“I think so, yeah.”
These are the words exchanged between Autumn, a distraught teenager, and Kelly, the kind social worker, as they prepare to take Autumn into the operating room for her abortion procedure. While this moment oozes with anxiety and restlessness, it also allows a pregnant, exhausted teenager to take a breath, knowing her nightmare will soon end.
The 2020 film Never Rarely Sometimes Always directed by Eliza Hittman, known for previously directing the 2017 film Beach Rats, follows a troubled teenager named Autumn Callahan as she discovers she is pregnant. Her life immediately becomes complicated as she attempts to abort the baby without her parents discovering the truth. Eventually, Autumn sneaks off to New York City with her cousin Skylar for an abortion since she cannot have one in her small Pennsylvania town because it requires the consent of her parents. The film documents the struggles of the two girls as they wander around NYC’s unfamiliar streets.
Normally, I stick to sappy, cringe-worthy romantic comedies when I lounge on the couch to enjoy a movie, but Hittman’s most recent film is captivating. This gut-wrenching tale highlights a woman’s right to self-determination without being painfully obvious and aggressive. Some productions can lose their value if they come across as too political; however, Hittman’s direction transports the audience into an emotionally raw, heart-breaking story that says it all without saying anything explicitly. For example, Hittman includes one scene where Autumn attempts to self-abort the baby. No words are spoken throughout this scene, but Autumn’s frantic actions show the audience exactly what it feels like to be her.
Although at face value this film appears to comment solely on abortion, it covers much more than that. It tackles the uncomfortable nature of the world for women and girls. Brief moments, like the store manager kissing Skylar’s hand as she passes him money from the cash register or the disgustingly creepy man on the subway touching himself inappropriately as he stares at Autumn and Skylar, capture a feeling that many women have experienced. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not only for the women who have struggled with an unwanted pregnancy; it’s for all women. Hittman crafts a film that speaks to those uneasy and sometimes dangerous moments that most women have encountered.
During her interview with Naomi Fry of The New Yorker, Hittman disclosed that she was inspired by another film. Hittman explained: “One movie I was thinking about when I was making this was [Robert] Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’ … Where you see, in a very physical and tactile detail, a man’s journey to set himself free from prison.” For Autumn, her prison is the unwanted role of “mother.” And her escape is abortion. Knowing Hittman thought of Bresson’s film further verifies the sense of urgency and angst portrayed during the girls’ journey. Autumn is actively fighting time, embarking on a quest that forces her to mature as she is seeking to rid herself of a responsibility that would require the highest level of maturity.
While this film tells the captivating tale of two struggling teenagers, it does not hold your attention like a blockbuster movie filled with action, adventure, and thrills. No moments are meant to make you leap to your feet in excitement or cower behind a blanket in fear. Each scene modestly unfolds, gripping your attention with its simple execution. There is beauty in this simplicity. Hittman does not throw impressive sequences at viewers to pique their interest. Instead, the film’s stripped-down scenes engage the audience by capturing interactions in a straightforward way, allowing those watching to interpret the deeper meaning behind each moment. Extra attention-grabbing tricks would only distract from the message Hittman wants to communicate. Ultimately, the film’s simplicity works in its favor, adding to the significance of each moment.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always has you invested in the two girls the moment the film begins. From the opening scene where Autumn is slut-shamed during her high school’s talent show to the exchange where Skylar uncomfortably deals with a boy’s advances so she and Autumn can get money for bus tickets home, Hittman pulls you into the teenagers’ reality, nudging you to step into Autumn and Skylar’s shoes. Hittman weaves her subtle but effective commentary on today’s world into the film’s composition. If this film teaches the movie industry anything, it is that a big-budget blockbuster production is not necessary to impact viewers. A simple film addressing difficult topics does the job just as well.
A must watch, Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always discusses issues faced by women, sparking a much-needed discussion about today’s society.