The 2011 San Francisco Atheist Film Festival, Part 3

"The Ledge" Movie Poster

"The Ledge" Movie Poster (2)

Things have calmed down at work, and I finally have some free time again (yay!). Belatedly picking up where I left off with part 1 and part 2 of my series of posts on the 2011 Atheist Film Festival, I now want to take about the premier showing of the festival “The Ledge” (1). This film, directed by Matthew Chapman who was on-hand for a Q&A, is being billed as a thriller that features an atheist main character. Some are even calling it the atheist movement’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

Before we get into a discussion on the film, a warning is in order: *MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*. If you haven’t seen it yet and are at least somewhat interested in it, go see it first and then come back and read this post. You can watch it streaming online from iTunes.

The film opens with Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) walking out onto the ledge of a tall building with the intent of jumping off. The police are called in and Hollis (Terrance Howard) tries to negotiate with Gavin. Gavin is an atheist who’s daughter was killed in a car accident 2 years prior. The movie consists of a series of flashbacks, with Gavin telling Hollis about how his wife left him after their daughter’s death, and that he now works as a manager at a hotel. It was at the hotel that he met Shana (Liv Tyler), who stops by one day looking for a job. Gavin immediately fell for Shana, but Shana is married to Joe (Patrick Wilson), a hardcore fundamentalist Christian.

Their relationship grows and Shana eventually ends up falling for Gavin and they have an affair. Joe finds out, looses it, and through a series of events Gavin ends up on the ledge, blah blah, blah….to be honest this part of the plot isn’t very interesting. Rather, it serves as the framework in which to do more interesting things.

I found the relationship between Gavin and Shana quite interesting. It grows slowly, starting out with just glances and little looks. It’s actually believable. Shana’s views on religion also change slowly throughout the film, or at least it’s implied that they do. She doesn’t abandon her religion all together, but she seems to be thinking “yeah, Gavin has a point.”

More interesting than Gavin and Shana’s relationship was the interplay between Gavin and Hollis. Joe is the stereotypical crazy fundamentalist, and so is rather one dimensional as a result. Hollis, however, is much more nuanced and complex. He is also a Christian, but I suspect he is really just a cultural Christian. I also suspect that he had never even considered the possibility of non-belief until he met Gavin, and is clearly affected by everything that happens. Hollis’ worldview is challenged, and he changes and grows as a result. I agree with Greta Christina (3) that Hollis is the foundation for this movie.

Of all the scenes in the movie, the final scene with Hollis and his family is hands down my favorite. Hollis sits down at the dinner table, his wife asks him to say a prayer before dinner, but he responds by stating “not tonight.” This, in my opinion, is the defining moment of the movie, more so than the climactic moment on the ledge. Everything leads to this point. The interesting question, of course, is what does this moment mean? Is he not praying out of respect for Gavin? Is he having a crisis of faith? It’s an open ended question to be sure, but I have a theory. I think it’s the beginning of a crisis of faith (hopefully leading to the complete abandonment of religion), but it’s not even a conscious thought yet…just the kernel of an idea in the back of his subconscious. I think all that he consciously knew was that he was sick of all of the hurt and misery that religion caused that day, and he wanted nothing to do with it.

It’s a good film, and an important film, but not a great one in my opinion. The third act was contrived and mechanical, the back story of the characters were borderline incredulous, and Joe was too one-dimensional. I’m not saying there aren’t people like Joe in the real world (there are), but it just didn’t make for as interesting of a film. He lacked the nuance of, say, Frank Fitts from “American Beauty” or Dan White in “Milk,” and is a much less interesting character for it. Is this our “Brokeback Mountain?” I don’t think so, but it’s an important step in the right direction. As Greta wrote in her article:

“The Ledge” isn’t atheism’s “Brokeback Mountain.” “Brokeback Mountain” was the result of decades of activism and consciousness- raising — about LGBT people in general, and about media depictions of LGBT people in particular. “The Ledge” isn’t that. It isn’t the culmination of a decades-long cinematic conversation about atheism.

It’s the beginning of it.

And that might be even more important.

I think we can all agree with that.

(1) Chapman, Matthew. “The Ledge.” Available:
(2) “The Ledge.” Available:
(3) Christina, Greta. “”The Ledge”: Does Atheism Have Its “Brokeback Mountain”?” Greta Christina’s Blog. 6th July, 2011. Available:


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