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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Brigham City Revisited

Ever since God's Army, Richard Dutcher has always been one of my favorite directors. He literally started the movement that I'm spending the entirety of this project researching. As I stated in a previous blog post on this topic, Brigham deals primarily with one topic: the dichotomy between wisdom and innocence. The ward Sunday school teacher asks her class the question, "Do we have to loose our innocence to gain wisdom?" Discovering the boundary between remaining innocent and gaining wisdom has, also plagued Richard Dutcher, and many other LDS artists. Just as many artists have done in the past he seeks to discover the answer to his question by exploring through his works. However, most of the time these realizations occur not in assertive moments, but rather through the text of piece. Alan Heimert stated,

To discover the meaning of any utterance demands what is in substance a continuing act of literary interpretation, for the language with which an idea is presented, and the imaginative universe by which it is surrounded, often tell us more of an author's meaning and intention than his declarative propositions (7, emphasis added).

What then is the text with which to interpret Dutcher's work. We must look at the characters and who they are in order to gain a better idea of what Dutcher's perspective of the church and faith are. Every character in the film has to ask themselves the same question. It is the fight between being "a part of the world", but not "of the world". How these characters react to this question helps us understand Dutcher's perception of the LDS faith, nonmembers of the church, pornography, and many other topics.
I am going to look at three characters and create a sketch of their identities based off of their experiences in the film. First, I'll begin with Meredith, the FBI investigator who is not a member of the church and not from the community. Second, I'll focus on Terry, Brigham's deputy and closet serial killer. Last the town's sheriff and bishop. By focusing on the identities of an outsider, a deceiver, and a town leader I will be able to see a sketch of Dutcher's perception of the church.
Meredith had never set foot in Brigham before the film started. She never wanted to either. However, upon entering the community she becomes an outside observer. She sees all of the pre-discovery identities, is there for the reveal, and continues to linger in the community after their tragedy. Her perception is one of an unbiased visitor. Her role is that of a revealer, one who through which we can see unbiased perceptions of the community. Perhaps more than any other moment in the film we can see this in action when Meredith is having a conversation with the sheriff at night. "You're just naive," the sheriff states unapologetically when Meredith asks why he believes the LDS beliefs. She's read the books, been to church, but admits to not praying about any of it. In other words, she's done her homework. She's taken the time to study the beliefs. That's what kind of a person Meredith is. Thus fitting the role of the outside observer perfectly.

What then does this say about the LDS perception of nonmembers of the church? In my experience there are many nonmembers who, while intensely interested in the church have no desire to discover if it is true or not. This is much like Steven Olsen's opinion; he states "The World, however, is... informed of the activities of the Kingdom, but only in an oblique manner" (94). I believe that many members of the church feel this way. They do not want to "bother", "upset", or "pester" their friends and therefore assume that all nonmember reactions to the church will result in either apathy or aggression.
Terry provides a unique identity to the film. Throughout most of the film he is perceived to be a model member of the church. However, he carries a secret. While his secret is much bigger, Terry is not the only member to hide their sins. The former sheriff smokes occasionally, the town photographer is a pornography addict; everyone has a secret. Many members of the church also feel this way. They want to hide the dark parts of their identities in order to present this ideal of perfection. Terry's defining moment carries a unique parallel to many people who chose to break free of the facade they present. He confesses to his bishop, although the circumstances are different. The need to keep sins hidden has existed for centuries. Cain kills Abel and tries to hide his sin from God. Ananias and Sapphiria hold back a part of their money and try to hide it from Peter. It is a natural instinct to cover up ones sins. Terry is no different than any other member of the church, except for the whole fact that he's a serial killer.

The sheriff is both the spiritual and temporal leader of his community. His whole mission in life is to protect people from both temporal and spiritual danger. He exclaims at one point in the film, "The world just won't let us be." This desire to keep everyone safe puts him in a precarious situation. He must find the killer before he kills again. He feels there is only one way. Search everyone's lives. This teaches us a lot about his identity. He is so worried about keeping everyone safe that he is willing to take the agency of those around him away in order to protect them. This sounds an awful lot like Lucifer's goal: to take the agency away in order to save everyone. This illegal search leads to many broken hearts, including that of a citizen that I believe will never come back to church again. How does that fit in to his goal of protecting people? After finding the murderer and watching him commit suicide realizes that he was the reason that there were so many deaths in the community. He is brought to a complete realization of his guilt. He realizes his fault: he trusts people too much. This realization brings him to make an important decision. He choses to not partake of the sacrament, a choice which was intended to show viewers the pain that he felt.

He was guilty, but not for the murders. His guilt lies in the breaking of the trust of every member of his community, from hurting people, from taking agency away. When the congregation refuses to partake of the sacrament the bishop gives in and partakes. This moment feels cheap to me. It feels he is giving in to the ritual of the church. He is supposed to partake so he does. The film would have been much more powerful if no one partook. We are all guilty. We all fall short. It is an extremely healthy thing to realize that. We would have seen fuller characters, more rounded identities, and a more complete story.

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