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Why “Gimme Shelter” is better than a “pro-life movie”

January 10, 2014

in Joe Houde,Trending

Gimme Shelter is the most moving film I’ve seen all year.

To be fair, it is only January, but in all honesty, I think it stands a fair chance at keeping that title.  Based on a heart wrenching true story, Gimme Shelter follows pregnant, 16-year old Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), who runs away from an abusive home to face life alone on the streets.  Apple’s journey pushes her to the edge of survival, until she finds new hope in a shelter for homeless, single mothers.

Thanks to Movie to Movement, I was able to see an advance screening of the film, which has a limited release on Jan. 24.

What’s the High School Musical girl doing in a movie like this?  I remembered thinking when I first saw the trailer.  Hudgens, who prompted my major reservations going into the film, gave a surprising performance and has proven that she can bring gritty emotion to the table for more serious – even religious – roles.   The film actually boasts an impressive lineup, with Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, and James Earl Jones all starring as well.

This independent drama reached a level of realism and expression of the human spirit that is too often lacking in modern cinema.  There were a number of fantastic movies I’ve enjoyed over the past twelve months: Gravity, Catching Fire, Star Trek, to name a few – all of which attained great depth and magnitude in their own ways – but there is something about the grit and grime of Gimme Shelter that quietly takes you where the blockbuster cannot tread.

When I think of the film students at JPCatholic, I think this is the kind of art they want to create.  A film with power to change lives.  A film that gently guides its audience toward the beauty of life and redemption and relationship.  This is no “Fireproof” or “October Baby” here – I really don’t know what the religious views of the producers are.

It’s not a nice message that’s been awkwardly packaged into a story; it’s a great story, that happens to have a powerful message.  While it contains quite a large dose of Catholic characters, context, and even dialogue, the film still somehow avoids sounding like a 2-hour sermon.  Christianity is present, but it’s not the core of the story.  Even the pro-life undercurrent, which will certainly be applauded by the conservative community (as it should be), is not the focal point of this story.

It’s simply the story of a girl.  It’s about her troubled past, her broken present, and her frail crawl towards a hopeful future.  It’s about finding family among complete strangers.  It’s about the healing and support offered by an organization like this homeless shelter.

Which is another great reason to love this film: I wish everyone would see this movie if only to open their eyes to the immense amount of impact these shelters can have on real peoples’ lives.   One of my closest friends in college used to work at Maggie’s Place, a phenomenal organization that’s been aiding single mothers since 2000.  These women often have nowhere else to turn, but are able to get back on their feet with the help of Maggie’s Place.   (Homes likes these also run entirely on donations…)

The film certainly isn’t perfect, and I’m sure critics will find various flaws to pick apart.  But any film that can make me tear up gets at least a few points in my book.  As a moviegoer who gets easily distracted when watching films, Gimme Shelter was thoroughly engaging for me, both entertaining and inspiring.  And though I can’t promise you the same experience, I will say I’m extremely glad there are films out there like this one.

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You can view the official site here or check for showtimes in your area.

Joe Houde studied business and media at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  He currently works in Admissions at John Paul the Great Catholic University.

Image Credit: Roadside Attractions

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