Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Falls (2012)

Director: Jon Garcia                                    Writer: Jon Garcia
Film Score: Jon Garcia                                Cinematography: Christopher Stephens
Starring: Nick Ferrucci, Benjamin Farmer, Brian Allard, and Quinn Allan

I’ve come to a conclusion in my old age, that organized religion is all about hate. The only function it seems to serve these days is to give people a justification for hating other people. Religious people are the most hypocritical on the planet simply because they have the most to lose--but only because their religious delusions tell them so. The reality is that the gods they pray to are no more real than Santa Claus and that all of their posturing and hatred is for nothing. Except for the collateral damage they do, especially to young people who have been brainwashed before they are old enough to decide for themselves if they want to share in their parent’s fantasy life. The Falls deals with Mormonism, but substitute your own intractable, hate-filled religion and there wouldn’t be a lot of difference. Nick Ferrucci plays a twenty-year-old Mormon who is about to go out on his two-year mission. His mom and dad are happily married, and he has a younger sister and a girlfriend. His dad jokes with him about being a “world traveller” because he’s only going six hours away from home for his mission. But, like a dutiful Mormon, he goes believing “god” has a plan for him. Boy is he ever wrong about that.

Ferrucci rooms with Benjamin Farmer at his new residence. The ascetic lifestyle the two lead seems as vacuous as their lives have been up until now. When they’re getting to know each other and Ferrucci asks Farmer what he’s interested in, he can’t think of a single thing. They get up first thing in the morning and pray, then go for a run, then study their bibles, then go on their bikes into town and begin their monotonous routine accosting people on the sidewalk and at home. For fun at night they read through novels and cross out objectionable words. It’s very obvious from the beginning of the picture that Farrucci’s heart isn’t in it. He’s doing all of this because he is supposed to, not because he wants to. One night the two are sandbagged by a guy who had done his homework on Joseph Smith. That’s bad enough, but when they meet an Iraq veteran who lost his brother to a mine explosion while standing right in front of him, covering him in his brother’s blood, the real impotence of religion becomes obvious. In the face of that reality Farmer becomes distracted and distant, and when Ferrucci asks him about it the reason is just as obvious: he is having doubts. He is beginning to think for himself. Unfortunately, in his religion-polluted mind he believes that is a sin. But that’s nothing compared to the attraction the two have for each other, and their inability to stop themselves from acting on it.

This is just a beautiful movie. The boys are not grotesque, or caricatures, they are just boys, and they just happen to fall in love with each other. The two principals are perfect in their roles, and Nick Ferrucci is absolutely perfect. He’s able to convey that goofy, nervous quality of a teenager that is so real it’s eerie. Uptight “Elder” Quinn Allan notices that their numbers are going down since they stopped taking their mission seriously and, while they are a bit nervous about what will happen if they are discovered, it’s not enough to stop them. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the boys are supposed to be out converting people to Mormonism. Instead it is the Marine veteran Brian Allard who converts the boys to reality. But it’s a process that all brainwashed children must go through in order to lead healthy lives. It’s the ones who don’t, who believe in the fairy tales, and buy into the guilt and humiliation and hypocrisy who wind up leading miserable lives where all their true feelings and impulses must be kept on the down low--which is itself another metaphor for the closeting of gays, especially those who are members of the church.

What this film is most of all is honest. There are no histrionics, no drama, and no sensationalism. It’s the story of people being themselves, trying to be honest, and facing up to the consequences for that honesty. As a result, the ending is about as uplifting as a film gets. Writer-director Jon Garcia had no previous knowledge about the LDS religion or community before writing his screenplay and had to do a lot of research once he realized that using the church as the context of the film was a way to really make an impact on audiences. As I stated earlier, what kind of church he elected to use is entirely beside the point. The consequences--namely excommunication--are barely distinguishable. One of the great characters in the film is played by Brian Allard. He not only doesn’t react negatively to the boys’ admission of their relationship, he encourages them to go further, exploring the world and themselves in the process, to find out who they truly are. Given their cloistered upbringing, it is sage advice. The film doesn’t actually bash religion as much as I would have liked, but it is that much stronger for it because it doesn’t have to. The church does that to itself through its behavior. The Falls is a small, quiet film with such a powerful message that it should be required viewing for everyone in this country, if not the world. It receives my highest recommendation.

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