Tim Drake is an award-winning writer and former journalist and radio host with the National Catholic Register/EWTN. He currently serves as New Evangelization Coordinator for the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. He resides with his wife and five children in St. Joseph, Minn.
Early in my career with the Register, I interviewed Kathy DiFiore about her work founding the Several Sources Shelters, maternity homes for pregnant teenagers. Little did DiFiore realize, then, that her work would inspire a future Hollywood film.
That film, Gimme Shelter, from Roadside Attractions, opened in theaters last week. It tells the story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (the almost unrecognizable Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical), a pregnant teen from an abusive home who finds herself homeless and alone.
Here are my eight reasons to see the movie before it leaves theaters.
- It’s a true story.
Given the other options available in theaters right now — and there aren’t many that merit viewing — Gimme Shelter is a heart-moving and inspiring drama that rings true because it is. The writer was inspired by the work of DiFiore, but also by the young pregnant mothers he met through DiFiore’s Several Sources Shelters.
Don’t expect a saccharine Christian film. Gimme Shelter tells a gritty true story that reflects the story of many young pregnant women. It presents a side of life many of us seldom see. Apple’s mother (played by Rosario Dawson) is cruel, abusive and violent; she is a drug-user and a prostitute. The film does not glamorize these lifestyle choices or life on the street. Still, there’s value in seeing the consequences of such choices.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis says, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.” Gimme Shelter clearly shows us a Church that is out on the streets.
- It’s respectful of faith.
As depicted in the film, there can be no doubt that faith is what drives DiFiore to do the work that she does. She’s shown speaking at a Catholic parish. Priests support her work. The maternity home is filled with reminders of faith — a Sacred Heart statue, a rosary and a photo of DiFiore with Mother Teresa.
In 2001, DiFiore told me that it was her faith that led her to begin her work with pregnant teens.
“At Mass one Sunday, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 25, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was in prison, you visited me.’ Here, I had been saying a prayer, asking God what he wanted me to do for him. This reading was like a Divine two-by-four over my head,” DiFiore told me. “It was as if God was saying, ‘This is what I want you to do. I’ve been telling people this for 2,000 years.’”
So DiFiore placed a classified ad in the newspaper that read: “Pregnant? Need Help?” As she told me in 2001, the first girl who stayed with her was 15 years old.
The film doesn’t ignore DiFiore’s faith. It doesn’t denigrate it or poke fun at it. It doesn’t preach or proselytize or attempt to make the viewer come to Christ. It simply portrays DiFiore as a woman of faith and leaves the viewer to make the connection.
- It has a talented cast.
From Vanessa Hudgens to Rosario Dawson to Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones, the film pulls together a talented cast. No one character overshadows another, but all play their parts in a very realistic, believable way that makes the film approachable. Fraser does a good job as the father who hasn’t been in Apple’s life. Dawson is a very convincing — and difficult to watch — abusive mother. Hudgens demonstrates her considerable talent as Apple. James Earl Jones, while not on the screen a tremendous amount of time, adds gravitas to the film and provides a spiritual center as Father McCarthy. Long a favorite of mine, he’s always enjoyable to watch and has some of the best lines in the film.
- It positively portrays the priesthood.
Here in Minnesota, for the past five months, we’ve endured a regular barrage of reporting by public radio and newspapers of alleged priestly wrongdoing. It wears even on the most faithful.
In Gimme Shelter, Jones plays the likable, though not soft, Father McCarthy, a chaplain at the hospital where Apple ends up after an accident. The portrayal is a welcome one from Hollywood, not known for its recent positive portrayals of priests. The film is a great reminder of the good work that priests do — and that we cannot let the grievous errors of a few sully the reputation of the priesthood as a whole.
- It’s unapologetically pro-life.
I’ve written a lot about pro-life films — everything from Bella to October Baby and the short Crescendo, but Gimme Shelter is one of the most unapologetically pro-life films I’ve ever seen. Again, it does so without preaching.
Early in the film, Apple’s father and his wife urge her to abort her child.
“Just turn the page, and you’ll have forgotten it ever happened,” counsels her father.
“Like you did with me?” responds Apple.
After Apple has an ultrasound, she protectively carries the ultrasound image of her daughter with her everywhere. It is that image that ultimately propels her to run out of an abortion business, where her father and his wife have set up an appointment for Apple.
This film shares a pro-life story in a way that can’t help but inspire others to support the cause.
- It shows us how to love one another.
Early in our marriage, my wife, Mary, and I opened our home to a young pregnant mother through the Share-a-Life program. The young mother gave birth and placed her child for adoption with a couple we knew who were unable to have children of their own. I later wrote about that experience, saying that to share a life is to save one. The Jewish proverb reiterated in the film Schindler’s List is: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”
Gimme Shelter demonstrates the power of radical love in action. Through DiFiore’s response to the Gospel message, the lives of thousands of women have been improved and the lives of tens of thousands of children have been saved. This is no small achievement. The lives of each of those mothers and their children have ripple effects. Every life is precious and sacred. Every life has a purpose. Every life touches many others.
This movie clearly shows us how to love as Christ loved, by laying down our lives for others.
- It highlights the work of pregnancy centers and maternity homes.
I’ve served on the board of our local crisis-pregnancy shelter, helped raise funds for them and spoken at their annual donor dinner. No one does more on-the-ground work in the pro-life movement to help women and their unborn children than crisis-pregnancy centers and maternity homes. This film highlights and celebrates the work of so many, as well as the fruit of such work.
If the early part of the movie is an example of how no one is there for Apple, the latter half of the movie demonstrates how people with absolutely no biological connection to her offer the prayer, support and love she most desperately needs. In them, she finds a family and a home that she never had. It’s great to see these organizations receiving some well-deserved attention for their life-changing work.
- We should support the films we ask for.
It’s amazing that a film like this was made and is currently in theaters. As Christians, we often regret our lack of genuine choices when it comes to entertainment. We sit at the kitchen table or in our living rooms or workplaces and whine that we wish there were more options available; and yet, when positive films are created, we often don’t support them. Hollywood, like any business, responds to the market. Film companies produce and distribute films that they believe will make money.
If we truly want more palatable entertainment, entertainment that highlights rather than denigrates the faith and the faithful, then we need to support such films when they come along. Here’s a film — not unlike The Blind Side of a couple of years ago — that tells an inspiring story of self-sacrifice, is respectful of faith and has an overwhelming pro-life message.
This film is so much better than the latest action-oriented superhero movie or raunchy comedy because it’s true and inspiring. We should be supporting it and encouraging others to support it.