Vanessa Hudgens is not in high school anymore. In Gimme Shelter she plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey: runaway, destitute, and barely surviving on the streets. It is a far cry from any kind of high school life – or any kind of “normal life” for that matter.
Raised (and this term is used loosely) by her drug-addicted prostitute mother (Rosario Dawson), Apple has been abused and neglected for as long as she can remember. So she takes to the streets in search of her father (Brendan Fraser), whom she only knows from an old, faded letter and the envelope it came in.
Apple is a survivor protected by the tall, thick walls she has built around herself. She discovers her father is now a successful Wall-Streeter, living the good life in Jersey. He and his new family attempt to take her in, but it’s obvious from the start that the match won’t work. When Apple discovers she is pregnant, she chooses to keep her baby and flees when she is taken to an abortion clinic.
Struggling, she hits the streets again, knowing her Wall Street father would never allow her to live in his home with a child. She winds up in the hospital, where chaplain Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones) sets her up at a shelter for pregnant young women. There she meets Kathy (Ann Dowd), the spiritual woman who runs the shelter.
Perhaps here, amongst others girls like herself, the ever-rebellious Apple can finally begin to tear down some of the walls surrounding her. Maybe, she hopes, she can learn what it’s like to be a part of a family?
Gimme Shelter, much like the character of Apple, is a tough, raw, and gritty. Vanessa Hudgens delivers a standout performance, worthy in itself as a reason to give the film a look. To prepare for the role, she spent time living in the very shelter on which this true story is based, meeting and interacting with the mothers living there.
She also gained weight to appear more pregnant, and she altered her looks to go from a beautiful young woman to one that is more unpolished and rough.
As Apple’s messed-up mother, Rosario Dawson is equally impressive. The scenes between her and Hudgens are powerful, loud, angry, abusive, and somewhat difficult to watch due to their rawness.
In fact, all the performances are top-notch: from James Earl Jones to Ann Dowd, Brendan Fraser to Stephanie Szostak (who plays Fraser’s wife).
Kudos are also due to the director, Ron Krauss, whose fairly short credit list is no indication of the quality of the superb work he does in Gimme Shelter. Alain Marcoen’s handheld cinematography lends itself well to the film.
Particularly noteworthy is the powerful scene where a character named Angel is inside the shelter as her mother shows up. The use of cinematography creates a strong visual metaphor of what is happening within the story. Great stuff!
This is a film about courage, perseverance, and finding worth in spite of what life has handed you. I would not call Gimme Shelter a faith-based film per se, although there are elements of scripture and spirituality.
However the film does leave you looking inward – and perhaps upward – to find resources to survive and thrive in today’s world. Apple does not give up when many of us would, and her determination is inspirational and a joy to watch.
The Christian Worldview
“Gimme Shelter” is rated PG13 because of the subject matter, some rather intense and violent fighting scenes, and several instances of rough language. This movie would likely be too intense for those younger than thirteen.
Father McCarthy presents a strong Christian worldview, and presents some scripture passages, as does the shelter’s overseer Kathy. Jeremiah 29: 11 is featured at one point: “ 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.”
“Gimme Shelter” is a movie about perseverance and finding self worth, especially amidst tough trials and trouble. The first chapter of James speaks to just such a topic. “Whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
These may be hard words to follow, but trials do end, and when they do, as Apple learns, can at least give us wisdom and courage for the future.
In “Gimme Shelter,” Apple has never felt loved, and has to live with the fact that she is unwanted: by her mother who only wants her around to increase her government handout; and by her father, who abandoned her before she was even born.
She struggles with deep feelings of unworthiness, and still she carries on. Have you ever been treated so poorly by someone that you felt unloved and unworthy? The Bible says “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
God loves us and finds us so precious and worthy that He, according to Romans 5: 8-12, “demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46). He is our shelter. Give us shelter, Lord.
Interested in learning more about this film? Watch Gimme Shelter – Official Trailer
Want to find out the true story behind Gimme Shelter and Several Sources Shelters? Please read New Movie ‘Gimme Shelter’ Inspired by Woman’s Homeless Mothers Ministry
Learn more about the movie critic and filmmaker Dale Ward