Never Rarely Sometimes Always: The Topic of Abortion in Cinema

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When you sit and think about it, it’s pretty difficult to think of a film – either mainstream or independently produced – that focuses on such a tough and hard-hitting (but ever-so relevant) topic as abortion. Just last year in the UK alone, over 200,000 abortions were carried out across England and Wales, so it is troubling to see such a lack of representation in our society about the process which greatly impacts a huge proportion of our population, and causes a multitude of tricky debates across the whole world. In both mainstream cinema and the media in general, the topic of abortion is treated in such a way that allows women who choose a path of abortion to become submerged into a cloud of judgment and struggles, which is worrying to see. Through the influence of the media that abortion should be perceived as a ‘taboo’ subject matter, it is unsurprising that many filmmakers aim to avoid such a controversial topic, but should the important topic of abortion really be one we aim to ignore when there is already an accessible and popular platform available to discuss it through?

Cinema is such an incredible place for the true human experience to be portrayed, and with films becoming ever more available due to the increase in video-on-demand services, now is really the time for filmmakers to step up and explore the true realities of abortion and the struggles women go through daily in relation to issues of unintended pregnancies. Over the past few years, films have explored abortion in a range of ways. The 2007 hit-comedy drama film Juno (2007), for example, depicts the pressures that ‘unwanted’ pregnancies have upon a young person’s life in a lighthearted way.  The romantic drama film Dirty Dancing (1987) explores the difficulties of living within a society that lacks abortion-rights however these issues are soon brushed over with dance sequences and romance.

The 2020 American-British drama film Never Rarely Sometimes Always, directed by the incredible Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats), is a brilliant example of the cinematic progression needed in our modern world in relation to current dialogues. The film, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance Film Festival, follows the journey of 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who, after assuming she is pregnant, goes to a crisis pregnancy clinic in hope of having an abortion. The clinic, however, leans towards a pro-choice stance and suggests she watch an anti-abortion video to encourage her to reconsider her decision.

Tinted with muted tones to match the overall troubling mood, Never Rarely Sometimes Always understands just how difficult the topic of abortion is, but manages to become a masterpiece in cinema that dignifies through realism the difficulties women face when wanting an abortion – specifically in places where abortion is a criminal offence. It questions why a personal choice so big as having a child should be something that is forced upon an individual through raw imagery and brilliant direction. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brings a refreshing perspective upon an incredibly current and troubling topic, intending to push filmmakers into a new direction of socio-political exploration.

The portrayal of ‘unwanted pregnancies’ is something that throughout the years has been an interesting issue within cinema, with films quite often depicting abortion as something that is unnatural or taboo (especially from a ‘pro-life’ perspective). Just earlier this year in April, Northern Ireland lifted their abortion ban, giving women the right to choose what they do with their own bodies. In a world where times are changing and discussions of abortion are becoming far more common and understanding, it’s cinema’s turn to do what Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always did so well and present the issue with full, impactful and respectful force.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always, directed by Eliza Hittman, is available to rent and purchase on Amazon, Apple, and other VOD platforms.

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third-year film student & records/live exec 20/21

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