Gimme Shelter tells the story of Agnes, a 16 year-old runaway. Agnes flees her abusive, drug-addicted mother to seek refuge from Tom, her ultra-rich, absent father.
Tom welcomes her only so that he can move on with his own life as quickly as possible. His family sees her as the only blight in their mansion, but eventually Tom wants to be the kind of man that cares for his illegitimate daughter.
Tom’s wife, however, is cajoling and tries to keep her life comfortable. The hypocrisy is too much even for stubborn Agnes. She’d already had enough reminders of how inconvenient she is. She would have run away if it weren’t for the morning sickness.
Being scrutinized in a clinic is even worse than living in her father’s mansion, but she had to be certain and the sonogram confirmed the pregnancy test. To Agnes, the heartbeat was a ticking clock and the clinic could stop it from counting down.
Agnes’s mother kept her as a kind of life-support and desperately wanted a grandchild for a second chance at life. Agnes wanted out of that life, desperately. She might have silenced the ticking clock inside her, but then she saw the pictures.
They did not show a wound-up clock, counting down the months until what was left of potential in Agnes’s life was taken from her; it was a baby with an already-beating heart, just as vulnerable and trusting as Agnes had once been. Agnes was forced to trust herself, as her baby was.
The choice is overwhelming and Agnes flees, this time into the streets, no direction, just away. She sleeps in a car, rummages for food through dumpsters, becomes the target of a man soliciting for prostitutes and ends up in a hospital.
Every time she wakes in a bed with clean white sheets, her shame is magnified and she hates the help for making her aware of herself again. This is where the movie does an excellent job of showing Agnes’s tension, and that of all the girls in her shelter.
You see, Agnes and the pregnant teens living with her were those that need help from everyone else. They were used to being looked upon as hopeless, useless, ugly; the result of someone’s once-in-a-lifetime mistake, whose clock should have been silenced before it became a heartbeat. This belief became their belief too, confirmed by the cruelty of the world around them and the neglect at home. Agnes’s mother gave birth to her, but stole her identity.
It is in a shelter that Agnes finds acceptance and restoration of that precious identity. She learns that she is not someone to be ashamed or embarrassed of. She learns the distinction of boundaries between herself and the relationships she craved, as opposed to the boundaries she needed to be the trustworthy mother both she and her daughter needed her to be.
The movie is based on a true story; on many true stories. It shows the complexities of Agnes’s life and why it is so hard for her to make the right choices. It is hard to watch at the beginning, but there is great redemption and it’s not only at the end of the movie.
Gimme Shelter is stunning in its writing and character development, well worth watching in theaters. It doesn’t only deal with abortion and its consequences, it deals with the life of the mother who wants an abortion; the reasons behind her choices and how she came to see herself the way she does.
It also shows how that can be changed and why all the hard work of making that change is worthwhile. It is a testimony, but critics are confusing that with being “preachy”.
More than anything else, it offers a compelling reason to listen to truth. This movie shows the context of Agnes’s life story, something largely neglected by many people in our culture today – especially in their own lives. We would do well to remember there is significant beauty in truth, and in our identity.