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This film uncovers the grim reality of the US today

Elliot Rausch’s Birth Pangs shows America in a bleak light, but leaves a message of enduring hope

Not so many of us have a very optimistic view of the future these days. Everyday news breaks that seem to take us further towards dystopian worlds we’ve only read about in novels like The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984. Holding up a mirror to our world, LA-based director Eliot Rausch’s latest film, Birth Pangs, takes a look at historically marginalised communities in the US and the impacts that rapid globalisation has had on our world.

Beginning with the sound of a ticking clock, we see shots of life on a Native American reservation. An elder tells a young girl:

“In a little while, you won’t see me no more. And after a while, you will see me again. Earth will be shaken a third time. Things will get faster and you won’t be able to catch up. Grandchildren won’t have time for their grandparents. Parents won’t have time for their children. Nations will rise against nations. Brothers and sisters against one another. But don’t be afraid. Behind the veil are the beginnings of birth pangs. You will enter their world and reach them. And their reflection.“

It’s a message that although seems bleak, breeds hope, a theme that is continued throughout the film.

“Are we at the end of the world, a last gasp of the collective ego, a human race finally confronting its demise? Birth Pangs has no answers...The film is a mirror of sorts, reflecting and revealing our most clever and cunning shadow” – Eliot Rausch

The film goes on to show a Native American mother leaving her family behind, their home totally decimated. She is taken away against the backdrop of fire ripping through the land she leaves behind.

Interspersed with images of natural disasters, plumes of fire rising into the sky, and news reports of Los Angeles riots, Rausch shows a grim reality of a modern-day America. One in which human beings are trafficked, bought and sold as commodities; teens run away from their superficial suburban homes into the dangerous city; women work in giant mansions for men who make more in an hour than they will ever see in their lives. Even examining our distractions – celebrity culture, body modification and plastic surgery, and our material culture of instant gratification – the film paints a bleak picture of a civilisation hurtling towards its demise.

But just like the verse we hear at the beginning, all is not lost. There is rebirth.

The mother taken from her child escapes her traffickers and begins again. The teens running from home arrive at a pool for a baptism into a new world, a world that is theirs. We hear of the young turning away from commodity culture, refusing the houses and cars they were told would fulfil their lives and calling those claims into question. All is not lost.

Rausch’s film really makes you question your place in the world and the status of our civilisation. Although quietly hopeful, its ending is one that is chilling – home tape footage shows a location ravaged by a hurricane as the President boards his private aircraft and leaves the community in need behind. The film closes on this image with the caption “(U.S.A) 2019.“ Let’s hope not.

You can find out more about Birth Pangs on NOWNESS here