Designed to inflame the squeamish and the steely—the self-righteous and those who would assume that certain rights are not open to debate—Lake of Fire is a terrifying status report, peppered with sense and sensationalism alike. It’s easily the documentary of the year. The subject is abortion in America, as scorched as earth gets. But delivered via the film’s stark black-and-white cinematography and operatic score, the ground reerupts volcanically: hateful protestors, serenely smug evangelicals, blithe clinic bombers, scarred nurses, murdered doctors, the tiny fingers of the unborn swirling in surgical pools of blood.
Who spends 17 years and millions of dollars of his own money collecting such images of barbarity? Tony Kaye started off in advertising; he burned his Hollywood bridges in a public fracas over the editing of American History X, also about the extremes of hate. Serious matters then called to him. Kaye will be labeled many things in the coming weeks; let’s get out in front and call him what he really is—a journalist. He’s able to pin pro-choice defender Alan Dershowitz to his one Knocked Up moment of uncertainty, recalling the sublimity of standing with his wife in front of the ultrasound’s heartbeat. Elsewhere, Kaye lingers over the wire hangers used as instruments on the less fortunate, and sits in conversation with the born-again “Jane Roe,” now ashamed of her role in history.
For all its provocativeness, Lake of Fire is not a shapeless movie, nor a politically irresponsible one. Indeed, it seems cut from the same cloth as Michael Moore’s blogumentaries and the great tradition of American activist filmmaking. As Moore did with Fahrenheit 9/11, Kaye puts the ultimate thrust of his project in the hands of one woman, a young Minnesotan named Stacey who we see go through the abortion process in full. Her trauma, even under these most optimal of circumstances, is heartbreaking—a rejoinder to anyone who would argue her lack of responsibility. This is a film about taking it. Unmissable.