I recently had the opportunity to watch the 2009 film Sarah’s Choice, starring Christian musician and author Rebecca St. James. It raised some interesting thoughts.
St. James plays Sarah Collins, a young woman struggling to make ends meet while working at a major advertising agency. When a colleague in charge of a major contract falls pregnant and prepares for maternity leave, Sarah is put in a race against a male colleague to take the contract and thereby boost her career aspirations. Her employers favour her because giving her the contract will reflect favourably on their gender equality stance. When Sarah learns that she is pregnant, however, things take a dramatic turn.
Sarah was raised by Christian parents, and was taught the biblical stance on the sanctity of life. When a friend takes her to a doctor to confirm the pregnancy, the doctor advises her that abortion is a possibility. Sarah initially will not consider abortion for “religious reasons,” but as the story unfolds she begins to give the procedure some serious consideration.
We learn that Sarah’s father died some ten years earlier. Sarah feels that God had abandoned her at that time, and has subsequently lost the faith in which she was raised. When she confides in her sister that she is considering abortion, her mother overhears the conversation and confronts her. The confrontation only serves to anger her further, and she resolves that she will indeed end the life of her unborn child.
In an act of divine intervention (with a very Charles Dickensish twist—think A Christmas Carol) God grants Sarah three visions of her future: the first, shortly after the birth of her daughter; the second, during the childhood years of her daughter; and the third, during the years of the birth of her first grandchild. These visions serve to clarify for Sarah the joy that is possible should she decide to have the baby.
She is also given a brief vision of her aged self, this time after having decided to have the abortion. The visions ultimately serve to convince Sarah that she will not have the abortion.
I tend to approach Christian films with some apprehension. Many of them turn out to be completely hokey, and even those which are not hokey often turn out to produce weak storylines and poor filming and acting. Certainly there was some weak acting in Sarah’s Choice, though St. James herself puts in an admirable performance.
Part of the production weakness stems perhaps from the fact that, in keeping with biblical modesty and sobriety, the on screen chemistry between Sarah and her boyfriend is not as genuine as one might to expect in real life. Nevertheless, these weaknesses can and should be overlooked in favour of the storyline and the questions it raises.
Another strength of the film is that it is very much family-oriented. There is no inappropriate viewing material on screen. Sarah is pregnant and premarital sex is therefore implied, but no lewd behaviour is portrayed during the film—not even kissing. Obviously, the film deals with issues such as birth control and abortion, and some parental wisdom is clearly needed in subjecting younger viewers to these themes, but this in itself does not make the film necessarily unsuitable for younger audiences. There is a brief on screen portrayal of drinking alcohol, but no drunkenness, profanity or violence is portrayed.
The added element of the visions was somewhat disappointing to me—and not only from a personal theological stance. The visions add a distinctly fantastical element to an otherwise very plausible storyline, and this does nothing to strengthen the appeal of the film. Sarah ultimately decides against an abortion because she is given the benefit of an unveiled future. This, of course, is a privilege that women struggling with Sarah’s question do not have today. The film could have been more powerfully real without this fantastical element.
That said, there is a hint in the film that the visions should not be the ultimate deciding factor in Sarah’s decision. At one point in the film, Sarah seeks counsel from her mother’s pastor. She speaks to him of an “important decision” that she must make. She does not confess her pregnancy, but asks whether the pastor believes that God still communicates to humans in dreams and visions. The pastor confirms that he does in fact believe this, and when Sarah expresses frustration that she does not have the time to correctly interpret the visions in making her choice, the pastor reminds her that, if the choice involves one option that is clearly morally wrong and another that is clearly morally right, she must refuse the moral wrongness regardless of how she interprets the visions. In other words, regardless of her interpretation of the visions, abortion is wrong because God’s word says it is. Simply put, she has her answer with or without the visions.
In addition to the matter of the visions, there are several other theological considerations that must be noted. Sarah is unmarried, and though her mother unabashedly calls her fornication “sin” there is never a point in the film where she repents. We are further given the clear indication that Sarah’s boyfriend is an unbeliever, but toward the end her family and church celebrate her engagement. Passing mentions are also made to Sarah being angry with God and to the need for women undergoing post-abortion trauma counselling to “forgive themselves.” These are concepts with which I am not entirely comfortable.
All that said, two elements of the film’s message stand out particularly strongly to me.
First, the movie unashamedly portrays the biblical message of the sanctity of human life. Sarah’s physician tries to convince her that the cells growing in her womb are not human—she compares them to a wart!—but Sarah’s research clearly illustrates that the life inside her is human from conception. At the end of the day, Sarah chooses life because of religious convictions. She understands that it is morally wrong to end a human life and chooses obedience over convenience.
Along these lines, the film also shows that there is hope for those who have had an abortion. Sarah’s closest friend and colleague, who takes her to an abortion clinic to begin with, confesses to having had an abortion herself during her teenage years, but the movie shows that forgiveness is possible. To be sure, there is no explicit reference to forgiveness being available in Christ, and this is one major and glaring thematic weakness; nevertheless, the clear message is sent that undergoing an abortion does not equate to complete hopelessness for the mother.
The second thematic element that I really appreciated is that, when Sarah confesses to her employers that she is pregnant, there is no happily-ever-after. They do not debate the issue and then decide to give her the job anyway. She loses out on the opportunity for career advancement because she chooses to do the right thing and guard the life in her womb.
In recent years, many great Christian films (Facing the Giants, Fireproof) have sent the message that as long as you do things God’s way things will always turn out all right. When the football team in Facing the Giants does what God expects, their obedience results in sporting victory. In Fireproof, the commitment of a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church results in a wonderfully restored marriage.
I am not suggesting that obedience never produces positive results. I am aware that a good many marriages are healed when husbands and wives obey Scripture. Positive results often follow obedience—but not always. It is possible for a football team to behave biblically and still lose their big game. It is possible for a husband to love his wife biblically and still have his wife leave him. And it is possible to live with biblical integrity and lose out on career advancement because of it. I appreciate the fact that obedience didn’t result in an automatic happily-ever-after for Sarah.
Sarah’s Choice is by no means a bad film. It is entertaining in a wholesome way and raises some important issues for further discussion. It is not as Christ-centred a film as I would like to have seen produced, and it certainly doesn’t provide all the answers. It is in a potentially negative sense a little too fantastical. Nevertheless, the overriding message—the sanctity of human life and obedience to God’s revealed word—is clearly brought out the storyline.
Don’t expect a life-changing experience, but watch it for some good, wholesome and thought provoking entertainment for (potentially) the entire family.