In her third directorial work NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS Filmmaker Eliza Hittman accompanies a young girl on her way to a self-determined abortion and refrains from pointing a moral finger in favor of her protagonist. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (OT: UK/USA 2020)
17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) works as a supermarket cashier in rural Pennsylvania, and her life takes an unsurprising course. When she realizes that she has become pregnant unintentionally, Autumn cannot count on her parents’ support. Together with her cousin Skyler (Talia Ryder), she scrapes together a little money and the two set off on the bus to New York City. All they have in their luggage is the address of a clinic – and no other plan. The beginning of a nerve-wracking journey, carried by friendship, courage and compassion.
The so-called Safe Abortion Day on September 28th is intended to draw attention to the fact that women in many countries are still not allowed to have a medical abortion. Especially in the USA, it is difficult for those affected to find out about such a step because the legal situation varies from state to state and the conservative lobby of abortion opponents is huge. But in this country, gynecologists’ practices are also prohibited from publicly advertising advice on abortions – even if only through a note among the practice’s offerings. The case of Indian woman Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 as a result of an incomplete miscarriage and the subsequent refusal of an abortion, brought the topic into the focus of director and screenwriter Eliza Hittman (“Beach Rats”). For her new film, she researched, among other things, that one in five women has to drive more than 50 miles to have an abortion in order to have it legally performed. She now retells such an odyssey in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”. The fate of her protagonist, Autumn, is fictional, but represents many women and girls who have to undertake such a journey at least once in their lives because they are denied any help in their state.
Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) finds herself unintentionally pregnant.
The film title “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is derived from the possible answers that Autumn can give when answering a medical questionnaire. The young woman who informs Autumn of all the risks before terminating the pregnancy asks her questions like whether she has ever been forced into sex by a man or otherwise physically abused. This conversation, filmed in a single long camera shot, summarizes the narrative intensity of the entire film in just a few minutes. In “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” the focus is consistently on the protagonist; Eliza Hittman tells the events entirely from her perspective and often allows her to process them in sometimes excruciatingly long takes. This is also the case in this conversation, in which Autumn’s expression darkens further with every question about violent experiences in the past, until at a certain moment she is no longer able to answer, because after many days of outwardly emotionless lethargy, here she is it is possible for the first time to shed tears. It’s a mixture of ultimate tension and the long-awaited relief of having finally found someone the young woman can confide in.
“Eliza Hittman tells the events entirely from her protagonist’s perspective and often lets her process them in sometimes painfully long shots.”
It’s an emotional balancing act that Eliza Hittman performs here; Her aim in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is not to explore the advantages and disadvantages of abortion. Your film tells the story of an individual in a very subjective way. She doesn’t comment on, let alone question, her protagonist’s decision. Hittman doesn’t care that there might be viewers out there who don’t agree with the desperate girl’s decision. The script doesn’t even reveal the exact reasons why Autumn doesn’t want to keep the child – not an omission, but a clear statement: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to anyone why someone decides to take such a step, as long as it is for this person is correct. However, that is also one of the reasons why Autumn’s fate is not always as close to you as it could be – “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a dreary undertaking in every respect, but Hittman never pursues an additional emotional one with her documentary production Exploitation of the situation. She never pushes the tear duct, doesn’t exaggerate, and doesn’t put more obstacles in her protagonist’s way for dramatic purposes than she already has to deal with. So Autumn and Skyler’s odyssey has to speak for itself.
The abortion is imminent.
Unfortunately, emotions sometimes fall by the wayside. Also because Autumn is a typical teenage character who, because of her pregnancy, closes herself off to the outside world even more than she already does. Instead, scenes in which the young woman expresses her feelings in other ways speak for themselves – for example when she pierces her nose with a hot needle shortly after the pregnancy diagnosis or tries to get rid of the fetus by hitting her stomach . In such moments, all the girl’s anger and desperation burst to the surface. And the sight of her stomach covered in bruises remains etched in one’s memory for a long time. As are some scenes in which Autumn and her cousin are victims of physical assault, which Eliza Hittman casually weaves into her plot. These do not come from opponents built up to be antagonists, but are banal fringe phenomena; a swipe at the patriarchy that wouldn’t be necessary – “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is enough of an outcry due to the premise itself. After all, there wouldn’t be a film like this if every woman anywhere in the world were able to decide about her own body.
“The fact that newcomer Sidney Flanigan never turns her victim figure, due to circumstances, into a victim of her own fate is due to an excellently ambivalent embodiment of quiet rebellion.”
The fact that newcomer Sidney Flanigan (even if it’s hard to believe given her strong performance, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is actually her acting debut) never turns her victim figure, due to the circumstances, into a victim of her own fate is due to an excellently ambivalent character Embodiment of quiet rebellion. Autumn can’t do anything against the current laws, but she can do something about standing still and remaining silent. Her fate in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is therefore not nearly as devastating as it seems at first glance. It is one that is encouraging and at the same time illustrates the precarious circumstances in which we (or women) sometimes have to live today. In the end, Eliza Hittman even foregoes a classic happy ending with blissful faces. Although successful abortion should be legal and finally destigmatized, it is by no means an enviable experience.
Conclusion: “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a documentary-style drama about a young girl who sets out on an odyssey through America to have a legal abortion. Eliza Hittman avoids artificial over-dramatization and lets her protagonist’s fate speak for itself. Sometimes her inner life remains hidden before the director finds powerful images of the prevailing grievances early enough.
“Never Selten Sometimes Always” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 1st.