Search Film Reviews

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Dr. Warren Hern at his Boulder, Colorado clinic.  From Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's AFTER TILLER, a documentary about the last four doctors in the US who provide third‐trimester abortions.
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

2013, 87 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving abortion, and brief strong language

Review by Joshua Handler

After Tiller is one brave documentary.  The film tackles the extremely controversial topic of third-trimester abortion in America after the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed third-trimester abortions.  It also sheds new light on the topic through interviews with the last four doctors in American who can legally perform third-trimester abortions.  What makes After Tiller so remarkable is its ability to be as unbiased as possible.  While the film certainly leans towards pro-choice, the filmmakers do nothing to exploit the material and let the interviewees do the talking.

After Tiller is an emotional film.  It looks straight into the heart of the issue of third-trimester abortion and provides personal accounts of patients and the doctors.  The film explores why women decide to have a third-trimester abortion.  The reasons presented will cause many to reevaluate their position on the issue, as deciding whether to have a late abortion or not sometimes comes down to choosing between the lesser of two evils.

The decision to have an abortion, particularly a third-trimester one, is not a decision made in a split second.  Rather, it is a decision that requires much thought.  In one particularly powerful case presented in the film, a mother comes to one of the clinics and wants an abortion.  The reason she wants one is because she found out that her child, when born, would be severely crippled for life and will have poor quality of life.  So, to save the child the misery, she wanted an abortion.  It is tricky moral decisions like this that directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson explore in the film.

The abortion debate tends to lose humanity.  After Tiller brings the humanity back.  The interviews with the doctors show them as people, not some cruel monsters who want to kill babies.  The doctors themselves even have moral qualms about some cases.  In After Tiller, everyone is human.

The only complaint I have with After Tiller is the occasionally manipulative score.  That being said, the score hardly dilutes the impact of After Tiller's emotionally-charged material.

Overall, After Tiller is a landmark documentary that should be viewed by everyone - and I mean EVERYONE.  As a piece of filmmaking, After Tiller is solid, but as a social document, it is invaluable.  This is moving, humane filmmaking at its finest.


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