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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘October Baby’

With sensitivity and wisdom, the Erwin brothers present a nuanced film about abortion and adoption

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

4 Stars — Powerful

In a world where political lines are often drawn over abortion rights, it is important that our artists provide us with experiences that lift us above the partisanship to our shared humanity. That is what the Erwin brothers provide in their latest film, October Baby.

Opening the lives of a Southern family when their daughter collapses on stage in her college play, we soon realize that her illness is based on a deep physical and psychological pathology caused by her premature birth due to a “failed abortion.” What is even more disturbing is that she did not know the circumstances of her birth or that the only parents she has ever known are not her biological ones.

Based on a story collaboratively written by Andrew and Jon Erwin, Cecil Stokes and Theresa Preston, the tale focuses on college freshman Hannah (Rachel Hendrix). She is a beautiful and sensitive young woman with a best friend Jason (Jason Burkey) who meets her backstage before her debut as the lead in the spring play. It is clear that they have had a lifelong friendship, though they are unaware of their mutual attraction. This friendship provides an opportunity for the film to present both Hannah’s innocence as well as Jason’s faithfulness.

When Hannah is with her parents in her physician’s office to receive the report on the tests he performed to diagnose her collapse, it is then that she is told the truth about her life. Her father Jacob (John Schneider) and mother Grace (Jennifer Price) admit that they had kept the truth of her birth and adoption from her. It is not the only secret they have kept.

What makes this moment all the more powerful is that Hannah has struggled with a deep psychological sense of not being wanted, even though Jacob and Grace have given her no reason to feel this way. As she journeys to the city where she was born in order to find the answers to these feelings of abandonment, she discovers that they come from a primal experience of her biological mother’s rejection — both at her birth and now as her adult child. This rejection creates a deep anger, not only toward her biological and adoptive parents, but also toward herself. This cinematic depiction of neonatal rejection is affirmed by some psychotherapists as they provide regressive therapy to those who have survived a “failed abortion.”

One of the strengths of the film is the spiritual guidance provided to Hannah in a serendipitous encounter she has with a pastor who reminds her that the hatred she has toward others can be healed by receiving and giving forgiveness. This truth provides resolution for the several tensions between the characters of this tale, just as it does in all of our lives.

As the credits roll at the end of the film, Shari Rigby, who plays Hannah’s birth mother, describes how she had a profound experience of receiving forgiveness for an abortion she had 20 years earlier during the filming of the scene when Hannah forgives her for abandoning her. That is where art and life intersect at their best.


» Some psychotherapists have identified primal fears as a characteristic of survivors of failed abortions, like those presented by the character of Hannah. Do you think this is to be expected? Why or why not?

» When Jacob realizes that his own grief had caused him to hold on too tightly to his daughter, he made a conscious choice to let Hannah go. How have you negotiated the desire to keep others close while not smothering them?

» The moral integrity exhibited by both Hannah and Jason when they have to share the same hotel room keeps their relationship not only pure but innocently joyful as well. Why do you think having moral standards increases the joy in a developing relationship?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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