What do we owe to each other as women? In a world that dictates what women should and shouldn’t be, how do women themselves stand up for each other? What are our means of resistance? Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a film that ebbs and flows to a rhythm of its own, offers us insightful answers to these difficult questions. Directed by Eliza Hittman, this exceptional indie film has been successful in starting innumerable conversations about women and their bodies, abortion rights and the different forms solidarity can take in this functionally unequal world that we live in.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always introduces us to 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a mild-mannered teenager living in Pennsylvania who suspects she’s pregnant. After an uncomfortable encounter at a pregnancy crisis center, Autumn learns that getting an abortion in her state is impossible without parental consent. Autumn confides in her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) and the two decide to go to New York City on their own, the closest state they can get an abortion in, without parental consent. Uncertain about what awaits them, with only each other for support, Autumn and Skylar set out on an odyssey that inducts them to the harsh realities of a world they’re growing up to be a part of. A world that will always be an uncomfortable place for a woman.
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In its short run time, Never Rarely Sometimes Always expertly presents a portrait of the female experience and shows us the many ways women learn to adapt to discomfort in their lives, unwittingly participating in its normalisation. The commonplace nature of harassment against women is what the film continually strives to highlight as Autumn and Skylar navigate their journey, filled with a series of obstacles. The dialogue in Never Rarely Sometimes Always is sparse, instead replaced with wordless glances exchanged by its two protagonists that speak volumes of their shared experience and how they’ve learnt to build their lives around it.
Hittman wants her audiences to understand how daunting it can be to simply exist as a woman in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Autumn’s autonomy over her body means nothing in a world that reminds her that she continues to remain powerless in the face of an unjust system. Never Rarely Sometimes Always looks at abortion through a feminist lens, empathising with Autumn’s difficult circumstances that women in America and around the world are also subject to. Hittman’s ability to blend social commentary with a tender, moving narrative that is never overtly sermonising is remarkable and it has resulted in a film that is intimate, insightful, and incredibly moving.
The visual metaphors in Never Rarely Sometimes Always alongside the frequent close-ups help construct a very visceral viewing experience, one that manages to successfully capture the film’s intended sentiment. Hittman doesn’t want to persuade her audiences to believe in something, she only wants them to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to look at life through someone else’s lens and understand how unforgiving it can often be. Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ realism is its biggest strength that lends it a distinct emotional texture.
Beyond its politics, the heart of Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the friendship between Autumn and Skylar. Their relationship is the most striking aspect of the film which is further enhanced by the pitch-perfect lead performances. Autumn and Skylar are teenagers after all and they are well aware of how isolating this phase in their lives can be. For them to then lean on and offer each other some form of comfort in the midst of all this solitude is what defines female solidarity. Skylar is unrelenting in her support of Autumn despite her fluctuating temperament. There are no grand declarations of support and love in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Hittman steers clear of performative feminism. Instead, we see Skylar sit patiently by Autumn, we see her go out of her way to arrange funds for Autumn’s medical procedure, we see her tirelessly offer her wordless support throughout their arduous journey together.
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The film is as much an ode to female friendships as it is a scathing critique of our broken systems that punish women for exhibiting their agency. Never Rarely Sometimes Always has a lot to say and it does so with care and affection for its characters and their stories which is what makes it a definitive feminist film that is exhilarating in its clarity of thought.
Featured Image Source: Orlando Weekly