Hittman’s new film tells a story of a seventeen-year-old girl, Autumn (Sydney Flanigan), who travels from Pennsylvania to New York with her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), to get an abortion. Individual states in the US have a certain autonomy in regulating their laws on abortion, and that’s why the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t allow an underage woman to get it without her parents’ permission. The viewers can infer that Autumn’s relationship with her parents isn’t the easiest and because of that, she embarks on a journey to get an abortion under the laws of the state of New York. 

Hittman reveals that in the world of today the female body works still as a currency.

‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is an extremely intimate and beautiful exploration of female solidarity. It steers clear of cliches and manages to avoid pathos so common in the depictions of abortion in film. I remember being tired of the pompousness of the tear-jerking scene in the abortion clinic while watching the first season of ‘Sex Education’. It glamourised the abortion making it feel that undergoing such a procedure is nothing but an affirmative experience that only solidifies female solidarity with very little consequence to the woman’s mental and physical health. Here, Hittman concentrates mainly on the emotional but at the same time, avoids sentimentality. In the film, female solidarity is expressed in small gestures: when the social worker holds Autumn’s hand during the abortion, or when Autumn holds Skylar’s hand when she kisses a stranger from the bus only to get money for her and her cousin’s journey back home. Skylar and Autumn don’t even talk too much with each other. It feels that words have lost their power. Silence and small gestures are the most potent tools in ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’. This meticulous attention to detail and small gestures is depicted in one of my favourite scenes in the film. When Autumn gets changed at work, we see her loosen the straps of her bra. She doesn’t comment on this gesture, but we can see that her breasts are growing and becoming sore as a result of her pregnancy. Hittman doesn’t flood her audience with unnecessary mindless chatter. Gestures of her characters are enough to express their suffering. In this aspect, ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is similar to Mungiu’s masterpiece ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ (2007), with which it engages in an intertextual dialogue. Hittman opts for a certain frugality of cinematic tools just like Mungiu, which enables every gesture of her characters to sink in with the viewer. 

The camera in ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ is fixated on Autumn’s magnetising eyes. TWITTER/ELLA_KEMP

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when the social worker starts asking Autumn personal questions about her relationships. This is when we hear the title of the film: ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’. In this sequence, Autumn has to complete the survey that clearly reveals that she’s a victim of sexual abuse and that she’s trapped in an extremely unhealthy relationship. Hittman decides to show the entirety of Autumn’s suffering in this short sequence. She gives up on shocking imagery to depict sexual abuse in the film. She doesn’t want to titillate the audience by depicting ‘rough sex’ or fetishise rape, which happens far too often in the scenes portraying rape in film (Noé’s ‘Irreversible’ (2002), Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’ (2016), or Von Trier’s ‘The House that Jack Built’ (2018) to name a few). We don’t see Autumn’s naked body crushed under the weight of an attractive muscular male body, we don’t hear her screams, nor see her struggling to escape from the arms of the perpetrator. We're spared the spectacle of violence that often serves as a mere shocking factor to the film. Autumn’s suffering is hidden in her eyes. She doesn't beg for the compassion of the viewer. She is a survivor and not just a victim.


Mountain View

Nicolas Jaar’s album is a bleak and sometimes jarring landscape, but one of patient optimism, writes Lucas Marsden-Smedley.

I know that the main accusation against ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ will be the fact that men are portrayed quite harshly in the film. Here, men are sex-obsessed monsters who will always find a reason to ‘accidentally’ touch a woman or to make female characters in the film dependent on them. Hittman reveals that in the world of today the female body works still as a currency. I must admit that all men without any exception are truly obnoxious here. But I think that we don’t need half-measures anymore. We need to depict the inappropriate behaviour on the part of men that almost every woman has encountered or will encounter in her life in the most straightforward manner possible. 

Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2019) released at the beginning of this year has set the bar high for the films depicting female solidarity in the face of abortion. But Hittman’s film definitely rises to it. It’s equally subtle and sensitive to such an immensely turbulent experience.

Sponsored links

Partner links