I spoke with Jonathan Flora, writer/director of the film   "A Distant Thunder" today....[UPDATE 10/4/05: MUST-SEE PHOTO ADDED BELOW]... I'd finally watched the DVD yesterday. On this blog, we often critique abortion plots in movies, TV shows and books, sharing a synopsis. But I won’t give the whole story away, or the impact will be lost. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I suspected, which was the worst.
[ALSO, UPDATE 10/6/05 at bottom of post]
For the record, Jonathan is a real, live Hollywood producer, having worked on the DVD releases of "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland" for Disney and Miramax.
But he's not like the Hollywood producers I would have expected. He makes it no secret that he's post-abortive himself, and regrets it deeply. Stopped me in my tracks right there, he did, although I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.
Only someone who understands what post-abortive trauma really is, firsthand, could have written this script.
I had some initial apprehension before viewing the film. Having had an abortion myself 26 years ago (though not a Partial Birth Abortion), I thought this could be a particularly difficult film to watch. I was wrong: post-abortive women really need not be afraid--as I was--to watch this film.
Why would it have been hard to watch? My brain had blocked out all recollections of my abortion, what it felt like, what the clinic looked like, etc. The only things I remember are running to get inside the clinic and away from "the gauntlet" of Catholics outside—some holding rosaries and shouting at me that I'm a murderer (not helpful), the sound of the suction machine, and being curled up in a fetal position for three days afterward at my college apartment, not really in physical pain, but just losing my soul (at least for the next 23 years).
Blocking out the memories was my defense mechanism, I've realized. And I was afraid this movie could bring some or all of them back. So it was not an easy decision to willingly risk this.
But I wanted to view it if my reporting on it might help even one woman avoid what I did and what I will always grieve. I sure as heck am no hero for having watched it. And, more importantly, no one else will have to be, either.
It wasn't as personally troubling as I feared. And it isn't just about Partial Birth Abortion.
Despite the creepiness of the trailer and excerpts in the conversations with the filmmakers, I also think it is OK for showing to almost any group—ministries, prolife organizations, high school or college students, even churches, especially people aged 30 or younger. It has a real Hollywood psychological thriller feel to it, which will appeal to younger generations used to scary, shocker-flashback movies with surreal, supernatural twists.
Jonathan confirmed that; he said many groups of teens, in schools and church youth groups have viewed the film, and it is being exceptionally well received by them.
Though the main character’s "dream" sequences were gripping and sometimes harrowing, they weren't too much for me to take (and I hate scary movies) nor were they at all graphic, violent or gory. The visions were frightening in what they implied, and most only pieced together in my mind afterward, some even after watching the "Director's Cut" on the DVD. I’m still piecing it all together trying to decide what really happened at the end.
There was some excellent acting by all performers and especially Deborah Flora and Laura Richardson, who played the nurse on the witness stand. And Charlene Tilton was in the film (she of "Dallas" and "Lucy Ewing" fame). Outstanding work. High production values too. Had it been feature length (it was about a half-hour long), it would have been ready to open in any theatre.
I had hoped the film would be longer, but I realized afterward that ending as it did was best for keeping discussion going about what should happen, instead of what did happen.
Besides, the nurse's testimony really is "open and shut."
The filmmakers are open about investigating financial support to make it into a feature length film. But Jonathan said they were pleasantly surprised to find the short length allows it to be shown easily in classrooms to teens as well as to Congressmen in their offices. A full-length picture wouldn’t have enabled the same consideration.
So, what happens? There is a courtroom drama about a botched partial birth abortion. That is the main story. But there is also a supporting character who has had an abortion, years before, who is clearly, deeply suffering the psychological effects of that abortion. The character's world is numb.
As compelling as the legal case and surprises are, I found myself lasering in on the post-abortive character.
The character suffering from post-abortive trauma has lost her life, though she is still alive. A family member also suffers the lifelong loss of this character’s support and love, as they never connect, communicate or cherish.
One word to describe the impact of the character’s abortion comes to my mind: "decimation."
But it isn’t "in-your-face." It is much more confusing and uncertain than that. I knew it for what it was, though, knowing what I know now.
I presumed one character is shown as a young child in some home movies shown. But now, I'm not so sure.
There is one heck of a twist at the end in the courtroom. To me, it seemed to tie in with "warnings" the prosecuting attorney received earlier that she was "in over her head." But then again, was the twist even real at all? It just could be another one of the attorney's many frightening "visions" that had been invading her mind, both asleep and awake. It seemed it could be either; I'm still not sure.
Today, Jonathan suggested an entirely different possibility, one I honestly hadn’t considered at all. One that blew me away.
And this interpretation makes one of the other supporting characters, now that I’ve thought about it again, a wholly different being altogether. This is totally mind-bending to realize; now the ending makes so much sense to me, and only just now, a day after having watched it twice.
Wow, Jonathan. I just got it. Why he takes her hand at the end.
What hope it will give women who have had abortions and grieve their lost children.
One small part of the film reminded me of Samuel Armas' case [I had the name wrong earlier; Alexander is the boy's father's name] as photographed by Michael Clancy, also discussed at this great site for teens. Was that the inspiration for that detail of the story? No, says Jonathan, the film was already in the can when he'd learned of this amazing true story. But it is a sort of proof that this aspect of the film isn't impossible as some have said.
Here is the Michael Clancy photo (click on it to enlarge), used with written permission. Keep in mind, there is nothing graphic in the "ADT" film, nothing such as this, no scenes of surgery or a PBA or even flashbacks of those. The photo below was taken during the life-saving procedure to repair the fetus' spina bifida at the age of 21 weeks; read the full story on Mr. Clancy's website (also see a later post for Mr. Clancy's update on how photos like these are being suppressed by the National Institutes of Health now):
Samuel Armas, in utero, grabs surgeon's finger - Photo by Michael Clancy, www.michaelclancy.com - Used with permission for this site only
[Samuel is a healthy, almost-six-year-old boy now (photos at that link), doing normal, almost-six-year-old boy things like "looking for bugs" and testifying before Senate subcommittees.]
******* UPDATE APRIL 4, 2007: Major TV Medical Drama Imitates Life: "HOUSE" reenacts Baby Samuel's hand grasp of his surgeon's finger. *******
Critics and reviewers are saying "A Distant Thunder" meets its stated goals: educating while gripping the audience, not being preachy or propaganda, just telling it like it is. I agree.
I still suspect that pro-choice people, even those who don't like Partial Birth Abortion, won't appreciate "A Distant Thunder," and will try to oppose it. The pro-choice Village Voice blared in 2003 about the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, then just approved by the majority of Congress (for the third time), with the headline: "'Partial-Birth' Ploy Threatens Abortions," writing that
"Indeed, there is precedent for anti-abortion medical practitioners spurring prosecutions of their colleagues. In 1975, Massachusetts physician Ken Edelin was indicted for manslaughter after performing a legal abortion at Boston City Hospital—based on a tip from operating room staff."His was another name that looked familiar to me: he had testified opposite Norma McCorvey (former “Roe”) and Sandra Cano (former “Doe”) this past June 23, 2005, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Constitution, Civil Right and Property Rights, examining the consequences of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
I'd written then that Dr. Edelin
"once was convicted of manslaughter for aborting a baby, finding that it was indeed moving after the abortion (though it hadn't taken a breath yet), and strangling it so that it did die. Apparently he was freed on a technicality."I said then that I hadn't found any sources to verify that exactly.
According to Vanderbilt University’s Television News Archive:
ABC Evening News for Monday, Dec 01, 1975And four months later:
Headline: Abortions / Edelin Follow-Up
Abstract: (Studio) Follow-up report on Dr. Ken. Edelin.
REPORTER: Howard K. Smith
(Boston, Massachusetts) Edelin charged with murder of fetus in February of `75. Edelin appealing 1 year suspended sentence he was given. Edelin still works at Boston City Hospital. [EDELIN - says hasn't done anything legally or morally wrong. Would proceed in same manner if same situation arose again.] Uncomplicated abortions at city hospital now referred to other city clinics. [Dr. Ernest LOWE - says Edelin indictment affected way abortions handled.] "McCall's" magazine survey of 97 doctors showed that 45% still do abortions after 12 weeks 40% don't do abortions after 12 wks. 5% don't do abortions at all. [EDELIN - says those against and for abortion have valid arguments which may never end.]
REPORTER: Lem Tucker
ABC Evening News for Monday, Apr 05, 1976Some prochoice "modern feminist" sites (which crashed my computer when I went to read that post) state that "His conviction was later overturned" but that last news report seems to say otherwise, and I could not find other information. "One year probation" means a conviction took place as far as I know (I doubt the Alford Doctrine was around in 1975), although I suppose even that conviction could have been overturned after probation was served. Still, if that had been the case, I'd think I would have found reams of prominent prochoice sites detailing that victory, instead of only one or two.
Abstract: (Studio) Massachusetts Supreme Court hears petition to overturn manslaughter conviction against Dr. Ken. Edelin, convicted of killing fetus. Edelin received 1 year probation; conts. to practice medicine.
REPORTER: Harry Reasoner
Begin Time: 05:17:20 pm
End Time: 05:17:30 pm
TVN Record Number: 43107
[For those who may not know, the Alford Doctrine is the legal mechanism for "[a] plea in a criminal case in which the defendant does not admit guilt, but agrees that the State has enough evidence against him or her to get a conviction. Allows the defendant to enter into a plea bargain with the state. If the judge accepts the Alford Plea, a guilty finding is made on the record."]
If Edelin "was freed on a technicality," but was convicted once, then the testimony/evidence was indeed there in the first place but some legal process was mishandled.
"A Distant Thunder" does tell the truth about Partial Birth Abortion that most Americans don't really know, although many think they do. And in the scene in which it is described, it is done by a nurse who seems to think it isn't such a terrible sight to behold.
Many Americans also don't know that there are nurses in the United States today who have gone public about incidents they witnessed that are too similar to what the nurse in this movie witnessed.
Too many of us just don't know.
What it comes down to is this: on virtually every count of the issues and incidents this movie raises, it really. isn't. a. fiction, after all. Sadly for all of us.
The question becomes, as Jonathan says,
"What are we going to do about it? It’s too easy to just write a $350 check to a crisis pregnancy center, though that certainly helps. Those of us who know the truth, as well as those of us who have lived through abortion, have to get up, get out, speak up, and spread that education and that truth to those who don't know it yet: this hurts too many people."Amen, brother.
UPDATE 10/6/05: And everyone, ONCE YOU'VE SEEN IT, go here to Internet Movie Database and add your comments!