Normally, I start off a Sunday Scaries column with our normal little paragraph setting things up. I’m forgoing that today since this is a Sunday Scaries piece mostly in name only. Sure, the thing I’m talking about is absolutely terrifying, but it’s real life, not the movies. I’m talking about the Supreme Court last month overturning Roe v. Wade, setting women’s health back a half century, and setting the stage for even more rights to be rolled back. However, since this is a film site and I’m a white man who will never have the exact experience that a pregnant woman will (though I’ve been far closer to the abortion issue than I’ve let on, but that’s my business), I’m going to tie it into a film that couldn’t be more of the moment now. That title, of course, is Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Now, it’s 100% a horror movie, as well as an ignored warning.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always was timely the moment it was filmed. It’s a tragedy that it’s only become more of a documentary, if an horrific one, in the years since. For context, two years ago, this is some of what I said about the film when I raved (here) about it during the awards season:
Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, starring Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, the movie chronicles the lengths that a teenage girl has to go in this country to get an abortion. Laws created, almost exclusively by males, have made a labyrinth for anyone engaging with reproductive health in America. Autumn (Flanigan) is not ready to have a child, but her state requires parental consent. That’s not an option, so along with her best friend and cousin Skylar (Ryder), they head to New York City, looking for help at Planned Parenthood. Obviously, New York has some of the most liberal laws in the country regarding abortion, but even so, bureaucracy extends and complicates their trip. Hittman captures all of this in a matter of fact manner, which only increases how much your heart breaks for Autumn, as well as how angry you are that the situation exists in the first place.
I haven’t been shy about praising the film, but it goes beyond just being a magnificent movie. It’s also damn important. After all, it’s not very often that any cinema is required viewing for teenagers. In this situation, however, they are actually being exposed to a film that could save their lives. A sobering story of teen pregnancy, as well as a look at what some states make you go through to get an abortion, it’s a masterpiece. Equally effective as a character study and as an angry protest for all the women who go through this hardship, it will blow you away. It literally demands to be seen.
I was absolutely blown away by Sidney Flanigan’s performance, from beginning to end. Namely, there’s a sequence that anyone who sees the movie will never ever forget. Flanigan’s Autumn is being asked a series of questions at Planned Parenthood by an employee. Wisely, Eliza Hittman’s camera simply lingers on her as she answers them by choosing between the required answers of never, rarely, sometimes, or always. As she’s asked the questions, they probe into her relationships and sexual history, looking for any signs of abuse. As you might expect from a private teen girl, her answers are somewhat evasive, but the breakdown happening slowly on her face is absolutely devastating. It’s arguably the best individual scene of acting I’ve seen all year. without question, Flanigan is extraordinary here, deserving of huge praise and a tremendous career to come. However, Talia Ryder is terrific too, playing her cousin and companion on the trip. She brings a bubblier quality to things, while also providing an incredibly effective look at family and friendship. Together, the newcomers display wonderful chemistry and don’t have an ounce of artifice in their performances. Under Hittman’s expert direction, they execute an impeccable screenplay, creating magic in the process.
Consider Never Rarely Sometimes Always to be the exact opposite of propaganda like the “film” Roe v. Wade, which I reviewed here. While the latter fear mongers and outright lies to push an insidious agenda forward, the former warns about the terrors of what these girls go through. Girls is the key word, too, since in so many cases it’s young women without means who suffer the most. Their lives have become potential horror movies now, and it shows no signs of letting up.
To get on a soapbox for a moment, I’ll post here what I said on Social Media about the Supreme Court’s decision. The movie shows it, while I just ranted, as you can see below:
The fact that the right to a woman determining what happens to her body and her pregnancy was systematically targeted for elimination is cruel beyond words. I won’t pretend that it’s not a complicated issue with strong opinions on both sides, but the fact that those who celebrate Roe falling are not also champions of birth control, sex education, and realistic ways to prevent pregnancy, as well as not believing in exemptions for rape and incest, just hammer home how this is all about control. And a select few have wrestled control of female autonomy. Make no mistake, there will still be abortions in America. The number won’t go down much, if at all. What will change? The amount of safe abortions will go down, and the amount of women, especially young and poor women, who die from the procedure will go up. That blood will be on the hands of those who have targeted this day for literally decades.
Decades from now, when film historians are looking at how cinema responded to these rights being taken away, they’ll undoubtedly come back to Never Rarely Sometimes Always. A prescient movie, it was disturbing to consider as a potential future norm then. Now? It’s a stinging indictment of how old white men think nothing of controlling the bodies of young, and often poor, women. We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to happen.
Stay tuned for another installment of the Sunday Scaries next week, but keep the women in your thoughts who will suffer horrifically because of this Supreme Court decision…