Critics generally agree that Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s documentary “After Tiller” is an intelligent, nuanced and sensitive portrait of the last four remaining doctors in the U.S. who perform third-trimester abortions. Roundup below.
“After Tiller” is an intimate and heartfelt look at the four doctors who legally perform third-trimester abortions in the United States, doing so even after the 2009 assassination of such a physician, Dr. George Tiller. Directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, who spent almost three years on the project, the film brings an emotional sensitivity to an issue in which every nuanced turn of phrase has been made politically complicated.
In constructing its gripping overview, “After Tiller” maintains a generally straightforward roundup of talking heads, but its unassuming construction gradually generates an authoritative voice. Only once the arguments have been plainly established does the emotion truly take hold, with the doctors expressing their own reservations about their perilous task. In describing the experience of delivering a stillborn child, Stella asserts, “That’s not tissue. It’s a baby.” That line alone embodies the challenge of fighting for a cause that nobody wants to face in the first place.
Did the “After Tiller” premiere produce tears and other audible responses from many around me? Absolutely. Did it also produce cheers and liberal righteousness? Absolutely. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this isn’t a documentary that knows exactly where it stands. But the film’s directors and its subjects are smart folks who understand that no matter how strongly you believe in a position, especially this one, that belief is probably more shaded than a one-word “Yes” or “No.”
A sympathetic portrait of the last four remaining doctors in America that provide third-term abortions—and the women who seek their services—After Tiller presents its extremely divisive and controversial subject matter with remarkable sensitivity. While it won’t gain favor with the Catholic Church, this mostly straightforward documentary admirably explores the fine nuances and specifics of these physicians’ lives and the difficult decisions that they and their patients make. As one of the doctors, the grandmotherly Dr. Susan Robinson, admits under her breath, “No one wants a fucking abortion.”