(“Gimme Shelter” is an indie movie that was released in 2013; it was on my list last year but I just never got around to it until I noticed it in my hometown Redbox kiosk…)
Gimme Shelter is based on the true story of “Apple” (Agnes), a young girl who lives with June, her abusive, drug-addicted mother. They live in a series of motels and run-down apartments; eventually Apple is taken by social services because of her mom’s ongoing issues. She is then passed through ten or more foster homes (some good, some nightmarish) until her mom regains custody. Apple runs away at the age of sixteen when she realizes things are only going to get worse, and that her mom’s decisions will eventually ruin any chance of Apple having a normal life; this is where the movie really takes off.
As her only clue, Apple uses the letter she received from her biological father, Tom, to find him in New Jersey. He is now a married, successful broker with two young children. She just wants a place to stay until she gets on her feet and becomes independent, but when the stepmother deduces that Apple is newly pregnant, she persuades Tom to talk Apple into an abortion. Apple leaves the clinic by the back door when she realizes that abortion is not her choice, but that she can’t go back to Tom’s house. She goes back to her old neighborhood, ends up in a vehicle accident, and connects with a priest who is a chaplain at the hospital.
This priest introduces her to the director of a shelter for homeless and pregnant teens, which is where June eventually tracks her down. Their violent confrontations eventually culminate in June being arrested, and Apple settles in to life at the shelter. For the first time in her life, Apple experiences unconditional love and acceptance, and a family who will help her to forge a careful and successful path to adulthood. Apple’s father Tom finds her through the social services system, but Apple decides to stay at the shelter, in the embrace of the only true family that she has ever known.
I was very skeptical of this movie; certain reviewers had raved about it, others had lampooned it. I was impressed by the acting lineup (Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones), and I decided to go in with an open mind. By the end of the movie, I was definitely won over. This is not some saccharine, princess-happy-ending kind of movie; the grit and grime of homelessness and drug addiction – and their tolls – are not glamorized at all. Apple is not a shimmery girl who rises above it all and pulls herself up by her boot straps, she is a flawed, angry girl who just wants two things: a safe place to stay, and the ability to make her own decisions. She stubbornly pushes away anyone who wants to help her or get close to her, and that strength serves her when it comes time for her to start sticking up for herself.
One of the critiques of the movie is that it is “preachy.” I didn’t sense that, but I suppose that it looks radical, stupid and reckless for a homeless 16-year-old to make these very large decisions for herself. I suppose that if you had preferred for Apple to have an abortion and “get on with her life,” that opinion makes sense. But as you watch the transformation in Apple as her pregnancy progresses, as she reaches out and learns how to cooperate with the other girls in the shelter, and accepts the love of people around her – you realize that taking control of her life and forging her own path BEGAN with the adult decision to keep her baby. The baby gives her a sense of self, an identity, and creates a purpose that helps her to see her own self-worth.
I would rate this movie “two thumbs up” for giving a real, clear and stark peek into the life of a child of a drug addict, and no one is coddled or glossed-up for viewers: June, Tom, the shelter director, and Apple – none are made out to be the hero nor the villain of this film. It is just: life.