Over in Christchurch for a couple of days I went with Leigh to the film Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. An eighteen year old college girl finds she’s pregnant but can’t get an abortion in Pennsylvania. Supported by her cousin, who steals some money from the supermarket where they both work weekends, she goes to New York for the procedure. Because she is over ten weeks it requires them staying there for two days. In between clinic appointments they are too broke to afford accommodation so roam the streets and the malls and ride the subway. The title of the film comes from interview questions from the counsellor as she asks about abusive sexual experiences (Never, rarely etc.).
The cousin is more outgoing but the central character is shut away within her inarticulate self. Her integrity is her inarticulateness. She suffers the experience and has no words for it. The relationship with her family is mute. Her relationship with her cousin is equally wordless, other than a couple of small moments of tenderness. Their home town looks singularly grim. New York is serial and the women in the clinic locked into procedure. The film is brilliantly acted and photographed, but at the end I was left with the question: Why has all the scripting, photography and editing – the whole machinery of articulation – been devoted to create an oppressed silence without a glimmer of hope. Is it because hope would have been a romantic lie? Is it that these young women and their families are trapped in a nihilism where no one is capable of comprehending their experience. Is that the reality or is it the filmmaker’s perception of that reality? The filmmaker, after all, has chosen. What would Brecht have shown? Or Boal? Brecht was always keen to show with clarity the oppression caused by capitalist economic structures and is famous for that profound moment of silent articulation: Mother Courage’s voiceless scream. Boal would insist on replaying the action and for the audience to explore with the actors, other choices. Boal insists on articulation and clarity. Leigh meanwhile, focused on the role of the women in the clinic. How could this young woman be supported, even while rejecting support?
As we talked, the plot of the film began to unravel and we became aware of moments of mystification: Was the girl’s father an abuser? If so, why not make it clear? Who was the father of the baby? Why was he not relevant? Why not allow the relationship of the two girls to develop? How did she find her cousin and the boy after they had vanished into the streets of New York? Would the women in the recovery room ignore one another? Why couldn’t she talk to her mother? What conversation would she have with her mother when she returned home? These mystifications are necessary for the girls to remain inarticulate.
When we googled the filmmaker we found the intent was to make a pro abortion film. Presumably, if abortion were available in her home town, greater dialogue would have been possible? Although she didn’t want her parents to know, so dialogue with whom? And the final question: Who is going to see the film? Would the two girls at its centre sit through an art film? Unlikely. The portrayal of oppression involves aesthetic choices which are also political choices on the part of the artist. To deny the working class articulation in the interests of art is a serious decision to make: Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?