“Humans are beautifully flawed.” This statement uttered by a Roman Catholic priest to 19 year-old Hannah, the protagonist of the film, captures poignantly the essence of human complexity portrayed in the film. With strong instrumental themes and bracing lyrics interwoven throughout the film, October Baby aims directly for the human heart and mostly succeeds, at least for those honest and vulnerable enough to let its message in. Although the narrative starts haltingly, much like the faltering lines of a play delivered on a stage by Hannah before she collapses, the story slowly builds momentum and power thereafter. Her collapse instigates a series of medical and emotional events which turn her life upside down. Everything she has known to be true is called into question. Her parents adopted her. Her birth mother attempted to abort her. She had a twin brother, who died soon after birth. And she has so many questions, painful questions that rock her to her core.
Why wasn’t she wanted? Was something wrong with her? Why didn’t her adoptive parents tell her the truth much sooner? Why did she have to go on a road trip to discover the troubling reality herself?
It is a coming-of-age story with the requisite, even predictable hints of shenanigans which follow a group of college-age kids making a run for Mardi gras during Spring break. But to her credit, Hannah maintains moral integrity as does her dear childhood friend Jason, although she does attempt to bribe an officer to cut them slack when they mistakenly park on a federally protected beachhead. Implausibly, he lets them go, albeit without taking her money. Later she and Jason are arrested for breaking into the hospital where she was born after the abortion attempt. Again implausibly, an officer goes easy on them, even providing her with much needed information to find the whereabouts of the woman who helped deliver her.
For these reasons, the plot stretches the boundaries of credulity. But isn’t that typical of real life? Life is not a nice tidy package with a pretty bow on it. It is messy; painful even. Hannah’s diary discloses the pain she has long felt even before the initial revelation of her past. The story captured on screen reveals layers of pain not only in her heart, but in that of her adoptive parents, the nurse who formerly helped perform abortions and ultimately helped deliver her, and in the end, her mother.
Hannah visits a cathedral near the end of the story. She had accomplished all she set out to do. She knows who her birth mother is. She knows the full story of why she experiences her physical symptoms and the accompanying feelings of all not being what it seems. Yet, she still hurts. She is angry. She feels hatred. When the Roman Catholic priest greets her and she begins to talk about her feelings haltingly she laughs, pointing out she is Baptist. Wisely, he suggests that she simply state how she feels. So, she does. He then reminds her of Scripture and the Gospel it contains, focusing in particular on God’s forgiveness for us, and the liberty which comes when we choose to forgive others.
The first time she visited her birth mother at her place of business, the woman denied knowing anything about her. But she knew. And Hannah perceived this fact. The second time Hannah did not confront her in person. Instead, she left on her birth mother’s office desk the plastic hospital bracelet indicating her birth and the name of the mother. Underneath the bracelet was a crumpled piece of paper with the words, “I forgive you.”
Hannah had begun her journey toward wholeness.
Her birth mother wept on the floor in the privacy of her office.
October Baby is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements. This is an appropriate rating. Parents should consider going to the film with their kids who are 13 or older. I can assure you it will prompt interesting conversations about limits, control, decision-making, and trust in the home between parents and their teen children.
Although there is a continual ebb and flow of emotional intensity, there is also a blend of humor and honorable romantic love. October Baby is well worth watching. It is well-acted throughout the film and portrays an interesting story with layers of depth for several of its key characters. Thus, it gives me much needed hope for the Christian film industry. Perhaps we are finally learning how to tell interesting stories on the screen without sounding sermonizing or committing the unpardonable sin of bad acting and condescending theologizing.