Go See “States of Grace”!

November 17, 2005 | 29 comments
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Dutcher captures the wrenching beauty of the struggle to follow Christ.

“States of Grace: God’s Army 2″ is really good. Go. This film doesn’t pull punches. The Christian message is shocking, and if you have forgotten that, this film will remind you. But that’s also what makes the fact of redemption so wonderful.

If you need more convincing, Eric Snider’s review is pretty helpful.

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29 Responses to Go See “States of Grace”!

  1. MDS on November 17, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    Amen. It is powerful.

  2. John Dehlin on November 17, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    I second the Amen.

  3. ryan lindgren on November 17, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    Saw the film in Utah lastweek with my mom and Grandma. my mom closed her eyes in parts because of the blood. my Grandma was wide eyed. we all enjoyed it and it made for good discussion.. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, a good small budget film. I don’t think anyone could argue that it is up there with the Godfather or Citizen Cane (Though it does appear to borrow imagery from one of the godfather’s in compairing two acts.)

    It reminded me a bit of “The Backslider” and Flannery Oconnorin it’s treatments of grace. I think I like States of Grace the most of his movies, and I liked the other two (Never saw Girl Crazy though).

    read on Box Office Mojo, It has made about 60,000 so far. anyone know the budget?

  4. Naiah Earhart on November 17, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Fandango is no help. Google is no help. Does anyone know of a site for the movie itself that has a listing of places it is showing? I am hoping against hope that one of the indy theaters here in Seattleland will be showing it. I loved the first one, and would hate to wait for DVD to catch this one. (I’m just impatient that way sometimes.)

  5. Matt on November 17, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    I heartily third the amen. I think Dutcher has a unique position in the LDS film making community. Today on tracks I overheard two teenagers talking. One encouraged the other to go see the movie. The other said that he really didn’t like “Mormon” movies. His friend replied “It’s not like a Mormon movie, it’s serious!”. While I have not seen many of the other films from “Mollywood”, I also found Dutcher’s film to have a depth and seriousness about it, which appealed to me. Although, it does have some good one-liners as well. I’m going to New York Doll tonight. Anyone seen it yet? Any opinions?

  6. Eric Russell on November 17, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    ryan, the budget is under one million, but Dutcher hasn’t revealed anything more. I’m guessing 900,000.

    Naiah, it is currently only in Utah and Idaho. If there are plans to expand, they have not yet been released.

    Matt, a good discussion of New York Doll is going on here.

  7. Ben Huff on November 17, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    I typed “states of grace” into the “search by movie” field at fandango.com and got this and this.

    Also, if you didn’t catch it, here’s M*’s interview of Dutcher.

  8. Wilfried on November 17, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    Matt, New York Doll is, of course, another genre than States of Grace, but, in my opinion, even more appealing than the latest Dutcher film. That’s a must see! I mentioned just yesterday on BCC: “Superb documentary. Indeed one of the best productions in the Mormon film world. Beware: don’t leave the theatre too quickly at the end. Lots of people had already left, thinking it was over, when one of the highlights followed: David Johansen’s rendering of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, as final tribute to Arthur Kane. The combination of David’s figure and the hymn is breathtaking.”

    States of Grace, great movie, yes. But in my opinion often too slow, needed more cutting at various places where the action is not vital or where the action drags on too long. More than two hours is, in my opinion, too much for such a movie. Also, the end scene at the Nativity may leave some viewers with a feeling of forced syrupiness to make us cry at the end. Such may ward off a non-Mormon public and prevent the movie to reach a broader audience. But, of course, this remains a landmark film, and it is too bad if some don’t go and see it because they lump it together with the cheap Mormon brand.

  9. Ben Huff on November 17, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for engaging with the particulars of the film, Wilfried. I have some sympathy for your point about length, and I hope I will get to see “New York Doll” soon.

    Tear-jerking (the final scene), maybe. Syrupy? How can it be syrupy when it is so unsettling, so not what missionaries and the associated grown-ups would be expected to do? Who is holding “white boy’s” arm? And everyone is kneeling on the side of the street. It seems to me we have left L.A. and entered the realm of symbolic vision at that point. Of course, someone who doesn’t believe in Christ as redeemer probably won’t go there with you, but in my mind that shows Dutcher is doing something right.

  10. ryan lindgren on November 17, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    I understand a complaint someone could have in the treatment of spiritual issues in the film such as the nativity, and some of the dialog as being too deliberate. Usually a more nuanced approach works sucessfully- such as in the Robe. I admire that spiritually core subjects were at least approached though.

  11. jjohnsen on November 17, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    For those of us that lost all faith in Mollywood films long ago, is this the one that will bring us back? It seems to be getting great reviews, but I never know if this is compared to other LDS films, or overall.

  12. Wilfried on November 17, 2005 at 9:43 pm

    Agreed, Ben, I certainly did not want to generalize. As I said, “the end scene at the Nativity may leave some viewers with a feeling of forced syrupiness to make us cry at the end. Such may ward off a non-Mormon public…” Perhaps syrupiness was too strong a word. As to myself, I found the scene deeply touching (and I cried). At the same time, I always try to imagine, I guess from my deeply ingrained mission background, what non-Mormons, and non-believers, would experience. Then I think a more subtle approach would be better, leaving it more to the viewer to come to his own conclusion and acceptance. I think that is what makes the power of New York Doll. A “Church” message or even a general “salvation” message is never explicit, but it grabs you implicitly much more. Compare the last scenes of States of Grace with those of New York Doll.

    But I hope that making some small remarks about States of Grace is not sacrilegious! It is and remains a great film.

  13. Keith on November 17, 2005 at 10:15 pm

    I look forward to seeing this when it gets here. Does anyone know, by the way, what became of his plans for a movie about Joseph?

  14. Ben Huff on November 17, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks, Wilfried. I think in one’s evaluation of these films a lot turns on one’s opinion about what audience we want them to reach. For my part, I think we need both kinds–those that will appeal to all, and those that will not. There are things it is not easy, and probably not possible to say while appealing to all, and I think we still need to be saying them. Mormons too often seem to assume that it is others who need to hear the Mormon message, as though we Mormons have already heard enough of it–therefore, among other things, we don’t need movies directed at a specifically Mormon audience! (not to imply that is your reasoning) That is an assumption “States of Grace” directly addresses and dispels. It is really exciting, though, when a movie makes deep human points drawing on the power of a Mormon perspective but in a way that reaches all. Hats off to the producers of “New York Doll” for doing it.

  15. Eric Russell on November 17, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Keith, it sounds like it’s on an indefinite hold until he can gather the funds.

    By the way, John Dehlin didn’t mention that he also did an interview with Richard Dutcher, which is worth listening to.

  16. Bookslinger on November 18, 2005 at 3:18 am

    States of Grace web site is here, with theaters:

    http://www.mainstreetmovieco.com/locations1.html

    Alternate URL.

    http://www.zionfilms.com which redirects to the above.

  17. Jack on November 18, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    Ben,

    I think you may be right that we need both. But if we follow the pattern set forth in the church, those things that are reserved solely for the saints tend to be more carefully guarded. Thus, I must agree with Wilfried on this issue. I think it is the duty of the saints to be ever aware of how they interface with the world. (Imagine such a statement coming from me–one of the more rash commenters around here. Ha!)

  18. Christian Faulconer on November 18, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    If you haven’t seen “States of Grace”, don’t. If you still want to, wait to see it before you read this comment because there are spoilers.

    I’m surprised that so many seem to love “States of Grace”. I saw it last weekend and I also saw “New York Doll” for the second time. Both movies address various states of grace and the role of the atonement in our lives but they do it in such different ways. “New York Doll” is amazing and I found myself wondering about people in my neighborhood and ward that I have overlooked because they don’t fit the mold. Arthur “Killer” Kane would be so easy to dismiss and yet the story of his personal salvation is beautiful. The opening scene presents viewers (especially mormon viewers) with a unique perspective. Here we are, looking at a former rock star who works in the LDS family history center who describes his past when “instant sex” was available as some of his “fondest memories”. You have to see the movie to understand how touching this is.

    On the other hand, “States of Grace” seems trite and forced. It is entertaining to see the standard missionary stereotypes play out: Hard working, rule-obeying missionary who doesn’t get the plan of salvation vs. Somewhat lazy, troubled, less obedient missionary who does. In order to really enjoy the movie you have to go well beyond the willing suspension of disbelief. The troubled missionary saves a murderous gang member, an alcoholic, and sort of saves a former porn star. It’s the porn star’s character that bothers me the most. There is a touching scene where she confesses her past bad behavior to the rule-obeying missionary. She talks about how her parents think of her as a “whore”. Sadly, the rule-obeyer eventually finds himself in a situation with her that leads to him being sent home from his mission. The reason this bothers me is that in the end, Dutcher seems to have portrayed her as someone with loose morals rather than someone who has embraced the atonement and changed. So the gang member is reformed, as are the alcoholic and the lazy missionary. The good missionary is exposed as a fraud and the woman is who she was — a temptress. Did I miss something?

    And describing the final scene as syrupy is, I think, fair.

  19. Wilfried on November 18, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    In connection with this discussion of intended audience, I would add that even Church members represent a wide variety. As a rule, the art of (commercial) filmmaking consists of having an appeal to the largest possible audience. If certain scenes are too direct, too explicit, too long, they may unsettle or disappoint a portion of the viewers. More subtle, suggestive presentations leave more room for personal interpretation and therefore broader satisfaction. You also run less risk that critics will disparage the film because of one or two (too long) scenes.

    Without wanting to compare too much the two different genres which States of Grace and New York Doll represent, one must admit that New York Doll will probably appeal as much to non-members, even non-religious persons, as to Church members in all their variety. The former NYD-fans will focus on the music and the events (reliving that wild past), Mormons will focus on all the Church-hints in the documentary (what a testimony-building conversion story), the neutral film-viewers will enjoy the gripping story of a human being.

  20. Ben Huff on November 18, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    Christian, yours is a really interesting response to me because I thought the film did an amazing job of defying stereotypes. The “good” slacker missionary’s hands are hardly clean. If he hadn’t started disregarding the rules, and telling his companion to stop being such a stickler, his comp would never have gotten in trouble. He gave the key to their apartment to this single non-Mormon woman living next door! Do you think you could be reading stereotypes in because that is what you expect from films about Mormons?

    And on the “temptress” . . . when is she portrayed as a temptress? When is she portrayed as anything but well-meaning, sweet and sincere?

    You’re right in everything you said, of course, Wilfried. And I thought the sobbing part in the last scene went on longer than necessary. I don’t think Dutcher meant to be following the usual canons for commercial film, though. I think if we never feel a bit awkward at the thought of non-believers watching films about what we really are doing and believing, we are glossing over something and it is ultimately self-deceptive.

  21. Christian Faulconer on November 18, 2005 at 9:26 pm

    Ben: I’m not sure what I expected from “States of Grace”. I had just seen “New York Doll” so it was hard to avoid making comparisons. Whether I expected stereotypes or not in “New York Doll” I didn’t see them so I hope I’m not guilty of seeing what I was looking for in “States of Grace”, but possibly.

    Your comment gets to the heart of the problem better than mine did. I think Dutcher took on a very complex subject. On the one hand you have a rule breaker who, as you point out, breaks rules to help people but sets off a series of events that ends up causing a lot of pain. Unfortunately, this is never really addressed in a meaningful way. You also have a gang member who tries to redeem himself and ends up as an accomplice (more or less) to a murder. You have an alcoholic preacher and a former porn star — all seeking some form of redemption. These are very complex topics and I think, in the end, Dutcher oversimplifies them. I think he sees the complexity but fails to deal with it effectively. He took on too much.

    The movie has some strange false foreshadowing. Why, for example, does Louis say to Lozano, “Trust him, he’s a good boy” when Farrell is missing? Not a serious issue, but strange. And when Lozano tells Farrell that Farrell’s father is a jerk and Farrell responds, “No, he’s a good man” are we supposed to see the interplay of good and evil even within a character that never appears in the movie? And isn’t the father, in the end, a jerk? Too many story lines started and never ended. What was the point of the scene where Louis takes the missionary badge and Book of Mormon and does his street preaching? It’s a great sermon, but it seems like a story line interrupted.

    Two scenes that seem popular on this thread drove me absolutely crazy:

    1. The confirmation / stabbing. This was clearly influenced by the Godfather, but it just wasn’t quite right. Maybe if the assailants had not joined in a choreographed circle around the dying boy’s body it would have been passable. I think we all understood the symbolism at that point and the circling gang was too heavy handed.

    2. The nativity. As I was watching this I thought, “I bet this read a lot better in the script than it is playing out.” Again, the words “heavy handed” come to mind. It was too long. By the time the Mission President holds the baby I wanted to scream. The idea is good, it just wasn’t executed well.

    You asked when the character of Holly is portrayed as anything but well-meaning, sweet and sincere. I guess when she had sex (as I assumed) with Elder Farrell, she and he both crossed the “well-meaning” line. I think it would have been possible to address Elder Farrell’s stereotypical weakness without reducing Holly to the person she was trying to leave behind. Do you think her parents are going to be more receptive to her now that she can add bedding a Mormon missionary to her resume?

    I don’t mean to be too hard on Dutcher. I liked “God’s Army” and I really liked “Brigham City”. I just think “States of Grace” ultimately fails.

  22. Ben Huff on November 18, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    Hm. So did you like the others better than this one? I really liked Brigham City, too, and I’m glad to hear you did, because I know not everyone does. (I really liked God’s Army, too, but I think lots of people did)

    You’re absolutely right there is a lot going on in this movie, and much of it is not resolved. I guess for me that is sort of the point of the atonement, though. Things don’t get resolved otherwise. At some point we have to sort of throw up our hands and give it all up to God. And honestly, I think it is a bit pathological, to use a sort of loaded word, how we expect everything to be dealt with and processed and resolved in movies. It’s just too Hollywood. That’s not what real life is like. That’s part of what I love about this movie. Dutcher doesn’t try to answer all the questions.

    I felt overloaded by the end, unable to say what was right and wrong in several cases. How am I to feel about the grandmother’s remark about the younger brother? Carl wanted to find him and bring him to the meeting, and guess what wouldn’t have happened if he’d taken an extra couple of minutes to find the kid and tell him how much it would mean to him to have him come to the confirmation? And so forth. That overload is exactly why we need the atonement. That’s the only resolution that can really be complete.

    As for Holly, it seems you are asking for her to change overnight in a way that seems pretty unrealistic to me. I don’t think it is unkind to portray her as still not “getting it” after one conversation about the atonement. I know people who have been in the church their whole lives who stil don’t “get it”. She lives in a different world from Elder Farrell and is doing the best she knows how. For her, making the transition from making a porn flick and sleeping with any guy she goes on a date with to merely having sex with someone she really likes, a really good guy, is actually progress, isn’t it? Think about Carl. He sincerely accepted baptism. Then he goes out to kill somebody, drives around in a car for hours, looking for him, without waking up to how wrong this is. Does that mean he was insincere in accepting baptism? I don’t think it does. Does it mean the purifying work of the Holy Ghost on him is far from complete? Yes.

    I agree this is a really ambitious movie, though, and maybe I relate to Dutcher’s perspective, what seems to be implicit in it, more than some will. It’s kind of an art flick. It won’t reach everyone.

  23. Wilfried on November 18, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    Interesting exchange. Inasmuch as we all want, I guess, to support Richard Dutcher for his groundbreaking work in Mormon film (and I have been a staunch supporter of him since God’s Army 1 and especially since Brigham City), I presume some criticism should be possible. I think one of the problems of States of Grace is also with the superlatives that are used in the promotion, even if they come from reviews. “A veritable epic of spiritual drama” etc. Such rhetoric raises the expectations much too high for what is, to Mormon film standards, an excellent movie compared to the rest, but has its obvious weaknesses in length, story-line simplicity, character delineation and sometimes cheap parody (the sleeping investigator for one). To compare with another Dutcher-film (instead of NYD), the subtlety and implicit power of e.g. the ending of Brigham City (the Sacrament scene) is sadly lost in States of Grace. As a Mormon viewer (and I guess many non-Mormon viewers), I could feel myself part of the Sacrament meeting in Brigham City. But I could not see myself kneeling on that L.A. street with that group, nor participating with the congregation in Louis’ preaching right after. In spite of the Kleenex, I felt a little manipulated and alienated. All personal of course.

  24. Christian Faulconer on November 19, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    I did like “Brigham City” and “God’s Army” more than I liked “States of Grace”. I think Wilfried is right that the hype (a lot of it from reviews like Eric Snyder’s) is a little overblown. Eric Snyder talks about how every story line is juggled but resolved. I felt the opposite. It seems like Ben and I both noticed the unresolved nature of some of the story lines. I, however, felt like that was an oversight rather than something intentional.

    I probably should let Ben have the final word on the character of Holly but I just can’t let it go. The reason that I expect her to change overnight is that the two male characters do. It is true that both male characters (Louis and Carl) are still working out their salvation, but they made overnight changes. But Holly ends the film very much the way we find her at the start. I understand that she still doesn’t “get it” as Ben points out but she gets it enough to have dinner with the Elders on the roof. She says she gets it when Elder Farrell tells her that she can’t come over anymore. But supposedly she doesn’t get it enough to say no to his advances? Isn’t there a powerful lesson there too? Couldn’t we have been exposed to Farrell’s weakness and still see some of Holly’s strength? Carl changes enough to avoid being the trigger man even though he is still a big part of the murder of the rival gang member. Sadly, Holly doesn’t change enough to turn away when faced with temptation. It is unfortunate that the only developed female character is the one that plays this role.

    Wilfried’s comparison to “Brigham City” is dead on. Clearly Dutcher is capable of subtlety, but he didn’t pull it off in “States of Grace”. Snyder praises Dutcher for “trying” and maybe I should do the same. But Snyder’s comments and Wilfried’s raise another question. How much lattitude should we allow film-makers in the mormon genre? I think it is good to tell the stories and I admire people who do. But in the end, I think we do ourselves a disservice if we lower our standards. Hopefully there is room, as Wilfried points out, for criticism.

  25. Ben Huff on November 19, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Hey, no question, there is room for criticism! I’m sorry if the way I responded suggested otherwise! I just really, honesly, loved the film, thought there were reasons to, and wanted to say why.

    I thought Holly showed her strength by respecting E. Lozano’s word that she couldn’t see E. Farrell, by being properly horrified and sympathetic when she realized how devastated E. Farrell was, and by giving back to him the little bit of truth she’d been given, even if she still only desired to believe, which is where I think she probably was at. Taking hold of redemption and acknowledging its power despite how imperfect and, frankly, lost, we continue to be is what is so hard, I think.

    I do think I am cutting Dutcher more slack because what he is doing is so fresh, so untried. I look forward to a day when there is no need to do that any more!

    Thanks guys, I am glad we dug into the details, whichever way we come out.

  26. Adam Greenwood on November 28, 2005 at 10:44 pm

    “If you haven’t seen “States of Graceâ€?, don’t.”

    This is too much. We all need to accept as a premise that even a good, mature Mormon cinema will contain works that don’t suit our individual taste. How much more true of Mormon cinema aborning.

  27. Adam Greenwood on November 28, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    I think there’s room for constructive criticism, but there’s not room for deathblows.

  28. Christian F. on December 1, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    My initial comment was a response to the title of this post: Go See “States of Grace”! My response was to recommend that people not see it. As you can tell from the comments above, I’m in the minority on this site as the film seemed to suit the individual taste of the large majority of posters.

    Under the circumstances I don’t consider my opinion a deathblow and so it remains the same: If you have yet to see it, don’t. Support good Mormon cinema and buy DVDs of Dutcher’s other work.

  29. Craig Larimer on December 2, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    I haven’t seen this movie yet but I desperately want to. LDS genre movies don’t always make it to Portland, OR, but I look forward to this one arriving. I thought the first God’s Army was spectacular. I enjoyed reading all of your posts. I’m also newly interested in the new movie “New York Doll” that looks great…but again, might not come to Oregon.

    Craig