By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Xixi Qin
The history of movies has witnessed the release of films about alien abduction, the end of the world, and time travel. So, with a seemingly endless supply of stories from out of this world, why does a movie about teenage pregnancy feel so alien? For starters, a lack of representation of female voices is one of the countless symptoms of a patriarchal society, and the film industry has been a historical safe haven for patriarchal dogma ever since its origin. Film as an art form has been largely reserved for male voices, and a sheer majority of movies are meant to appeal to the male gaze. Refreshingly, Eliza Hittman’s 2020 film “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” illustrates a candid image of what it means to be a teenage girl in a patriarchal society.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” follows the life of seventeen-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), demonstrating the absurd struggle women must endure simply to have access to basic human rights. Autumn is pregnant, and her local crisis pregnancy center only offers a grocery store pregnancy test and an assortment of pro-life brochures to “help” Autumn navigate the mind-bogglingly stressful life event of an unplanned pregnancy. Proceeding with the pregnancy isn’t a viable option, but the state of Pennsylvania requires guardian consent for minors to get an abortion. In order to avoid overwhelming judgement and shame at home, Autumn and her cousin (Talia Ryder) must travel to New York City to get the medical care she needs.
Hittman beautifully utilizes the camera to convey story and character, directing the film with a powerful sense of style. The style of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is far from overstated and is never inundated with flashy camera movements or punchy editing. Hittman allows her script and the actors’ performances to speak for themselves. The cinematography relies heavily on close to medium-close up shots. Though limiting the audience’s sense of space with too few wide shots, the camerawork develops an effective sense of claustrophobia that mirrors the suffocating situation of the main characters. Assisted by Hittman’s skillful directing, rookie actors Flanigan and Ryder demonstrate impressive acting chops, suggesting they each have a fruitful career ahead of them.
Though the movie was rated PG, it is one of the more horrifying movies I have recently seen, not because of an alien invasion or an axe-wielding killer, but because of the normalcy of abuse towards those who do not identify as cisgender males. Forget apocalyptic films about the end of the world — “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” demonstrates how the world is already a nightmare for 50% of the population.
While the film reflects how patriarchal society limits the personal liberty and security of so many women, Hittman also elevates the friendship of Autumn and her cousin. In times of hardship, it is especially important to cherish the relationships with those you love and recognize the value of such support systems. Autumn and her cousin share a true bond; their relationship comes across as genuine and pure. Yes, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” depicts the ugliness of society, but it also portrays a heartwarming relationship between two characters that ultimately shines through the muck.