We begin with college freshman Hannah Lawson collapsing onstage. But that's not what happens first.
Hannah has been battling a host of physical problems for years—including epileptic seizures and asthma. She's had multiple surgeries on her malformed hips. But she thought she'd beaten all that. She's a budding actress, and she's landed the lead role in her college's spring production.
Her collapse makes it clear that her past still haunts her. And not just physically. "I feel dead inside," she confesses in her journal. "I have so many unanswered questions. … Something is missing. Why, God, do I feel unwanted? Why do I feel I have no right to exist?"
And so her parents decide it's time tell her the truth: Not only was Hannah adopted, but she was born prematurely at 24 weeks. There's more. Hannah's birth was itself the unexpected outcome of a "failed" abortion. As for her myriad chronic ailments, well, all of them are tied to that trauma.
The news rocks Hannah's identity even as it begins, perhaps, to explain why she feels so hollow. But now she wants to know more. Who was her birth mother? Hannah wonders. And why didn't she want me?
Hannah asks to see her birth certificate. Dad, who's struggling mightily to let his beloved daughter grow up, says no. But Mom relents, and Hannah learns that she was born in Mobile, Ala., some 12 hours away. She can't help but wonder if other clues about her past might be unearthed if she could just get there.
Time for a road trip. Against her father's wishes, she tags along with lifelong friend Jason, his girlfriend, Alanna, and a few other college friends who are headed south for spring break. She's determined to uncover her own secrets. To soothe her own pain. She dares not even think about self-acceptance or forgiveness.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
October Baby deals with profound and deeply significant subjects: the inestimable value of human life and the horror of abortion, the difficulty parents have letting go, the importance of friendship, and the desperate need we all have to give and receive forgiveness.
Dad is dead set against Hannah's not-so-small expedition, but he ultimately tells her that he trusts her to make the right decision. One could argue that she does. But it's not what he thinks is right. And that sets the stage for conflict and, ultimately, restoration between father and daughter. Indeed, in his effort to protect Hannah, her dad arguably crosses a number of lines when it comes to Hannah's privacy and dignity. (Remember, she's in college at this point.) He reads her journal without permission. He tries to drive Jason away. He threatens to cut off her funding for college. But all of this serves a final purpose: reconciliation. In the end, Dad is able to tell his daughter all of the details surrounding what happened after she was born and the great lengths to which the family went to care for her. He also lets her know why it's so hard for him to let her go. He apologizes for his suffocating and overprotective actions.
Jason, meanwhile, demonstrates his friendship and commitment to Hannah numerous times during the trip. A kind—and utterly remorseful—nurse, who assisted in nearly killing Hannah in utero, points her in the right direction at a key juncture in her search for clues. And diverting from Hannah for a moment, it's worth noting that the film uses this nurse to drive home a hugely important point about abortion: She's clearly been haunted by her working with a doctor who performed hundreds of abortions. And she tells Hannah, "When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was just tissue. That's what they told us. It was tissue that couldn't survive." That wasn't true, this nurse concludes, and she relates the fact that after Hannah was born, she quit her job at the abortion clinic.
Hannah does eventually find her birth mother—who rejects her again, literally walking away from her. But Hannah still moves toward forgiveness, with the help of Jason, her mother and a kind priest who shares with her the importance of letting go of the wounds others have inflicted.
The central spiritual message of October Baby has to do with the intersection of truth, forgiveness and freedom. At one point, Hannah writes in her journal, "The truth will make you free?" It certainly doesn't feel like that to her. Once she knows the truth about her birth, she feels even more shackled than before.
But near the end of the film, she visits a Catholic cathedral. As a kind priest gently probes why she's there, she admits, "I can't figure out how to let go of the fact that I feel hatred for myself and others." She also talks about being angry at her birth mother for trying to abort her and her parents for not having told her the truth sooner.
The priest quotes the Apostle Paul from the book of Colossians, saying, "Because we have been forgiven by God, we should forgive each other. In Christ, you're forgiven. Because you're forgiven, you have the power to forgive, to choose to forgive. Let it go. Hatred is a burden you no longer need to carry." Then he adds, "Only in forgiveness can you be free, Hannah." He wisely notes that the forgiveness Hannah needs to embrace isn't something that can be found on a mere road trip or even in a cathedral. Hannah ultimately takes his words to heart, forgiving both her parents and her birth mother.
Elsewhere, we learn that Hannah grew up in a Christian home and that her parents frequently prayed and read the Bible. Her father describes how he and Hannah's mom prayed constantly after she was born, and how he's still trying to recover from a season of doubt and disappointment in his own relationship with God.
Jason and Hannah are forced to get a hotel room together because they don't have enough money for two rooms. When it comes time to turn in, Jason bunks on the floor while Hannah's in the bed alone. She's still very uncomfortable with the situation, though, and eventually decamps to the hotel lobby to sleep on the couch. Jason joins her, and the pair falls asleep slumped against each other.
One awkward conversation between the two finds Hannah spontaneously asking Jason, "Would you think it was weird if I said I've never been with anybody before?" She then suggests that he probably thinks she's some kind of "Christian homeschooling freak" who doesn't have much of a wild side. She follows that comment with another question: "What's so wrong about not having a wild side?"
Hannah and Alanna wear tank tops and spaghetti strap tops that reveal some cleavage. Alanna and Jason briefly embrace. We see Alanna asleep in Jason's arms in the van.
The nurse says cryptically of her work with the abortion doctor, "There were things that happened there. Terrible things. Things he had me do." She also tells Hanna that her birth mother was pregnant with twins, and that her twin brother's arm was ripped off during the procedure.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
After a wild night in New Orleans (which we don't see), one of the guys on the trip tells Jason (who wasn't there) that he took "three sips" of a drink called a "hand grenade," which led to blackouts, a fight, a black eye and a disorderly conduct charge.
Alanna mocks Hannah for having to take prescription medication.
Other Negative Elements
It's not the only mean thing Alanna says to Hannah. Jealous and petty, Alanna often makes Hannah feel worse than she already does.
Desperate to find information about her birth mother, Hannah convinces Jason to enter an abandoned hospital in Mobile. She tries to convince him it's not illegal because the back door was open. (They're arrested, then released.)
October Baby directors Jon and Andrew Erwin—brothers from Birmingham, Ala.—made a name for themselves directing videos for the likes of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. And they certainly didn't expect their first feature film to be about someone who survived an abortion.
"I think if there was a film I would have avoided, it would have been October Baby." Jon told Everything Alabama. "Andy and I grew up working for ESPN, and we thought we were going to do a football movie, something noncontroversial."
That thought changed when they saw a video featuring pro-life activist Gianna Jessen, herself a survivor of an abortion. "Sometimes you go out to find a story," Andrew said, "but nine times out of 10, the story finds you. We heard her story, and it just kind of captivated us."
Add to that the strong influence of another pair of Southern brothers who know something about making Christian movies: Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the brain trust behind Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous. It was they who directly challenged the Erwins to take a leap of faith in making a feature film.
The result delivers powerful messages about the damage abortion does to everyone it touches, the value of life and the necessity of forgiveness. It even touches on the virtues of sexual abstinence. The chirpy and sometimes cheeky "road trip" interludes don't always complement the gravity of the core subject, but it's absolutely impossible to miss the film's redemptive emphasis on forgiveness—a forgiveness inspired and empowered by Jesus' gentle treatment of us.
"I love stories of redemption, and I think stories of redemption can be found anywhere you look," Andrew says. "I love movies like Slumdog Millionaire and The King's Speech. … So I think whatever the message should be, my first job is to make it worth it for you to spend $10 on a movie ticket. But if I entertain you and I engage you emotionally with a story, then I would like to find messages that I'm passionate about and be able to insert them to where they fit naturally into the story, and I don't have to force them. That's what we tried to do with this. You can definitely see the message there, but even people that have seen the film and don't really see eye to eye the same way that I see on the subject, it engages them in a way that they don't feel beat over the head."