“Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” is a terrifying film. It eclipses the horror of slasher films which are trooped out every Halloween since its bloody knives and madness are real. Because “Gosnell” is real – a product of the Supreme Court, science denial and years of Americans hiding their faces and stopping their ears about the reality of abortion – it shows what abortion looks, sounds like and smells like.
This was a film crying out to be made for decades. It took Irish filmmakers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer to finally create the riveting, quality tale this holocaust deserves. “Gosnell” isn’t presented as a moral tale, though, but as a true-crime story, sticking explicitly to witness testimonies and documentation. The real stuff.
In their earlier book, “Gosnell:The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer,” McElhinney and McAleer assumed the unreported body count over 32 years of late-term abortion was astronomical, hence “the most prolific” appellation. “Gosnell,” the book, was an Amazon and New York Times best seller. McElhinney and McAleer are both writers and filmmakers who have made scores of documentaries, including for the BBC.
Kermit Barron Gosnell is an American physician and abortion provider who was convicted of murdering three late-term babies born alive in his clinic, among many other crimes. No living infants lasted long under his care – not even the brief time it generally takes them to die of injuries or hypothermia under legal means of abortion. In “better” clinics, unwanted babies are sometimes left whimpering in pails of waste.
But Gosnell was diligent, assuring anything scheduled to die in his clinic did so quickly, even after a live birth. According to witnesses and employees, killing was the only methodical and tidy part of his practice. His seedy West Philadelphia building was beyond filthy – rat-infested, urine-reeked, blood-soaked and garbage-strewn.
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Kermit Gosnell happens to be a murderous and greedy doctor. Whether all abortion doctors are this way at heart is another matter – but Gosnell was close to mad. Actor Earl Billings transforms himself into the part of Gosnell, even his appearance. His depiction is brilliant but disturbing. Scenes such as Gosnell’s piano serenade for police (while they find wads of cash, rotting food and a dead cat in his home) are bizarre and ghastly.
Gosnell’s constant refrain that he was “helping women” echoes Hannah Arendt’s description of Nazi leader Adolph Eichmann in her “Eichmann in Jerusalem:The Banality of Evil.” Gosnell, like Eichmann, is chock full of slogans and clichés in his defense. Eichmann was only “doing his duty,” while Gosnell was “serving the poor.” Cheerful, amiable Gosnell, literally dripping with blood, could be an icon for how prosaic evil becomes when it is universally accepted.
A 2010 drug raid brought Gosnell down. He went to trial – and so did Phelim McAleer, who watched from the courtroom. The clinic’s almost illiterate staff testified against the doctor. One of his employees claimed that about 40 percent of Gosnell’s abortions were later than six months along – which was also illegal. Their witness and evidence are central to the movie.
McAleer and McElhinney began an eight-year quest to publicize crimes which were made possible by the apathy of officials and politicians. “Gosnell” was the most successful film project to that point for Indiegogo, raising $2.3 million in just 45 days. Producers claim it was also the “biggest non-celebrity movie campaign” across all platforms.
Film and television star Nick Searcy directed “Gosnell,” and he also played a major role as Gosnell’s hard-core defense attorney. Jack McMahon was his real-life attorney, who argued that it was ludicrous to claim a baby is “born alive because it moves one time without any other movement.” In response to movement (or even crying), Gosnell and his assistants cut their spinal cords.
Producers of “Gosnell” didn’t demonize characters, use Bella Lugosi lighting, creepy music, or a drop of sensationalism. They even refrained from showing infant bodies (although there are some little feet in jars and a lot of blood). Despite this, LA Times critic Michael Rechtshaffen huffed and puffed in his review and described “Gosnell” as “a sensationalistic police procedural/courtroom drama.”
I don’t know about your world, Rechtshaffen, but piles of big dead babies, a few dead mothers, and rats running through a filthy clinic aren’t part of my daily routine. Even the generally liberal Washington Post noted Gosnell’s “egregious and horrifying crimes” and the “gruesome details” during his trial.
The intense darkness the audience felt came from quotes, testimonies and police records written into the script. They were driven from fine acting and direction. “Gosnell” left viewers stunned by the unseen horrors alluded to, and it is likely more powerful that way.
As I write this, few film critics in big media have reviewed “Gosnell.” It’s par for the course: Ignore it and they will forget or go away. Supporters of abortion don’t know how to deal with this. Because if Kermit Gosnell is a “monster” (as so many have characterized him), then what is happening in all the other abortion clinics?
Films this significant to real life rarely come this way. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest theater showing “Gosnell,” and take some abortion-deniers with you. They need to know.
- Film screening and interview with Ann McElhinney, February 2018
- ‘House of horrors’ alleged at abortion clinic
- The Kermit Gosnell Movie Opens Today – Not Without Controversy, Of Course