After Tiller (PG-13)

Walter M. Hern M.D. listens to one of his patients in the abortion documentary 'After Tiller.'
Walter M. Hern M.D. listens to one of his patients in the abortion documentary 'After Tiller.'

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 

With: LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson, Shelley Sella.

Producers/directors: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson.

Screenwriters: Greg O’Toole, Martha Shane, Lana Wilson.

An Oscilloscope Laboratories release. Running time: 85 minutes. Vulgar language, graphic descriptions of abortion. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.

In May 2009, Dr. George Richard Tiller was killed by a bullet to the head while attending Sunday morning mass in Wichita. He was 67. There had been previous assassination attempts, including the firebombing of his medical clinic in 1986 and another shooting in 1993, which he survived. Why was Tiller a target? Because he was one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term (or third trimester) abortions, a controversial procedure that even the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 left up to individual states to legalize or ban (today, only nine states offer the service).

After Tiller, a documentary about four doctors who worked with Tiller and today carry on his practice, makes no attempt at a fair and balanced argument. Instead, directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson use the film to get past the disgust and outrage many people might instinctively feel about the thought of terminating a 25-week-old unborn child and explore the reasons why the procedure is important. The movie takes a calm and intellectual approach to an inflammatory subject, elevating what could have easily come off as propaganda into a reasoned and thoughtful work of journalism.

The filmmakers were granted unlimited access to Tiller’s disciples: The eloquent Dr. Warren Hern, who has been performing abortions in Boulder since the 1970s; Drs. Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who live in California but take turns commuting to their clinic in Albuquerque; and Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is forced to relocate his Nebraska practice after the state passes a law restricting late-term abortions.

Through interviews with their patients (the women’s faces are never shown), we learn exactly what the procedure entails: The child must be euthanized inside the womb, then delivered via labor stillborn, in order to protect the patient’s reproductive organs. We are also shown interviews in which the doctors decide whether to carry out the procedure. One woman, whose latest MRI revealed her son is terminally ill and will die within 24 hours of birth, wants to spare the baby unnecessary pain and duress. Another woman, a single mother who already has one child and isn’t sure she can support another, has a harder time getting the medical consent.

Unlike Tony Kaye’s epic 2006 documentary Lake of Fire, which explored the abortion debate from both sides of the fence, After Tiller is careful not to offend or aggravate. This is a measured, riveting picture about a tiny fraction (less than one percent) of all the abortions in the U.S. annually, told from the points of view of the doctors who perform them and the women who must deal with the consequences, often with heavy, broken hearts.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Life Itself’:</span> Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert get into one of their countless arguments during the taping of their TV show.

    Life Itself (R)

    There are scholars who blame Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for dumbing down film criticism with their thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach, the same way they blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining movies with the success of Jaws and Star Wars. But Siskel and Ebert accomplished just the opposite: They popularized criticism and introduced it to the masses via their PBS show in which they spent a lot of time debating (and fighting) over movies before delivering their final, yes-or-no verdict. The first version of their show, which was titled Sneak Previews and aired on PBS in the late 1970s, led me to read Pauline Kael and Film Comment and American Film and the Miami Herald’s late, great Bill Cosford as a kid. Suddenly, my nascent love of movies blew up: Movies weren’t just something you watched for entertainment. Sometimes, there was a lot to find beneath their surface.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a war against mankind in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

    Yawn of the Planet of the Apes — excuse me, Dawn — has a big-budget sheen, a few terrific action setpieces and some of the most jaw-dropping CGI effects to date: You will believe these apes are real (although some of them are actors wearing costumes).

Chris Evans (center) and Jamie Bell (left) are about to crack some skulls aboard a speeding bullet train in “Snowpiercer.”

    Snowpiercer (R)

    In the near future, mankind attempts to solve the growing problem of global warming by shooting a missile into space that will lower the planet’s thermostat. Instead, the device plunges Earth into another ice age, killing all life except for the people on a huge bullet train that has been circling the globe for 17 years (don’t ask, just go with it).

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category