Gimme Shelter – Movie Discussion

There are some things that we should take the time to read or see or listen to, simply because they are important, because they broaden our awareness and heighten our sensitivity to our fellow human in some way.  I won’t go so far as to everyone has to see this movie, but I do think that we, as Americans, ought to have some awareness of life “in the system” from a youth’s perspective.  We ought to have some idea of what kinds of struggles many kids are facing in their homes.  We would do well to understand what it is like to have the right kind of help, and to find hope and fellowship, especially when those things have been denied to you, or only offered by wolves in sheep’s clothing, masking more sinister agendas.  There are lots of ways to raise our awareness on these things, and Gimme Shelter is only one of those, but it is done so very tastefully.  The darkness is apparent, but not embellished or explicit.  The movie is honest while being fairly clean.  It’s hopeful.  It’s also a safe, non-threatening way to open your eyes and gain some exposure.

Agnes “Apple” Bailey has an abusive mother who has problems with substance abuse and who knows what else.  Apple runs away to meet her father, hoping he will let her stay with him for a little while, until she can get a job and get on her feet.  He’s a wealthy man, in a nice neighborhood with a young family and can surely take her in.  In fact, he’d like to take her in.  The problem is his wife.  She’s not a horrible person, but she’s in an awkward situation, to say the least, and has no idea where Apple is coming from.  Her ability to understand Apple is about as bad as Apple’s ability to understand her.  She makes a lot of judgments and assumptions about Apple, expecting the worst.  Apple in turn assumes this woman will abandon and fail her.  Neither can trust the other.

It gets worse when they realize Apple is pregnant.  They want to force her to have an abortion, because they don’t think she can handle a child, (although really it seems more like they can’t handle two disruptions to their lives).  I was horribly uncomfortable at this point in the movie, and angry—angry at the parents, angry I was watching this…  So let me tell you now that Apple couldn’t do it.  She couldn’t go through with it and ran away from the clinic, choosing to live alone on the streets rather than abort her baby.

She ended up meeting a chaplain who lovingly reached out to her, and was incredibly patient with her anger and skepticism and doubts.  He ministered to her, mind, body and soul.  He shared Jesus with her, as he helped her with her many practical needs, most importantly connecting her with a shelter that was designed specifically to help teen moms.  It was at this shelter that she finally began to heal.  She learned to trust; she learned to love; she found fellowship in her sufferings.

There are so many beautiful moments in this film, but one that stuck with me was this moment when the girls in the home found their personnel files and began to read, out loud, to each other, what their files said about them.  These girls loved each other, knew each other, supported each other, identified with each other’s pain, their fears, their hopes… it was only in that kind of atmosphere that they could have had the courage to have read those things out loud in the first place.  “Rape victim.  Runaway.  Family does not want her back.”  “Aggressive.”  The girls read off the various descriptors—some were simply facts, things that had happened; others were labels that had been given to them.  As they faced their descriptors, they accepted some with grace (rape victim was an unfortunate truth), but more importantly, they collectively denied things that weren’t true, helping each other redefine themselves.  “You’re not aggressive,” they told Apple.  She wasn’t, but she’d heard it enough she’d begun to believe it.  In this circle of friendship and love, she found freedom and a new identity.

Some of my other favorite moments happen between Apple and the Chaplain.  She was so honest.  “Where was God when I was suffering and abused all these years?”  Tough question.  “Last time I asked God for help, he put me here,” she says as she rattles her handcuffs which bind her to a hospital bed.  Handcuffed, injured, in a hospital—that didn’t seem like an answer to prayer to Apple.  Everyone had failed her—her mom, her new found dad, the “system,” her foster parents—and she was quite certain God had failed her, too.  The chaplain took it all in stride, having grace for her anger and hurt, and confidence in God’s sovereignty and His plan.  He admitted that God is tough, sometimes, “but maybe He put you right where you need to be.”  Turns out, it was in that hospital that she met the chaplain, who connected her with the shelter for teen moms—the chaplain was right; the hospital was the perfect place for Apple at the perfect time.

I already mentioned the abortion issue.  The movie provides some great opportunities for discussing the topic, and though it doesn’t actually preach against abortion, the movie definitely chooses and celebrates life.  Apple’s Dad’s advice to her was to, “turn the page and you before you know it, you will have forgotten that it ever happened.”  This infuriated her.  She wasn’t aborted, but he had discarded her just as easily.  “Turn the page???  Forget about it???  Like you did with me???”  The truth was though, he hadn’t forgotten about her.  He had walked away, but that unknown daughter of his was still a part of him.  While that was the end of their discussion, it was not quite over.

Joanna, Apple’s step-mom, also tried to talk her into abortion.  Apple told her that she didn’t want to have an abortion.  Joanna replies, “It’s not about what you want.  Unless you want to end up like your mother?”  This is absolutely maddening on so many levels.  First off, the underlying supposition is that the fulfillment of wants is prioritized according to seniority.  In other words, Joanna’s wishes were most important, because she was the most senior and the one with the most resources.  Apple’s wants were secondary, and the baby who was utterly dependent and helpless, her wants were last.  And I’m being generous there, because the baby’s “wants” never entered into the equation—they weren’t last, they were non-existent in the consideration.  The reality was that Joanna’s main concern was what she wanted.  Other people’s wants (not to mention the baby’s needs) weren’t really a factor.

The other maddening lapse in logic was the assumption that Apple’s mom, June, turned out the way she did simply because she got pregnant (young and out of wedlock).  Therefore, Joanna’s reasoning follows that if Apple had a baby young and out of wedlock, she too would become an abusive, druggie, indigent mom.   The reality was that the baby (little Apple) wasn’t to blame for June’s demise, anymore than Apple’s baby would be responsible for hers.  If Joanna really cared that Apple turned out better than her mother, she could have invested in things like love, support, education, grace, a good example of motherhood, etc., and found those a far more useful investment than an abortion.

Fortunately for Apple and her baby Hope, Apple didn’t fall for any of Joanna’s bad reasoning.  And fortunately for viewers, the movie doesn’t glorify abortion, or the “right to choose.”  The movie glorifies life.  The same parents who tried to talk Apple out of having the baby, came full circle and desperately wanted Apple and Hope to come live with them.   Apple’s dad held his newborn granddaughter and wept, “I never got to do this with you.  I didn’t understand.”  This is the beauty of the movie—it is so full of grace for all.  He didn’t understand.  He wasn’t a horrible person.  Joanna wasn’t a horrible person.  They may have been ignorant and ill-equipped to handle the curve ball Apple dropped on them, but they weren’t horrible people.  The movie ends with hope.  Cycles can be broken.  Relationships can be restored.  People can overcome.  Life is a beautiful thing and worth fighting for, for yourself and for others.  And God, who has a plan for our lives, can work all things to good.

It’s a great story, but even better, it’s a true story.

Questions for Discussion:

  • The social worker told Apple that “Going home is the best situation for you.”  Why do you think she said that?  Was she right or wrong?  Why?
  • Some times “help” only makes things worse.  What are examples in the movie of help that failed to help?  What are some of the things people did that really did help?
  • Does the movie inspire you to want to do more for people in need?  How so?
  • What do you think Kathy meant when she told Apple to, “Stop dancing with your demons?”
  • How do you respond when someone asks, “Where was God when I was suffering and abused all these years”?  Have you ever asked that question yourself?
  • Apple felt that being in a hospital was evidence that God failed her.  The chaplain said it might be God’s answer to her prayers.  In the end, he was right.  Have you ever felt like God didn’t answer your prayers because things only got worse, and then later learned that God was actually working out good in those things, even though it didn’t seem like it?
    • This was Joseph’s experience in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-47).  What are the bad things that happened and how did God use them for good?
  • Apple’s father cried at the end, as he held his granddaughter, “I never got to do this with you.  I didn’t understand.”  How do you feel about Tom?  How do you feel about the way he treated Apple? How does your opinion of him change throughout the movie?
  • How did you think/feel about the way the movie handled the topic of abortion?
  • One of the teen moms, Cassie said, “I suffered my whole life because of my mother, and now that she’s gone, I suffer even more….  I hate my mother, but deep down, I love her, and that hurts even worse.”  What do you think she means by this?  Can you relate to this?
  • What bad things did God use for good in Apple’s life?
  • The chaplain read Jeremiah 29:11-12 to Apple, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”  How did she respond to those verses?  How do you think those verses became true for her?  How do you feel about those verses?
  • If people had made a personnel file for you, what do you think would be in it?  What are the events and labels that you think define you (or you think define you to other people)?  How do you feel about those labels?  Are they positive or negative?  How do you think JESUS defines/labels you?  What labels would you like to reject?  What would it take for you to see yourself with positive, loving labels?
  • Do you think this story is important for people to see?  Why or why not?
  • How has Apple’s story changed your perception about troubled teens?  How has it raised your awareness?  (Or has it?)

By Stacey Tuttle

Click here to read a collection of quotes from Gimme Shelter.