Published Jul 14, 2020How far have we come in this century in the fight to make abortions legal and accessible? Catch and Release, directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, and based on Jane Martin's 1993 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Keely and Du, says: not much. A statement on how dangerous the pro-life agenda can be, Catch and Release is a frightening film that will shock and incense viewers. On a metaphorical level, the film certainly succeeds, but it might leave you wanting some nuance.
A reductio ad absurdum of the pro-life Christian fundamentalist view that abortions are a sin, Catch and Release opens with an unconscious and kidnapped Keely, played compellingly by Laurence LeBoeuf, being transported to a small island by Robert (played terrifyingly by Aidan Devine), the leader of a pro-life group. Keely is pregnant after having been raped and she wants an abortion. She wakes on the island a captive of Du (Nancy Palk), a devout Christian member of Robert's group whose job it is to look after Keely and make sure she stays pregnant. Keely makes many attempts to escape but doesn't succeed.
Keely is tough as nails and fights mightily against both Du and the horrifyingly infuriating Robert. But most of all, she tries as best she can to convince Du of her own right to life. Du is also tough; she fishes and mends and makes sure Keely stays healthy — but, most of all, she is steadfast in her religious belief that abortions are murder. When the women aren't fighting, physically or with words, they have meaningful conversations, and Du begins to have sympathy for Keely's particular situation. She begins to warm to Keely after learning of her rape. Robert, on the other hand, thinks abortion is a sin, regardless of the circumstance; he treats Keely like a baby, incapable of thought or autonomous action.
Filmed in Muskoka, Ontario, the film abounds with beautiful scenes of rushing water and abundant wildlife. LeBoeuf is wonderful as Keely, portraying Keely's acute trauma with heartbreaking strength, constantly asking of Du, "What about my life?" Palk as Du is infuriating; you want to scream at her that she doesn't understand a thing about what an abortion is. As for Robert, well, you just want to punch him.
But that's the thing with this movie — because of the way it focuses on the extremities of the pro-life agenda's absurd and unscientific beliefs, the film reads like a morality tale, and as such, might prevent dialogue with the other side, who will likely disregard it. And the topic of abortion should not be disregarded.
We should ask of this movie: what does it offer that we can use to talk to people who might not be on board with abortion? Does it counter the murky misconceptions, and the weird and violent iconography pro-lifers such as Robert propagate about abortions, with reality? But also, does it feed into stereotypes pro-choicers hold against pro-lifers? And ultimately, does this film normalize abortions? Does Keely talk to Du about the mundanity of the procedure? Consider Obvious Child, for example — it's a movie that does an excellent job of normalizing abortions, showing them for what they are: safe, efficient and clean. A significant event, but one that happens regularly and is chosen freely.
Catch and Release's broad strokes would certainly have been provocative and effective when Keely and Du first came out in 1993. Today, in 2020, it still offers a powerful message, because the movie's directors are right: we still haven't come far enough in transforming attitudes towards abortions. We need to continue the dialogue.
I left the movie asking: was Du convinced by Keely's pleas for her rights, or was Du making an exception for Keely because of the fact of her rape? Would Du have supported Keely's choice to have an abortion regardless of her reason? Would Du support abortions without qualification?
The film would have been stronger had it placed more emphasis on the right a person has to choose — an emphasis on abortions themselves, rather than on Keely's reason for wanting one. A person might want an abortion for many reasons, and it's no one's business to question them, because every reason is valid. (Game Theory)