If you missed my earlier piece about the film, “Gimme Shelter” tells the story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), a 16-year-old homeless, pregnant teen trying to escape the grip of her abusive, drug-addicted mother. She eventually finds help and healing in a shelter run by Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd). The movie was inspired by the real-life stories of several girls that writer-director Ronald Krauss met while living in DiFiore’s shelter, also an actual facility.
Having been underwhelmed by several so-called “Christian films” in the past, I feel this is the first I’ve seen that isn’t trying to be a propaganda piece for the faith. For that matter, I wouldn’t call it a “Christian film” or a “pro life film” or a “message movie” at all.
Flannery O’Connor once said that if there’s no other way to say something, just tell the story. That’s how I feel about “Gimme Shelter.” It’s simply a compelling story with three-dimensional characters who are grounded in both truth and fact. And since faith plays a vital role in DiFiore’s life and work, it is part of the story as well.
To critics saying the movie has a political agenda because the shelter in the movie features a picture of founder Kathy DiFiore with Ronald Reagan, I quote MASH’s Colonel Potter and say, “Buffalo Bagels!” The picture isn’t there as a message; it’s there because the movie was shot at the shelter and DiFiore met President Reagan because of her work.
Another criticism is that the film is too steeped in religion and religious imagery. Well, faith is an integral part of DiFiore’s work and life at the shelter, just as it is for millions of Americans who do things like go to church and pray and have holy pictures in their homes. Critics who find the mere presence of these things offensive reveal more about their own bigotries than they do about the movie they’re reviewing.
Not to harp on my local Chinese restaurant, but they also have a small Buddha statue. Seeing this as a Christian doesn’t give me the vapors and make me feel proselytized. It’s a representation of the owner’s faith and I respect that and take it for what it is.
I find it interesting that none of the negative reviews I’ve read present even the slightest admiration for DiFiore’s real-life work sheltering young women and their babies for over 30 years and setting them on a course to become good parents and productive members of society. DiFiore has done more good for the world than every politician, Republican or Democrat, in Washington, D.C. Again, for that to not even be acknowledged by movie critics betrays a deep-seated agenda, far more obvious than anything in “Gimme Shelter.”
So if you’re going to the movies this weekend, please consider throwing your support to “Gimme Shelter.” At its heart, it’s a story that highlights the inherent dignity of all people, no matter what troubles they’re steeped in. And it’s a story that will have you leaving the theater with a little more love, compassion and understanding in your heart.