Most recent talks Film talks A-Z Before viewing talks Deep talks Sign up: email updates About the film talks Stay up on new talks Join the community
What's this site about? Inside out: Heart Inside out: Beauty Inside out: Love Thoughtful: a film's heart Thoughtful: film content Thoughtful: films to watch Who's behind this?
Register and login General PttH updates Film review sites Film site quick views Quotes The PttH seminar

October Baby (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Who wants you? Who cares if you exist? What are they willing to endure for your existence? October Baby puts such questions into sharp, life-and-death focus. Even more, the film turns the questions around to the other side of how and for whom we give ourselves, and why. With a varied range of kind, devious, well-meaning, and humorous characters, October Baby’s search for life is engaging and compelling. Much to the filmmaker’s credit, the film itself is not preachy. Reviewers who are predisposed against questioning of full-on abortion rights or faith-infused onscreen dialog will likely think it is preachy, as the film’s Rottentomatoes and Metacritic critic scores suggest (or perhaps it’s that authentic faith-infused dialog is a foreign language for some). However, the film’s tagline (“every life is beautiful”) and some of the marketing and dialog around the film are preachy, and this may also infect some reviewers’ remarks about the film.

Moments after Hannah’s first lines at the opening of a college play, she collapses on stage. Her ongoing emotional struggles, her asthma, epilepsy, and other health conditions, and the stress of the lead role were simply too much. Later, in her doctor’s office with her parents, she is taken aback to learn, for the first time, that she was born profoundly prematurely, and it was a traumatic delivery. Her doctor surmises that this is the root cause behind all of her health issues, including her emotional health. And there’s more: Her father drops emotional bombs including that she was adopted, and that she was born after a failed abortion attempt. Shocked, and disturbed that she would learn these things only at 19 years of age, Hannah runs from the doctor’s office, thrown into a crisis of identity, emotionally severed from her parents, wondering who she is and how she’ll uncover the truth of her origin. Running time: 107 min.

For most of us, knowing the basics of our parentage is an unconscious comfort, taken for granted. Many of us follow it back, searching for who we are in a line of ancestry multiple generations long — or through DNA matching, jumping further back in our lineage than historical records go. Some of us find out that we were “a mistake” — a child not planned, and we struggle emotionally, questioning whether we were wanted. But not so many of us know that we were not wanted by our parents.

Although October Baby’s primary exploration is of the struggle of one not wanted, the film gains additional strength by opening questions about what being wanted means, and who we want and why. Hannah’s crisis runs deep, intensified by the secrets her adoptive parents held from her. Why did her birth mother not want her? What do our origins say about our personal worth? She was insecure and wondering even before she had reason to suspect the secrets. What do we do with our own similar insecurities about who we are? And from the other side: How do we dehumanize others who, by being in our way, cast doubt on the course we want our lives to take? How do we deny a degree of humanity to others by manipulating them with less than the whole truth? How do we let the hurtful failings of others, even if well-intentioned, become cause for us to hurt them back? In what ways do we put ourselves above others, perhaps even unwittingly communicating that we wish they had not been born? And how, instead, can we embrace others with grace and forgiveness, even in the midst of their failings? Some of these questions infuse core conflicts in the film, but in its richness, October Baby touches on all of them in some way.

In its filmcraft, October Baby has very strong cinematography and intimate shot framing. Its performances are mostly solid — particularly strong are Rachel Hendrix as Hannah and Jasmine Guy as one of the contacts in Hannah's search. Although a bit jerky at first, moving too quickly and not quite earning our emotional investment in Hannah, the plot soon smooths out and secures that investment. I'll note two primary changes that would strengthen the film. First, it could have invested more time exploring the birth mother's original struggle, helping us to see and feel her pain and difficulty. Second, at the film's closing, the dialog could have stopped about two lines earlier. But I'm quibbling. These (and some other) weaknesses take but a tad of grace to overlook in favor of the profound exploration of life that October Baby affords to us.

The film is most definitely worth the time, as is the intense emotional path through which it takes us. If your personal views are strongly toward abortion rights, please suspend judgment for a time and simply hear Hannah's fears of not being wanted. They are our own fears and, seeing them in Hannah, we might better "want" the people we find in our lives.

The emotional intensity of the story is the strongest point of content awareness, though there is one quick story of drunken carousing and a quick mention of a traumatic personal injury.

  • Director: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
  • Screenplay: Jon Erwin & Theresa Preston, based on story by Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, and Cecil Stokes
  • Leads: Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey, John Schneider, Jasmine Guy, Shari Rigby
  • Cinematography: Jon Erwin
  • Music: Paul Mills

Tags: ,

NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
(spoilers are allowed in comments when a Before viewing talk does not have a corresponding After viewing talk for discussing the film)

Post a Comment

NOTE: It is okay to have spoilers in comments on Quick talks, but please do warn folks with "** SPOILERS **" or some such.

You must be registered (it's easy) and logged in to post a comment. Why?