Written and Directed by Rui Niu ( Ring Hyacinth)| Review by Prarthana MitraR
ui Niu’s “Abortion Mary” (2018) is a take on the biblical nativity scene and immaculate conception. At a time when abortion is a sensitive issue in the United States — especially against Georgia’s recent near-total ban on unwanted pregnancies — “Abortion Mary” is a commentary on a woman’s right to choose.
This short film is delightfully irreverent and packs a punch with its macabre mixed-media humor. And for those reading it closely, and situated too close to the fire, it strikes a raw nerve.
A Story as Old as Time
The story of Saint Mary’s motherhood is as old as time.
But that’s just part of the story —
The original narrative seldom questions the absence of her consent to the role bestowed upon her.
“Abortion Mary” fills that gap in the Holy Scriptures, by reimaging a timeline close to ours. Cat Miggs’ Mary, a mortal girl-next-door, finds herself impregnated with a Lord Saviour she does not want.
Doctors, typically white and male, assert their control over Mary’s body and choices, by refusing her her right to abortion.
In fact, they act as the angels from the gospels who announce Mary’s maternal destiny. Here’s why; they declare her pregnant.
Modern day Mary isn’t quite as flexible with God using her body
Our modern-day Mary is determined to get an abortion, even if she is carrying a messiah in her womb.
As if that’s not enogh —
Later she encounters two Jesus; Jack Dourakos in a dual role. No doubt about it, two Jesus represent the Catholic and Protestant faiths, respectively.
Of course, this only exacerbates Mary’s despair. But to what lengths is she prepared to go?
Rui Niu, admits in the film’s press note that it wasn’t her intent to politicize the matter of Jesus’ birth.
Not to make a political statement, but…
Yet, the production and art design in “Abortion Mary” deals with the subject with the same rigor and craft that gives Nina Paley’s feminist retelling of The Ramayana its heft in “Sita Sings the Blues.”
Without a concerted effort, however, Niu’s project remains grounded by its primary focus to entertain and chortle rather than provoke satirical thinking.
Nonetheless, the film subverts the perception that women’s bodies are vessels.
It engages with the moralism evangelists attach to a woman’s right to end pregnancies. And explores how conservatives, in general, perceive gender roles.
Niu’s short film points out the religious connotation of motherhood with a woman’s destiny and citing the Bible to support their argument.
Miggs’ performance, along with costumes by Laura Copan and make-up by Anait Lopez, is over-the-top. Each character stands out against the urban pastel backdrops of an urban living room, obstetrician’s clinic, kitchen-dining space, etc.
Story-Telling and Social Commentary
Niu’s use of a coat-hanger could easily pass for a prop straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Thankfully, in Miggs’ hands, it is just as potent a comic device as a burger or the remote control in one electrifying final scene.
But the film takes off from its seamless staging and pacing of action — abetted by cheeky music cues and interspersed with quirky animation (big props to art director Kylene Harrington and her team).
These interludes, lasting mere seconds, are cerebral, graphic, and grotesque – reminding one of Lisa Hanawalt’s or even René Laloux’s works.
Last but not least, complementing the raunchy screenplay are vibrant and Matthew Emery’s, evocative images produce an interesting watch, and an impressive rewatch.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.