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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brigham City

I have found in any study of religion it is important to study binaries to discover lessons that are taught in any religious text. This is also true for this week’s film. In Brigham City Dutcher relies heavily on the use of binaries to illustrate many ideals. Good and evil. Life and death. Insiders and outsiders. The seen and the unseen. Zion and the world. These binaries are important to observe because they give a shape to the themes and lessons contained in the film.

Another binary is worth mentioning: wisdom and innocence. The ward Sunday school teacher asks her class the question, “Do we have to loose our innocence to gain wisdom?” Debate ensues; Adam gained wisdom, but only after loosing innocence. Christ had all wisdom and remained pure throughout his life. I believe this is the binary Dutcher wanted to question more than any other binary that he brings up: the dichotomy of wisdom and innocence. Is it really a dichotomy at all? Are wisdom and innocence exclusive of one another? Or is it possible to have them both inclusively? Can we, as the scripture states, “Be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves?”

The sheriff of Brigham wants to keep his little community pure. Nothing will infiltrate his own personal Zion. In fact, when a murder occurs on the outskirts of town he is more than happy to pass it off to the FBI. The murder has, “nothing to do with our town”, according to the sheriff. However, when the murder hits closer to home and the hometown pageant queen and other young women in town turns up dead, he can no longer let it be. The world has invaded Brigham and something must be done. “The rest of the world just won’t let us be,” claims the sheriff’s predecessor. The corruption of the world is entering into the town, doors are being locked, and trust is being broken. Are the community and its trusted Sheriff just loosing their innocence or are they gaining wisdom or are both happening or are they simply loosing both together?

What happens next is perhaps the least charitable action I believe has ever occurred in all of film history. The sheriff marches into the private, hidden lives of everyone in the town, and then makes the unseen sins fully public for the sake of “justice”. For a person who wakes up every morning, prays, reads his scriptures, and is the Bishop of the community he has no respect for the privacy or rights of the community. He is losing his innocence for the sake of bringing justice to the world. When questioned if he has a warrant he defiantly says that he doesn’t need one. He drags Steve, the photographer, off to jail because Steve doesn’t want his pornography addiction to become part of the public sphere. The world, symbolized by the FBI, on the other hand, goes about things a different. Their investigation is largely not seen and in all honesty it feels like they do nothing for the cause, except when Meredith, one of the FBI agents, assists in Sheriff Wes’s own unlawful investigation. The whole community knows they are losing their innocence, but for what are they losing it?

There is wisdom gained in the end, however. Through all of the detritus he trudges up Wes understands that not all people can be trusted. Wait. Is that really wisdom? Or is that part of loosing innocence? The binary that is brought up may not be a binary at all. Wisdom and innocence are lost in this exchange. It is a lose/lose situation. I don’t know if Dutcher wanted to say this with his film, but it seems to me that with the initial rejection of the sacrament bread he is claiming that he is not innocent anymore. He is not worthy. The partaking of the bread later on supposedly symbolizes the renewal of innocence through the atonement, but for me it doesn’t. It reinforces the idea taught at the beginning that the town must remain pure under all costs. It is a step toward forgetting instead of repenting, a step toward ignorant innocence instead of cleansed understanding.

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