I still remember our college trip to watch The Cider House Rules. Michael Caine plays a doctor who secretly performs illegal abortions in the 1940’s. Tobey Maguire plays a young orphan who becomes his assistant — and uncovers his dark secret. In the course of the movie Tobey’s journey helps him come around to understand the doctor’s motivations. Full disclosure: I went to see this movie with our pro-life club. We wanted to understand the movie so we could respond to it. The movie opens with a scene in which Tobey Maguire is taking a pot outside to bury its contents. Later you realize that the pot contained the remains of an aborted fetus. As I mulled over the movie’s message, I remember thinking, “No matter how clever your smart take on abortion, just open the lid and show us what’s in the pot, and your argument is over.” Unplanned lifts the lid and shows us what’s in the pot.
This is not a heartwarming, family-friendly Christian film. It’s a movie about abortion and Planned Parenthood. It is based on the true story of a woman’s journey into the world of Planned Parenthood and back out again. It warns you right up front that it’s a messy story. I had already read the book and knew the basic story. Still, to see the scenes from the book acted out on screen is something I wasn’t fully expecting.
This movie is heavy stuff. It’s very personal and very honest. You see a teenage girl pressured by her parents to end her pregnancy, and a woman whose mother is begging her not to have an abortion. And you see everything in between: blood, agony, and lots of tears. Her boss is cast as a villain, and Planned Parenthood as a sinister corporation. But the abortion clinic workers are kind and professional; it actually feels like a decent place to work most days. There are angry protestors with signs of aborted babies, and kind protestors reaching through the fence. The movie doesn’t try to be too big or intentionally shocking. It’s a small story, told with reverence and hope. You needn’t be afraid of what you will see. Just bring some tissues.
The movie doesn’t have all the answers, and it doesn’t tie things up in a pretty bow. But it does end with a beautiful tribute to the children whose lives were lost to abortion. It is deep, touching, and rewarding. You cannot watch this movie and not be changed by it. If you’ve heard conservatives raving about it, that’s not because the movie says a bunch of stuff they agree with. Its because they were touched and changed by this movie in ways they weren’t expecting.
How did this movie change me? I have a new appreciation for the weight someone like Abby, or any former clinic worker, carries with them when they walk away from the clinic. I have a new appreciation for the struggle women face when they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. I have a new appreciation for perseverance. The pro-life message wins because it is true and good and beautiful. But we have to keep showing up at the clinic and speaking the truth in love, no matter the results. And we need to learn how to love those on the “other side of the fence.” The “Coalition for Life” people are presented as kind and unconditionally loving. Some might argue it’s an unrealistically positive portrayal of pro-lifers. I see it as an invitation for all pro-lifers. The only unrealistic thing I saw was Doug, Abby’s amazingly wonderful husband. He’s a total stud. To all you men reading this: Be Like Doug.
You should see this movie. Especially if you’re one of those people that just doesn’t get what the fuss is all about when it comes to abortion. If you’re not sure you’re pro-life, and uncomfortable with a film that is, then make it a double-feature. Stream The Cider House Rules first with your friends, then take the same crew to Unplanned. I watch a lot of superhero movies and spy thrillers. But after walking out of this movie I thought: The real drama is right here, all around us. We don’t need to fly to some foreign planet or uncover a secret plot to destroy the world. The battle for life and love is right here — every day, every life, is high drama — even the 12 week old baby that started all this. You’ll look at life differently after you see #whatabbysaw