If These Walls Could Talk (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
Claire (Demi Moore) learns that she is pregnant but she feels that she is not in a position to raise a baby because her husband has recently died while serving his country. She wants an abortion but such a practice is illegal in 1952.
In 1974, Barbara (Sissy Spacek) is happily married and raising four children. While on the phone, it is revealed to her that her pregnancy test has turned out positive. Already living off a small income, a fifth child will likely put the entire family at stake.
In 1996, Christine (Anne Heche) reveals to her married professor that she is bearing his child. He responds by handing her some money so she can get an abortion. Although pro-life in stance, she summons the courage to visit an abortion clinic for a consultation.
Although I am uncertain that “If These Walls Could Talk,” the first two segments directed by Nancy Sacova and the third by Cher, can persuade someone to become pro-choice, I appreciated that it attempts to paint some subtlety when it comes to the subject of abortion by putting a face on circumstances.
The story I found most engrossing is Claire’s struggle as a widow who has no one to help her, not even the doctor she works for. We watch her weigh her options and consistently confronted by moral, financial, familial roadblocks. The unadorned cinematography highlights the heavy shame that Claire must live with. I was scared for her as she searches through medicine bottles in which the labels warn pregnant women not to take them. When swallowing dangerous pills fails to do the job, she actually takes sharp household items and attempts to abort the fetus herself.
Those scenes are very powerful not just because the images of self-mutilation are horrific but because such desperate actions to this day continue to exist everywhere. While Claire’s story embodies an overwhelming darkness, Barbara’s comes across as lighter yet her decision does not feel less important. Given that she has a responsibility to her family as well as herself, it is especially important that she feels she has made the right choice. At one point, however, I eventually found the ideas beginning to repeat themselves.
The husband (Xander Berkeley) believes that Barbara ought to keep the child while the eldest daughter (Hedy Burress) sees no other option but to abort. Perhaps the point is to show that Barbara has no idea what to do, which is relevant because a lot of people at this time are still undecided regarding the issue, but the script appears stuck, like it is afraid to think outside the box. I looked forward to see what else it has to offer but I found that the writing relies too much on Barbara’s final decision.
Christine’s story, on the other hand, is slightly more interesting because there is not one scene where she physically interacts with a family member. I have known people in college who decided to get abortions without their families’ knowledge. Unfortunately, the editing mistakes manic intercutting between what is happening inside and outside clinic for building tension so the tragic climax comes across too forced—all for the sake of a dramatic ending.
“If These Walls Could Talk” excels during its quiet moments when a woman realizes that her decision, whether she keeps the fetus or not, will forever be a part of her life. A lot of people tend to think that deciding to get an abortion is easy and therefore an easy way out. The picture, despite its inconsistencies and distracting elements, is clear in its intent to disprove such notions.