When Hannah leaves the nurse’s apartment and collapses in the hallway, wailing and sobbing, the camera moves back to the nurse in her apartment, and we hear Hannah’s outpouring of rage and grief with the nurse’s depth of understanding. That’s when the authentic emotion locked in the basic story truly begins to be unleashed.
One scene after another then begins to work to full effect, even when we know they are coming—even when they have way too many cinematic forebears.
Hannah wanders into a Catholic cathedral after her adoptive mother tells her of looking for solace in such a place, as she sought God and healing. Enter the avuncular old priest who is locking up the church but stops to speak with the troubled young woman.
You are excused if a sudden impulse to imitate Spencer Tracy comes over you. But, October Baby pulls it off.
The wise avuncular priest turns out to be a believable, wise, avuncular priest, whose speech has just enough misdirection to elude our defenses and strike straight at the heart.
“Because you have been forgiven,” he says, “you have the power of forgiveness.”
A movie that stayed on the “family film” level would never have suggested that Hannah herself was in need of forgiveness. It would have preached, instead, that she needed to accept her own wonderfulness–her “true self.”
I mean, we thinks she’s wonderful. Not since the young Dana Delany and the luminous Mary Louise Parker has an actress had a presence as pure and glowing as Rachel Hendrix—doubly hard to pull off when you have that many crying scenes. Hannah sure looks like someone who deserves to believe that “loving yourself is the greatest love of all.”
It’s the priest’s suggestion that she accept her own need to be forgiven before she can forgive others that lifts the movie onto another plane. Even survivors of botched abortions suffer from original sin. Hannah’s emotional darkness, her will to self-destruction and self-hatred, participates in the darkness—the evil—of what’s been done to her, and the only way to rid herself of this is to reach out to a forgiving and life-giving God.
That this scene actually works in dramatic terms is a flat-out miracle, and it does.
As the film concludes, there are other reconciliations; the tying up of numerous dramatic bows. Every time that I was tempted to think, “Don’t make it too neat!” I found myself tearing up again, so, I let myself enjoy the wrap-ups.
October Baby, it’s a gift.
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