Friday, 1 July 2011

The Ledge: atheism's Brokeback Mountain?

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Liv Tyler and Charile Hunnam star in The Ledge
We had an email the other day from team behind a new film, The Ledge, a psychological thriller due for cinematic release in the US next Friday. If you're wondering why they'd contact a magazine like New Humanist, it's because the film is being billed as " the first drama in Hollywood history to feature an openly atheist hero in a story about religious conflict".

So what's it all about? Here's the synopsis from the film's website:
"On the rooftop of a city skyscraper, Detective Hollis (Terrence Howard) pleads with Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) not to jump. What he does not know is that Gavin, an atheist, is involved in a deadly feud with Joe (Patrick Wilson), a Christian extremist. Joe's wife, Shana, (Liv Tyler) is caught in the middle as Joe seeks to test Gavin's faith or lack of it. Cutting between the present and the past, tension escalates as verbal shots give way to deadly threats in a race against time that neither God nor the police can stop. Along the way, the film provocatively explores the intellectual and emotional conflicts between religion and atheism."
 And here's the trailer:

The Ledge, which was nominated in the Best America Drama category at the prestigious Sundance film festival, is currently showing on Video on Demand services (I think this may be only available in the US), but from next Friday, 8 July, it will begin a "test run" at cinemas in New York and Los Angeles. If it is successful it is hoped that it will achieve a wider release, and there are plans for it to be released internationally in August. The team behind the film hope it will help to raise the profile of atheists, pointing to the success of 2005's Brokeback Mountain in raising the profile of gay rights. The Ledge's British director, Matthew Chapman, certainly has high hopes, suggesting he would like the film to inspire atheists to be open about their views and also help increase understanding between believers and non-believers:
"I want Christians and other believers to watch The Ledge and see that atheists have a valid point of view. There are a lot of us, we are thinking people, we care about many of the same issues as believers, and yet we are rarely heard and widely hated. I hope atheists who are still in the closet will take heart from the film and think, 'I am not alone'."
If you'd like to help build the momentum behind the film, there is a whole list of ways you can on the official website – if you're in New York or LA you can go and see it, you can watch online in the US, or you can spread the word via social networking sites (there's a Facebook page you can join).

So what's our take? Well, in terms of whether it's a good film, it's hard to say without having actually seen it, but with a well-known writer/director, a cast of names and a Sundance nomination, it certainly sounds like The Ledge could be worth seeing (have a look at this very positive review from the Huffington Post).

Perhaps the more interesting issue for us is the matter of whether The Ledge can be a "Brokeback Mountain for atheists"? It's a question that reminds me of Richard Dawkins' "Out Campaign", in that it involves a comparison between coming out as gay and "coming out" as an atheist. This comparison has always seemed more valid in the US, where many atheists do feel unable to admit to being non-religious in what can be a very religious society, than it does in the UK, where levels of religiosity are much lower. The question you find yourself asking from a British perspective is: do we need a "Brokeback Mountain for atheists?"

I'll throw that one out to you – do share your thoughts in the comments.
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