A perq of living in Salt Lake City is that some cool stuff happens here. Things other people consider international events are local for me. One such event is Sunstone; another is the Sundance Film Festival, the largest venue in the world for independent films. The 2011 Festival is happening right now.
OK, most of the really cool stuff happens up at the Sundance Institute, in/near Park City, about an hour up into the mountains to the east of SLC. But there are still screenings in theaters in SLC.
My first January here, 2009, I was mostly annoyed by Sundance, because it meant I got really bad service at my favorite tea house. My second January, I actually paid attention to Sundance; I really wanted to see 8:The Mormon Proposition, but I was denied.
However, one of my friends picked up tickets to two other films, and offered me a ticket to whichever one I wanted to see most. I wisely chose the one that actually had a narrative, and it turned out to be The Kids Are All Right. So I can say that I saw an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture back before it had a distributor, which is, if not exactly an accomplishment that says anything about me except that I'm lucky to have a friend with good taste and a generous nature, still cool.
Yesterday evening this same friend called to say that he'd scored tickets to a screening in SLC; did I want to go? He didn't even manage to tell me what the movie was before I said yes.
Just in case you wondered, let me say that watching a movie at Sundance is like watching a movie anywhere, except that there's a complicated queuing up process, and lots of people with those plastic badge thingies hanging from their necks, and lots of conversation about the nature of cinema, and some of the theaters sell booze, and the tickets are slightly more expensive, and there are no previews, and a real person introduces the film, and sometimes someone is on hand afterward to answer questions, and you might see a celebrity. Last night, for instance, I saw a guy whose grooming screamed "I'm slightly famous!" and sure enough, he was--someone had him stand up before the movie so we could all acknowledge that he's slightly famous. But ultimately, it's still a bunch of people sitting in a dark room, staring at a screen.
Anyway. That's background info. The real reason I'm writing is because the movie I saw, The Ledge, sorta bugged me. The synopsis I just cribbed off IMDB reads, "A thriller in which a battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist escalates into a lethal battle of wills."
The atheist is played by Charlie Hunnam, who is yummy but too young for the role--he's 30 and the role needs someone who looks 35, at least. The fundy guy is played by someone named Patrick Wilson. The thing they're fighting over is not so much philosophies as Liv Tyler, who gave a pretty good performance as Shauna, a troubled woman in a troubled marriage.
The director, Matthew Chapman, is a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, which I guess helps explain some of his intellectual preoccupations. But it doesn't mean that he explores them well.
There was all this annoying speechifying. Aside from Shauna, whom Tyler managed to make complex partly just by looking unhappy (and I don't mean to trivialize that accomplishment--her facial expressions really did convey a lot), the characters weren't actually people as much as platforms for broad ideologies. I had to wonder if Chapman actually has any religious people in his social circle. I've written about how annoying I can find the really orthodox of any stripe, especially Mormon, but plenty of religious people are NOT really orthodox, and even the ones who are talk about something besides religion once in a while.
But not Joe, the fundy guy in this film. It really bugged me, how one-dimensional he was. And then the thriller aspect.... Well, it had holes big enough to stash a hotel in, a hotel being where much of the action takes place. Without giving too much away, let me point out that when someone checks into a hotel, the desk tends to have a record of what room they're in. Also, when a hotel employee delivers something to room service and never comes back from the errand, it could be a sign that Something Is Wrong. Also, maybe this is just a quirk of my personality, but if a crazy person was threatening to murder someone I love, I'd at least consider calling the cops, first thing--and if I didn't, I'd have a better reason for it than "Oh, I just forgot that option existed."
Anyway, the easy, manipulative nature of the movie just convinces me that there still are not enough stories out there about the conflicts that religion creates in individual lives, and how we grapple with the loss of faith. There are plenty, and some are really remarkable--I remember how amazed I was when I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But at least some of the stories need to be told by people who actually know something about faith, who have been there, done that, and moved on, instead of by people who always wondered why anyone would ever go there and do that.