revealing that forgiveness and healing can be found.
At one point in the film, Hannah writes in her journal, painfully questioning the words of Jesus, “The truth will make you free?”
It certainly doesn’t feel like it. The truth stings. It hurts. It reminds people of things they wished they could forget.
At a critical moment in the film, “October Baby” reveals a truth about abortion that definitely doesn’t feel very freeing. Jasmine Guy plays a former nurse at the abortion clinic who witnessed a child being born following a failed abortion. The little boy was only 20-some weeks along, tiny, his arm ripped off by the abortion attempt, but still born live, struggling for breath, only to die a few months later.
“When you hear things enough times, you start to believe it’s true,” Guy tells Hannah. “‘It’s tissue,’ they said, ‘nonviable tissue.'”
“I saw the pain,” she says of the little boy’s face. “I didn’t see no ’tissue’; I just saw a child.”
The scene is a stab to the heart, especially, I can only imagine, for mothers who have had abortions.
But the movie doesn’t end there. “October Baby” is not a condemnation. It’s not a guilt trip. Ultimately, it’s a story about hope and healing.
Later in the film, Hannah discovers the answer to the question she wrote in her journal when she’s told, “In Christ you were forgiven; because of it you have the power to forgive. … Only in forgiveness can you be free – forgiveness well beyond your grasp, forgiveness you can’t find on a trip or in this cathedral. If the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed.”
Those words come back when Hannah picks up that power to forgive not only herself, but her birth mother, too. And the moment the birth mother receives it is an incredibly powerful scene that makes the entire movie worth it.
- “October Baby” contains neither profanity nor obscenity.
- The film’s sexuality is limited to a single kiss and a couple of discussions about premarital sex, though neither are graphic.
- The film’s only reference to violence is a black eye a character shows after explaining he got into a bar fight. There is, however, the rather graphic and somewhat gruesome verbal description of an injured child born following a failed abortion.
- The movie does have several references to Christianity, including an important scene that takes place in a cathedral, characters wearing cross jewelry and discussion of the adoptive parents as “praying people.” Several times characters question God or mention God in their discussions. Several songs played in the film mention God or Jesus, but the lyrics play for less than a full verse, often leaving the meaning of the songs obscure. The most significant conversation about God and Jesus is described in the review above, where a priest quotes Scripture and talks with Hannah about the forgiveness of Christ.