Friday, September 09, 2011

Movie Review: The Ledge

the ledge

The Ledge is a flawed but legitimate attempt to tell a story exploring the relationship between faith and reason – from an atheist perspective.

The story opens with Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) standing on a ledge on a tall building clearly planning to jump. Hollis (Terrence Howard) is the police officer in charge of talking Gavin down. In a series of flashbacks, we find out that Gavin has been having an affair with Shauna (Liv Tyler) who is married to Joe (Chris Wilson). Shauna and Joe are fundamentalist Christians. The mystery is what has brought Gavin to the ledge willing to jump – and it is not what you might think it is.

The writer and director, Matthew Chapman, to his credit, wrote the script and planned the movie determined to do it the way he wanted to – fully expecting not to have the movie made because of that. But it got made and it provides for thought provoking viewing even if it is somewhat amateurish in its execution.

The major problem with the movie is that it has a “preachy” flavour like so many Christian movies that offer black and white answers for complex questions. The dialogue is forced and some of the acting is artificial, although Wilson and Howard just about rescue the film with their interpretations of their characters.

Another flaw is that both the fundamentalist Christians and the atheist characters are too simplistic. The film overall is too dogmatic in its view of both and does not reflect the nuanced best of these antagonistic views. The premise of the story is brilliant and it had the potential to be a very profound piece of cinema. But, as Chapman has indicated in an interview I heard on Point of Inquiry, he wanted this to be an explicit argument from an atheist perspective. And that is what it is – an overt argument about faith and reason with cardboard stereotypes and simplistic reasoning. The “philosophical” agenda of the writer has overshadowed the story and made creative writing and professional production a secondary concern.

As a vehicle to stimulate some discussion around a number of issues, the movie has some value and there is a certain level of entertainment. But given the movie had such well known stars and was clearly backed by commercial support it is surprisingly amateurish. And the “winning” side of the argument is rigged from the beginning by comparing the best of atheism with the worst of Christianity – a poor thinking move itself.

For me, the most significant theme in the movie is whether people need God (or a belief in some external authoritative revelation of morality) in order to live good lives. I get very frustrated when I hear some Christians saying how atheists cannot have a system of moral values because they don’t believe in God. Clearly, many atheists do. They have reasons for living well and, sometimes, those reasons are based more in a care for humanity itself than some Christians who seem to merely be obeying the laws of God (as they define them) to avoid God’s displeasure. The gospel of grace subscribed to by most Christians should free them from serving for any other reason than love for fellow humans. And there is absolutely no reason to think that an atheist cannot do that.



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