Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, March 24, 2007

States of Grace

By Sariah S. Wilson

So tonight we took the boys to go see “TMNT” (which is not easy to say when you’re trying to buy tickets - I finally told the guy the 7:10 showing of the turtle movie) or as it was known in my formative years, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (heroes in a half-shell, turtle power). The movie was okay - not as bad as some of the family movies I’ve recently attended (I’m looking in your deceptive direction “Bridge to Terabithia”) and not as good as others, but still fun nonetheless. I do like sharing things with my children that I enjoyed as a kid. The new baby will be a big fan of Hello Kitty, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Bright, My Little Pony and the Care Bears (she just doesn’t know it yet). And yes, some of these things have been bought already.

Since I’m talking about movies, and since this is a, you know, LDS blog, I thought I’d talk about Richard Dutcher’s “States of Grace.” (You are being forewarned - if you have not seen the movie, stop reading now because I might discuss plot points and such that occur in the movie and it might spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.) The movie finally came to Hollywood Video here in Ohio, which was why I was able to see it.

I considered not putting up this post because I was afraid of opening a can of worms. People tend to feel passionately about things like this. So please note that this is just my opinion, and as always, please feel free to totally disregard it or disagree.

I know not too long ago this movie created some big controversy in our cultural community, with people being very outspoken in their condemnation of it. I seem to remember somebody saying it was a movie that was inherently offensive to most Mormons.

I wasn’t offended.

Perhaps that says something about me, perhaps that will be upsetting to others. But I wasn’t offended.

As someone who grew up in Southern California, who was in high school there when the Rodney King race riots occurred (I still remember the image of SWAT members walking along the roofs of the buildings to keep an eye on us) much of this felt familiar to me. Not only the setting, but the people. My hometown was a very diverse community. So I enjoyed that depiction.

And some of the movie dragged for me. I thought the six plus minute dialogue of the wannabe actress was boring and I wanted to fast forward it. I didn’t think the pacing was all that great.

There were also many touches that I enjoyed - like the comparison of the people of Ammon to modern day gang members. I loved when the gang member buried his weapons in the earth.

I think one of the things that I’ve always appreciated in Dutcher movies is the realism of his characters, the normalcy, the humanness they possess. Nobody’s perfect, even when they’re trying to be.

I also like that when his characters screw up (as they do in a big way in this movie) that while there is forgiveness and redemption, there’s a whole lot of suffering that goes on first. When the elder gets sent home and his mother tells him that things will be okay, when he wails, “How?” I got chills. Sometimes it is simply impossible to see a way out, and I loved how the movie portrayed that.

But I think what was most profound for me, what moves me to call Dutcher an artist, is that he had a big impact on me and how I perceive the world.

I found that it was easy to forgive the gang member for the crimes he had committed as he found the truth. I thought it would have been easy to extend that forgiveness to the actress as well for the bad choices she had made. And yet when it came to the missionary that had sinned…I found myself feeling differently. Why? I know in part it is because he already had the truth and that his sin was a very grievous one, made worse by the fact that he knew just how wrong it was.

But the point that I think the movie was trying to make was that the elder was as entitled to forgiveness as the gang member or the actress. I thought it made a comment on the standards that we hold ourselves to that we don’t hold others to.

That sometimes it seems impossible to forgive ourselves of things we have done, things that if committed by a stranger or an investigator we would tell them that of course they could repent. Of course they could be forgiven.

I liked that the movie reminded me that the Lord’s mercy and atonement extends to all of us. Even those of us who know better.

It’s not a movie that I can see myself watching again (you know I like my movies peppy and happy), but I thought it was a powerful one.

Has anyone else seen the movie? What did you think of it?


At 3/25/2007 6:25 PM, Blogger Serenity said...

Sariah, I really loved the film. It's not the greatest film ever made, but it's certainly one of the two best Mormon films ever made. (The other is, in my opinion, Brigham City, also by Dutcher).

The movie's discussion of grace and forgiveness is something I know many Mormons are uncomfortable with, but I think that is because we as a group have some misconceptions about the whos, whats, hows, whys, and whens of the Atonement. "We are saved by grace, after all that we can do..." It's God's grace that saves us; after all our efforts, we find that we still need it. And God doesn't play favorites - we are all comforted, we are all given access to forgiveness, and when we're looking for God's help, we'll all receive it. Somehow, that's a hard message for us to deal with. I think the character in the film who had the most difficulty accepting grace was actually the young man who attempted suicide; he made a mistake - a major mistake, yes, but he clearly regretted it - and he could not reconcile himself to the idea that God would forgive him. Or maybe he'd been taught that he'd only have one chance at perfection. And so he tried to end his own life.

I think he's meant to represent that part of ourselves and our community which struggles with the idea that God's love isn't earned, that our job in the process is often to accept rather than to deserve the gift.

At 3/25/2007 11:47 PM, Blogger Josi said...

I also really liked the movie. I saw it in the theater, loved it, and bought the DVD just in time for Dutcher to say how unsupportive the LDS community was of his work. Guess he wasn't talking to me though :-) I felt it was a great reflection of how secure we can feel when we're doing the right things--yet unprepared for the level of temptation we can find ourselves faced with. I loved the part where the convert 'rebaptizes' himself in the ocean after realizing what he'd done. His faith in himself and the God he'd just recently come to know was so powerful to me. I wonder if I am ever so humble after my own sins are realized.
I hadn't thought of the missionaries lack of understanding of Grace--what a great detail to point out and ponder.
I know many people found it dark and somewhat disturbing--I found it realistic and a firm reminder of just how BIG the human experience can be.
Great blog, Sariah.

At 3/26/2007 11:59 AM, Blogger TODD said...

Sariah, I couldn't agree with you more. Very powerful movie that had me pondering it for days. It was a real catharsis for a number of struggles in my life. The line "he loves you as much now as he did when you were a baby" couldn't have rung more true.

Unfortunately, a number of people in my ward couldn't have been more offended by the movie. Oh well, I hope their little bubble-of-a-world doesn't burst anytime soon...

Thanx for the blog!!!

At 3/26/2007 12:20 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

I've got to admit I didn't have much interest in seeing the movie until reading your blog and the comments that went along with it. That has definitely changed. I might just have to go and rent it today. Thanks for the analysis, Sariah, and the opinion that went with it. It sounds like something I not only want to see, but need to see. Wonderful blog!

At 3/26/2007 1:57 PM, Blogger Darvell Hunt said...

I very much enjoyed God's Army when it came out. I liked Brigham City even better when it came out. And I liked GA2: States of Grace even better than the other two.

It was a very powerful movie and not sappy like a lot of LDS writing turns out to be. Not the "everybody lived happily every after" story, but one that brought up thought-provoking issues.

I really liked the contrast on "the morning after" when the girl was quite happy and the Elder was crushed. That said a lot, without actually saying it. A good example of "Showing, not telling."

I thought the last scene was a little too long, maybe a little forced, but still, I very much liked it anyway.

Overall, it was a great movie that tried to deal with too many issues in the time allotted, but I didn't care; it worked for me.


At 3/27/2007 2:06 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I liked the movie too. I thought it was well done.

I think people get offended because they don't want to think about missionaries making mistakes. Well, hello, missionaries do make mistakes. They are barely out of their teenage years, and are still children in so many ways, and they are given a huge responsibility for being so young. Of course they are going to bumble around, and yet we expect them to be perfect. But in this movie, we see that not only do they make mistakes, but they need the chance to set things right again.

The only two things I disagreed with were:

1. She is told and she knows that she should not be alone with him. Yet the next morning, she acts all surprised that he's in trouble. That was sort of a "duh" -- she knew they were breaking one of his most sacred rules.

2. He comes home and goes to sleep. Knowing what he did, I can't imagine that he would be able to go to sleep, especially when he feels so bad about it, he tries to kill himself over it. I think he'd be tossing and turning.

Other than that, I loved it, including the cinematography. Well done, Dutcher.

At 3/27/2007 9:34 AM, Blogger G. Parker said...

My mother-in-law said she was crying through it, so apparently she liked it. We still haven't seen it, but I've loved the other movies he's made. I spoke to him a couple of years ago at a writing conference and he told me he was very disappointed in the type of writing coming out of the LDS members. He had hoped with the success of God's Army, more excellent writing would have come forth. I'm just glad that he has continued, and I hope he doesn't get too discourage with the average member who wears blinders. While we need to not be of the world, we still need to know what is happening around us. This film seems to deal with reality and how to face and repent of sin.
Good blog!

At 3/27/2007 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

I oredered the movie for my husband after watching the trailer on the web. He has been wanting to get baptized for almost a year now, but he is an ex-member of the most paowerful gangs in California, and that kind of thing isn't understood here in the red-neck, ( I don't mean that in a derogitory way), state we now live in. He has struggles with much of the same things the gang member in the movie had went through. But he is not allowed to be baptized. Is it really so "easy" to get permission to be baptized??? He has gone through all the steps of repentance and has been living a righteous life since he learned the gospel. I wish someone could give us some answers. He is now kind of resentful of the members here in our ward because they are not accepting of him. We could move back to California where the church is more "diverse",but he would most certainly be killed for dropping out of his gang. We both know that the church is not the people---it is the gospel. But he feels discouraged. He wants to be baptized!!! I wonder if Richard Dutcher researched this dilemma when writing his story?? Does anyone have any advice? By the way, I cried from about 5 minutes into the movie until the end-sobbed actually--it hit very close to home. kimimina_73 at yahoo dot com

At 3/28/2007 7:08 PM, Blogger Carole Thayne said...

Sariah, I thought it was the best LDS film I've seen. It moved me and still does when I think about it.
Recently in our small community a fourteen year old girl hanged herself at school. It's left all of us feeling raw and wounded even those of us who didn't know her or her family. Then as a direct result of that tragedy, another young man attempted suicide. It made me think of the Atonement and Grace and how important it is to understand God's unconditional love.

At 3/29/2007 8:58 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Anna, I wish I had some wonderful advice for you, but all I can say is hang in there, and help your husband do so too. I can't imagine all you have both overcome to be where you are, but what an amazing thing that you are here at all. Certainly, people of the church aren't perfect, and sometimes the people themselves become the largest stumbling block we go up against. In D&C 101:16 it says "Be Still and know that I am God" there are times which that's all we can do. I wish you the very best. One day, someday, all things will be made right.
Best of luck

At 3/30/2007 6:04 PM, Blogger Carole Thayne said...

Anna, I just read your comment and now have tears in my eyes thinking about your dilemma. My only suggestion is that God's love is perfect and in the afterlife everything will be restored to both of you. I know that doesn't help in the here and now and in dealing with the less than kind members and those who don't understand where your husband came from. I would be proud of him and just advise you to hang in there. My heart goes out to you.
I have to agree though, in that part of the movie, I thought, no way--in real life he would've had to have an interview from a general authority, it definitely is not that easy. I forgave it for the sake of the movie, but now I can see why that would be hard for someone really going through that.


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