VIDEO: Watch the trailer for Lake of Fire.
Sixteen years in the making, Tony Kaye’s head-on, two-and-a-half-hour black-and-white documentary plays out the abortion issue not as a debate but as a war — violent and prolonged — over the ideology of life and the territory of a woman’s body. Kaye, who directed American History X, gives equal face time to each side of the battle, though men, on both sides, feature much more frequently than women. Some anti-choice figures from the religious right are portrayed as hate-mongering zealots, like the sickening Paul Hill, who advocates the execution of doctors who perform abortions. (He murders a doctor and is himself executed as a result.) Others from that camp come across as well-organized and persuasive. One of the most chilling moments: Norma McCorvey, otherwise known as “Jane Roe,” talks of being terrorized after Roe v. Wade, harassed in public, suicidal. Operation Rescue, a Christian pro-life group, moves into the lot next to the clinic where McCorvey worked. She’s seduced, convinced that she’s “responsible for all the dead babies”; she now works for OR. The pro-choice voices — Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky among them — lack the frenzied, God-on-our-side, right-wrong mentality. They talk of needs and situations, gray areas, and the values of both side: preserving life is legitimate; choice is legitimate.
Besides pore-close interviews on philosophy, religion, and the question of when life starts, Kaye also films abortion procedures. These are gruesome and graphic; he says he shot in black and white because to see this in full color would be too much to witness. That’s especially true of the 20-week abortion. The machinery vacuums out the fetus, and amid the blood and tissue, the doctor searches for parts in a metal tray: two hands, a foot with toes, and, finally, the head, eyeball still intact. We still have the right to choose, Kaye seems to say, but we should know what that choice looks like.