by Stephen Simpson
Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2012

OCTOBER BABY IS A POWERFUL FILM ABOUT HOW MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT

October Baby movie posterOne of the most moving and significant films I’ve ever seen hit theaters across the united States this Spring, sparking deep emotions and conversations, and in many cases, changing lives. This film, October Baby, is produced by The Erwin Brothers, and stars John Schneider, Jasmine Guy, Jason Burkey, Chris Sligh, and luminous newcomer Rachel Hendrix.

In its first weekend, this small indie film, opening on less than 400 screens, finished in the top ten of overall box-office leaders. And it was an astounding number three for average per-screen receipts. A strong word-of-mouth buzz overcame the attempts of certain negative film critics, who reacted against the film’s clear pro-life and pro-faith presentation. And while the message of the film is indeed clear and unmistakable, it is never preachy. In fact, it offers a refreshing in its open and honest approach to discovering truth, forgiveness, and redemption.

October Baby tells the story of Hannah Lawson (Rachel Hendrix), a 19-year-old college student whose life is turned upside down when she discovers that she is adopted, and that she is the survivor of an attempted abortion.

She begins a quest to discover who she is and who her biological mother is … and to know why she is still alive.

“Always there” for Hannah is her childhood friend, Jason Bradley (Jason Burkey), who convinces Hannah to join him and his merry band of cohorts on a Spring Break trip to New Orleans. Along for the ride are Jason’s self-absorbed girlfriend, Alanna (Colleen Trusler) and Danielle (Joy Brunson), along with B-Mac (Chris Sligh) and Truman (Austin Johnson). The road trip takes many unexpected detours and Hannah discovers a lot more than she planned.

Her worried parents, Jacob (John Schneider) and Grace (Jennifer Price), face a painful, confusing, and seemingly impossible dilemma: how to protect their daughter while telling her the truth about her birth. God-sent allies arrive along the way in the form of Police Officer Mitchell (Tracy Miller), Nurse Mary Rutledge (Jasmine Guy), and a wise Priest (Rodney Clark) Another unforgettable character is Cindy Hastings (Shari Rigby), who is hiding a secret that is about to break her heart.

The film is inspired in part by the true, real-life story of Gianna Jessen who was born prematurely in 1977 after surviving a saline abortion procedure. The horrific experience left Jessen with cerebral palsy. She not only survived, but became an inspiring pro-life activist. In a recent article from the National Catholic Register online written by Tim Drake, Co-Director Andrew Erwin says, “We were so moved by her story.” Jon Erwin, the other Co-Director continues, “Her life is beautiful and a testament to the beauty of life in general—and a testament to what the world would have lost if she had never been given the right to exist.” 1

Some critics have attempted to dismiss the storyline as implausible, suggesting that babies never survive abortion attempts. Not only does Jessen’s story prove these critics to be woefully uninformed, but will certainly bring this reality to light to a broader number of people. It also reminds us that certain politicians (including President Barack Obama) have, in the past, opposed efforts to protect infants born alive following abortion attempts. 2

The focus of the film is not political however, and it’s not even primarily about abortion. The grand, over-arching message here is one of forgiveness and redemption. This message was deeply personal to everyone who participated in making this movie, but none more than Shari Rigby, who was cast as Hannah’s birth mother, Cindy Hastings. In the film, Cindy has become a very successful lawyer, with a beautiful family … and many secrets.

According to the Erwin Brothers, Rigby was cast because she is a tremendous actress with whom they had worked before, and she bore a striking resemblance to Rachel Hendrix. What the Erwin Brothers didn’t know, and what Rigby herself didn’t know before she read the script, was how her own life and the life of the character were about to intersect in a miraculous way.

Jon Erwin describes getting Rigby’s phone call after she read the script: “She called us, weeping, asking me, ‘How did you know?’ We said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘Twenty years ago, I was working at a law firm, in a relationship, and found out I was pregnant.’ She decided to have an abortion.” Rigby continues, “So many times, as young women, we carry that burden that we’re going to look like a failure, that it’s shameful. You know, you can hide a secret about an abortion for a long time.” She told the Erwins, “Nobody knows except my husband and my therapist.”

“We were blown away by that,” says Jon Erwin. “She said, ‘I feel like this is God telling me that it’s time for me to share my story.’” Andrew Erwin says, “For the post-abortive mothers, it was very important to be sensitive to them and for this to be a healing movie, and so having Shari’s voice and having her play the role was just phenomenal.”

“As we went forward and filmed her scene, it wasn’t acting,” Jon says. “It was as real as you could get, it was one of the more moving things I’ve ever seen.” According to Shari, “We went into it, and right as the cameras were rolling, I just knew that the Lord was with me and that it was complete healing in that moment … that wasn’t acting. That was my moment with God and Him with me, saying, ‘It’s OK, it’s over, and you’ve been forgiven.’”

Scenes of raw and honest emotion and intensity such as Rigby’s and also Jasmine Guy’s breathtaking tour-de-force moment as the nurse who saved Hannah’s life have connected deeply with audiences. Hendrix shines in her role, and makes the audience feel both Hannah’s pain and her healing. She and Burkey have a natural ease together onscreen that make the audience forget that these are fictional characters in a movie. Her scenes with John Schneider crackle with the tension between anger and love.

It should also be noted that the intense themes in the movie are lightened with a great deal of grace and humor in the form of two colorful characters, the world-weary wise-cracker Truman and his hilarious cousin, B-Mac the driver of a vintage VW Van. Sligh (American Idol) revels in his role as B-Mac with gusto, and also provides excellent music for the film. Cousin B-Mac, the driver of a vintage VW van.

Aside from the relevant message, as a work of art, the film stands strong. It looks gorgeous, with rich cinematography, stellar directing, the aforementioned brilliant acting, and an altogether gripping story. The music is used very effectively throughout as well. This film is not for all ages. Rated PG-13, it contains some very intense thematic dialogue. But it would be exceptionally valuable for parents to see with their teens, followed up by family conversation about the issues presented. The movie doesn’t preach, so parents should follow the lead of the fi lm; see it together, then give your kids room to talk about it and express how they feel. Ask questions, and listen.

You can learn more about the film at octoberbabymovie.net, including theater locations nationwide.

1 “Pro-Life Movie Opens Nationwide” by Tim Drake, March 5, 2012, NCRegister.com

2 LifeSiteNews.com, Monday August 11, 2008