#NASTYWOMEN: COLUMN 3: AFTER TILLER (2013) REVIEW
DIRECTORS: MARTHA SHANE & LANA WILSON
In this column I’ll be focusing on women in film; profiling wonderful directors, writers and characters. While I’ll be open to exploring great female characters in all films, I’m going to concentrate on and celebrate women surrounded by women.
Talking about abortion is never simple, nor is it an easy decision to make when faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Talking about late term abortion can be even more complicated and it’s not usually spoken about in a relaxed and calm manner.
In 2009 George Tiller, one of the last known late term abortion providers in the United States, was assassinated. He was at church. A target for years, his clinic was firebombed in 1985 and another attempt on his life occurred in 1993, where he was shot twice. The focus of After Tiller is the remaining four doctors in the US who perform late term abortions. Dr Warren Hern, in Boulder Colorado, Dr Shelley Sella and Dr Susan Robinson in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Dr LeRoy Carhart who first practiced in Nebraska but was forced to move to Germantown, Maryland after state laws changed, prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks. Tiller was a mentor to these physicians and his death has left a profound void in their lives.
We don’t get comprehensive screen time with those so violently opposing the procedures these four doctors perform, however that’s not really the point here. Filmmakers Lana Wilson and Martha Shane wanted to “turn down the volume and calm everything down” and by doing so, have created an incredibly intimate experience.
We are privy to a wide range of emotionally taxing discussions with the women involved. We never see their faces, but we more importantly hear their stories. The fantastic editing shows women of different ages and socio-economic backgrounds making their choice for a variety of reasons. Some have been raped, some have discovered their child will be born with a disability, some have simply been undecided so far and realised for whatever reason they’re not ready to bring a child into this world.
After Tiller isn’t a heated abortion debate, the focus is solely on the usually faceless physicians. Living their lives under constant threat from the same fanatics as the man who killed Dr Tiller, they refuse to back down or become stagnant in their profession. This film hasn’t been made to change minds, but it gives a face to the courageous, impartial and non-judgmental people who venture into territory that many would run away from.
The idea that one day physicians legally might not be able to perform these procedures raises other ethical questions, as we hear stories of women trying to perform the abortions themselves. Dr Hern tells the filmmakers the reasoning behind specialising in abortion was after spending time in Brazil in the 1970s and coming into contact with countless women who had tried to get rid of their foetus without medical assistance. If you take away the legal rights of trained professionals to terminate pregnancies, regardless of how far along they are, there will always be women desperate enough to resort to self-harm.
After Tiller is a powerful film that tackles an emotionally charged issue in an all-consuming yet heartfelt way. Abortion is a complicated reality, a very public argument that isn’t about to end, but through humanising their subjects, Shane and Wilson have produced truly calm and courageous cinema.
Chloe Sesta Jacobs is a people and culture geek who loves writing about film and usually does so with her two miniature sausage dogs lying all over her. Chloe really enjoys world cinema and has been heard to say “if it doesn’t have subtitles, don’t talk to me”. She also tweets a LOT at @csestajacobs.