Realistic, Intimate and Heartbreaking
By Sadira Sittampalam
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a 2020 film directed by Eliza Hittman surrounding the journey of a pair of girls as they travel to New York City to have an abortion after an unintended pregnancy. The film focuses on 17-year-old Autumn Callahan as she tries to deal with this situation with the film succeeding greatly at putting us into her shoes where we experience all her emotions alongside her in a profoundly intimate way.
Autumn is introduced with a powerful song that she wrote about her love life. Not only does it reveal so much about her relationships with her old partner and her family but also with her fellow classmates. The entire film followed suit as despite having an incredibly sparse amount of dialogue, so much was divulged to the audience through character actions and behaviours.
Moreover, all of this was pretty organically developed in the sense that every scene had proper relevance to both the story and the character. However, parts of the story did tend to get a little convenient. Instead of it simply being that she goes to New York and gets the abortion, there were a few extra steps added at the last minute that really did feel like they was just there because they needed a reason to keep the movie going. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter too much as the story itself came second as this film was more of an experience piece.
Grounded in heavy realism, this movie really intimately follows the journey of Autumn as she tries to deal with her pregnancy. Not only was it heartbreaking watching her try to approach this pretty huge problem, but it was worse seeing her go through it alone. You get to see her desperation, her hopelessness, her despair; all of it in a view that was honestly too close for comfort. Some scenes were just unbearable to watch and genuinely horrific. When Autumn finally seeks help from someone is the moment you truly realise how scary it would be to go through the entire journey alone. Hittman so eloquently portrays this using the contrast of Autumns scene’s alone vs after she tells her friend she is pregnant.
For a movie with such a little amount of dialogue and not much of a complicated plot, it moves surprisingly fast. It was just really engaging and spent the right amount of time introducing new hurdles while observing Autumn and her friend. Part of this was also how well the atmosphere was built up as it was remarkably realistic. From the bus driver putting in some luggage to a homeless man being yelled at for sleeping on a bench, each scene had a lot of background movement. This all made the set feel really alive.
This was complemented by the sound design which was by far the best part of the movie. If you were to skip through the movie to every individual scene with a different set piece, you can hear how different all the background noises are, and for almost every action that happens on-screen, you can identify a sound for it. The scenes in a supermarket actually felt like a supermarket as you subconsciously hear and notice random noises in the background happening, even if you don’t realise it immediately. It just made the movie so much more truthful and authentic in a way that was almost eerie. This naturalism even bled into the main plot as you can’t help but feel like these are real people inhabiting this real world.
The soundtrack happened to be quite subtle, barely appearing, only to subliminally guide us to understand and empathise with the emotions Autumn must be going through. The cinematography was also pretty claustrophobic and limiting, with a lot of heavy and extreme close-ups on Autumn’s face. It just never felt free or open and thus added a lot to the general feeling of tension and discomfort.
Meanwhile, for someone who had to essentially carry the movie with a substantial amount of close-ups, Sidney Flanigan (Autumn) did a pretty great job. With this movie being her acting debut, it is all the more impressive that she managed to convey such deep and complex emotions with such naturalism.
It was genuinely unnerving to watch her as she went through all the trauma of the ordeal before the actual abortion. Moreover, in another debut performance, Talia Ryder, who portrayed Autumn’s friend was also great as she dealt with her own problems of being the subject of a lot of unwanted attention throughout the movie, gracefully alternating between being impolite and being civil.
Overall, this movie was a really moving experience where you are really just thrown into the shoes of this character who just doesn’t really know what to do. While I didn’t really expect much from this movie, going as far as to consider it to seem a little melodramatic, I was genuinely affected by it in the end. It was just so true to life, it was impossible to see it as anything but realistic. It was just a legitimately good and original film that had some great performances and some amazing direction and while it isn’t overtly obvious about it, this movie really does make a strong case for legalising abortion.