Protections provided by the federal government for those in need of safe and legal abortion procedures have always been scarcely dispersed and under constant attack, especially in more recent years as the country seems to be moving further to the radical right. Drastic draconian measures continue to get introduced into legislation, most notably last year when nine U.S. states attempted to enact stricter restrictions on abortion access and legality, with Alabama even proposing an outright ban on abortions under any circumstances, all of which were met with lawsuits and opposition. The traditional conservative values of those lobbying for harsher restrictions, while they do come from what they personally feel are altruistic motivations of protecting the lives of unborn children, often neglect the fact that these same provisions are in direct violation of the protection of, in most cases, of already living children who lack the necessary resources to carry a newborn to term and raise it properly, resulting in potentially more deaths and misery.
Eliza Hittman’s Sundance hit, Never Rarely Sometimes Alwaysis an empathetic look into the unflinching, anxiety-inducing, minute-by-minute account of teen pregnancy that is a vicious reality for millions of young women across the United States. The film tells the story of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a teenage girl living in rural Pennsylvania, who upon finding out that she is pregnant, sets off with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to New York City in order to discreetly seek out medical assistance to terminate the pregnancy in a quiet, sobering look into the realities of a hotly contested societal issue from the perspective of those at the center of the experience.
Aside from the legislative and political obstacles that women have to face under these circumstances, there is still also the personal struggle that every woman has to endure when confronted with this decision. The guilt of even considering going through with it, the embarrassment of having to admit to those closest to you that it happened, the financial struggle of getting the necessary money and healthcare plan in order to afford the procedure, all of which can weigh even heavier on young girls who typically have fewer resources and are far more likely to be stigmatized. While there have been certain films in more recent years that have made strides in normalizing this side of the issue such as Juno or Obvious Child, both also air more so on the side of comedy, whereas Never Rarely Sometimes Always delicately presents its subject with the weight and sensitivity that it deserves to be treated with.
Hittman documents the painstaking journey of Autumn with a sense of natural realism devoid of any hints of cinematic artifice, which only strengthens the authenticity of the internal stress that such an experience can create in a young girl. So much of Autumn’s thoughts and feelings go unspoken, keeping most of the specifics of her personal life intentionally vague. This approach adds a universal quality to Autumn’s story, which succeeds at making her journey more of an overarching representation of the varied accounts of what this experience can and has been for countless numbers of teenage girls, although in doing so, does make Autumn as a character herself feel more like a nondescript construct lacking in any firm definition. Normally, this type of blank slate audience surrogate protagonist would act as a disservice to the character’s personal journey, but given the nature of the widely contested and largely misunderstood subject matter being depicted, this stylistic choice essentially forces the viewer to see themselves in the character’s position, creating greater empathy not simply for the character on screen, but for the person who this could be in real life.
Little to nothing is told to us of Autumn’s backstory, and given the quiet, subdued nature of the way in which the character is written, information about how exactly she got into this situation, and even how she’s feeling on a scene to scene basis is purposefully kept from us. It’s not until the crucial scene of which the film earns its namesake, in which she is asked to complete a psychological questionnaire in which she must answer “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes”, or “always” to each question. While this scene still does not give any clear answers as to what in actuality she has been through, or why she has the reactions that she does, but the manners in which she chooses to answer (or not answer) certain questions, which specific words or phrases cause her to stutter, tear up, or completely break down emotionally, speak volumes about what the character has been through far more effectively than any scene of definitive events could have.
This painfully authentic, almost documentary-like view into such a nerve-racking experience is one that will feel all too real for some, and for others will be an exercise in empathy for an experience that they could never imagine having to endure. With any hope, the delicate sensitivity in which this point of view on such a contentious topic is presented will be an eye-opening experience, particularly for men, and can hopefully enact positive change in the understanding and discourse surrounding the issue.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is now available on demand
Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an empathetic look into the unflinching, anxiety-inducing, minute-by-minute account of teen pregnancy that is a vicious reality for millions of young women across the United States