States of Grace

I know I’m several months over a year behind here, but I finally watched Richard Dutcher’s States of Grace and loved it. Modern Mormon storytelling doesn’t get much better. It has a nice Christmas theme too, so if you haven’t seen it, try and pick it up over the holidays.


  1. I got the DVD as a Christmas present from my old pal Brother Crawford. Thanks, John. I hope you don’t mind that I opened it early!

  2. I have a review essay on the film coming out in the next Dialogue, so you’re right on time. I agree, a wonderful film. Particularly the part where they meet Brother Steed.

  3. Good production values and good storytelling in this movie. I had issues with some of the subject matter, though. My husband didn’t, he loved it. I still feel let down by it and don’t have any wish to see it again.

  4. I think States of Grace is the best Mormon film ever made — both because of the filmmaking and the substantive message. Really, Dutcher captures the redemptive heart of the gospel message that we so often gloss over.

  5. I have yet to see States of Grace, being somewhat put of by Dutcher’s current distancing of himself from the LDS Faith reported in the media. Of course, I also haven’t seen it because the Mormon Cinema for me begins and ends with the “Other Side of Heaven.”

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw it at Sunstone this summer and really enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure Santa, if Ronan hasn’t killed him off yet, will be bringing me the DVD for Xmas.

  7. I’d rank Saints and Soldiers over States of Grace.

  8. For some reason “States” isn’t available on Netflix, even though “God’s Army,” “Brigham City,” and “The Singles Ward” are. What gives?

  9. Greg, not having been pleased with the distribution of his previous films, Dutcher set up an independent distribution company for States of Grace. I guess netflix isn’t doing business with him.

  10. I’m looking forward to seeing States of Grace. I’ve heard it was very well done — and I can understand a little bit why its disappointing performance among Mormons (who were too busy watching The Home Teachers and Church Ball) left a sour taste in Dutcher’s mouth. Maybe a surge in SoG’s popularity among all us smartsy-artsy-fartsy bloggernackers will bring Bro. Dutcher back to the fold…

    Susan M — I was disappointed by the production values of Saints and Soldiers. I mean, sorry, if the script has someone saying “It’s getting dark out,” but you have to film at noon, nail a blanket up over the windows for crying out loud…

  11. if only it was sold anywhere for less than $27.99. maybe i should check ebay… anyway, i’m intrigued by dutcher’s current position and am impressed with how honest he is about it. we all have trials of faith sometime. i can’t imagine having to deal with mine in the public eye.

  12. I got it at Walmart in Bloomington UT for $13.24. Sure wish that they sold this type of stuff in Texas

  13. I also want to state that I think its about the best piece of LDS film I have ever seen. It was a great Christmas reminder of why we all need the Savior.

  14. I was sorry to hear that Richard is feeling so alienated from the faith community. it must be horrifying to create something of great spiritual beauty, an offering to your faith community, and then have that community reject it.

    ps, i CANNOT vouch for this website, having never heard of it before, but tells me they have the movie for $10 off.

  15. Has Dutcher gone inactive or something? I walked to the Sunset 5 and saw States of Grace when it was showing there (for about a week). Not exactly a sellout, but it may have been the largest congregation of LDS ever assembled in West Hollywood. It’s a great movie with first-class production values. I was intrigued by his use of the cross. To me it seemed to imply that the cross is a symbol accepted by Mormons, and I found that odd. Anybody else notice that?

    Did the LDS community really “reject” this film??

  16. CT is my source:
    Money was much less for the film and word of mouth much more negative vis-a-vis God’s Army 1. Dutcher seems to have interpreted this as rejection, not without reason.

  17. I really loved States, but I’ve heard grumbling – some of my relatives seemed to dislike it because it focused on the protagonists’ experience of redemption rather than divine punishment.

  18. Oh, it wouldn’t pass correlation for sure. Let’s see:

    The cross as redemptive symbol, kneeling before live nativities, violence, attempted suicide, rule breaking of the highest magnitude, scantily clad women, a porn actress, fornication, the dark side of Mormonism (“My dad said he’d rather see me come home in a Pinewood Box than come home without my honor”)…

    Some of my relatives seemed to dislike it because it focused on the protagonists’ experience of redemption rather than divine punishment.

    Remember that old movie, The Prodigal Son? (“I was the good guy!”) That also focuses on redemption, but perhaps because the Prodigal Son is shown working to change his life it’s kosher. The sinners in SoG are offered redemption only (movie) moments after their fall.

    I loved the burying the weapons motif. A wonderful example of what the Book of Mormon — once the bile over its historicity is set aside — has to offer Christian moral teaching.

  19. JNS –

    I think States of Grace is the best Mormon film ever made — both because of the filmmaking and the substantive message. Really, Dutcher captures the redemptive heart of the gospel message that we so often gloss over.

    I couldn’t agree more. Thought this was by far the best Dutcher film and best Mormon cinema film.

  20. I think Latter-day Saints by and large would have accepted and embraced the movie were it in a non-LDS setting–say about missionaries in another faith tradition.

    The movie may seem outside the bounds of legitimate, plausible fiction because most of us are sure (or hope) that the kinds of things portrayed in States of Grace just don’t (or shouldn’t) happen in the LDS world. (But, in reality, of course, truth is much stranger than fiction.) Another way to put it, is that topics such as these are not discussed among polite Mormon company.

    I think the general LDS community would have a similar reaction to Eric Samuelson’s Peculiarities–a treatment of subjects that many of us would prefer to ignore. Tom Rogers’ great play Huebener suffered a somewhat similar fate when he was asked not to have it performed again for a significant period of time (my understanding is that the ban on performance ended several years ago).

  21. 21 jogged my memory. I was an intensely rule-bound missionary, so much that some of the missionaries I lorded over in the field experienced rage, terror, sadness, and hatred when they encountered me.

    But I had a soft spot in my heart for downtrodden investigators and had a sad man sleep off a big drunk in our apartment, one of the most exhilirating and potent experiences of my mission. I have since repented of the former but not the latter.

    Truth is stranger than fiction, and it is less likely to fit into careful categories and dichotomization in my experience.

  22. I really, really loved the movie. It was so powerful. Both my wife and I wept openly at the end. I can understand someone Dutcher feeling upset at the lack of success. However, some great, powerful, challenging pieces of art start with a whimper and eventually throw themselves into the group consciousness. I think the most frightening aspect of this film is the idea that we are in fact, imperfect. These subjects are not talked about in polite company because we deparately want to be more than we often are, hence the need for a Savior. It also really hammered home to me the amzing depth of the Gospel that our platitudes just can’t even begin to cover. I’m glad you enjoyed the film Ronan and I wish I could express to Bro. Dutcher how profoundly touching I found the film myself.

  23. Thomas Parkin says:

    “I was an intensely rule-bound missionary, so much that some of the missionaries I lorded over in the field experienced rage, terror, sadness, and hatred when they encountered me.”


    There is something behind the aquisition of that self-knowlege, I’d venture.

    I love you, my brutha.

    I haven’t seen the movie, but hope to soon. It still disheartens me, just to the point of exasperation, that we LDS are collectively so suckered in by every innocuous bit of ‘lightmindedness’ parading as wisdom, but recoil from any portrayal spiritual difficulty that doesn’t end with a platitude. We will never be the missionary people we need to be, let alone Zion, until we we’ve moved beyond this kind of reliance on happy appearances – covering our sins with acceptable haircuts and tidy hemlines, and our lack of true understanding with catchphrases – idolatry – trusting the image rather than substance – having a form of godliness but being clueless about the saving power thereof – whited sepulchres that are painted for men’s approval but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones. etc.


  24. okay, i may just have to break down and get it. i’m even more intrigued now! i was dating an anti guy when “god’s army” came out and he saw it with me. he walked away with a (little bit of a) new respect for the church (via respect for the lds filmmaker and other contributors), saying how impressed he was at how openly “taboo” topics were addressed.

    mike, i made it to the sunset 5 when they showed it, but didn’t actually make it indoors… i can’t remember what now, but i was called away for something to do with my kids. i bet the turnout was similar to when they showed “the rm” (gag!) at the artsy-fartsy cinema in waikiki. what an interesting group that was! it was fun to pick out the non-members, who weren’t sure what they were getting into.

  25. I feel like I should clarify my statement. It is a powerful movie, and I did cry a few times during it. It was put together *very* well. I think most people who participate on the LDS blogs will love it.

    I’m just weird about movies. If there’s something I find objectionable in it, it can ruin the whole thing for me, and make me not want to see it again, because it’s the main thing I remember about it.

    I’ll be honest and say I didn’t want a movie about missionaries dealing with pornography and sex, probably because I live in southern Cali and it’s everywhere down here. Also because I took my teenage kids to see this movie.

    **** SPOILER ALERT ****

    Another big objection was the gang member who participates in a murder and somehow, hey, it’s ok.

  26. Sorry, Ronan, I totally disagree. I think it was a hodge-podge of painful experiences and deep emotion substituting for art. It reminded me of the dad who had to pull the stick so the train could go through, killing his son and saving a bunch of people.

    I don’t have any objection to the adult content, I just don’t think it was well done.

  27. a random John says:

    I’ll chime in to agree with #8. I’ve looked for it twice on NetFlix and haven’t found it. I’d like to see it but I’m not interested enough to go out of my way for it. He needs to talk to NetFlix and get it on the site.

  28. I watched States of Grace for the first time yesterday and thought it was a beautiful story of faith and forgiveness. I thought it was a wonderful testimony of God’s effectual calling and conversion.

    Holly’s gift was extremely poignant as a well-intentioned attempt to connect with Elder Farrell, but one that revealed her unfamiliarity with LDS beliefs.

    I didn’t initially like the ending. As I reflected on the film last night though it became apparent to me that the unsettling conclusion was the perfect way to end such a realistic movie.

    It was a refreshing film that honestly portrayed the depth of human depravity, the spiritual consequences of sin and the daily struggle to obey the Lord. But above all, I loved the movie because our Saviour was glorified.

  29. I’m sorry to hear that Dutcher has drifted away from the church. My guess is that it is not solely due to his disappointment with Mormon cinema and its audience–I don’t believe him to be that petty. (though I’m certain that such disappointments may amount to more than the “last straw”) Many in this forum (including myself) have had such doubts about the mormon faith and have found (or are finding, as in my case) a more healthy way of approaching it.

    Dutcher’s work is primarily reactionary. It stems more from a defiance of the more superficial elements of mormonism rather than from a well founded personal theology. His work seems to thrive more on how it takes apart the culture rather than on how it expresses deep religious experience–though, no doubt, some of that expression is found in his work. And, no doubt, the culture is due for that kind of “taking apart” now and again.

    But, too often he attempts to convey religious experience by forcing the juxtaposition of incompatable elements that ought to find their way into conflict by means of a more inevitable avenue. The conflict becomes more situational than natural because of his tendency to manipulate the context so as to channel the characters in order to insure a particular thematic outcome. This has a tendency to force the irony thereby rendering the characters irrational and therefore unbelievable, i.e., we don’t believe them. And by failing to believe them we fail to derive any meaningful metaphor from their experience.

    That said, Dutcher’s work is sprinkled with powerful moments here an there but lacks an over all power that comes of well designed characters which live beyond the premise of the story–as interesting as that premise may be. Such “spikes” of inspiration in Dutcher’s work are a result of his raw ingenuity.

    It is my hope that Dutcher will continue to refine his gifts and that he will not stray too far from the religious touch stones which have been the primary source of his inspiration in filmaking. Despite the weakness (as I see them) in his work which I have mentioned above, I prefere his offerings far and away above the silliness of other so called mormon filmakers. Dutcher has attempted to convey something truely meaningful and has (imo) succeeded in some measure–though I believe he can do better if he will remember his initial intent for creating films and found his work more squarely on literature rather than technology.

  30. I loved the movie. My 16 year old son did not because of the weakness of Elder Farrell. I know these things happen in real life and the realistic portrayl was not offensive to me. I also feel it should be recognized by LDS faithful to acknowledge the shortcomings we all have in life, and the the Saviors atonement is required since we all fall short of the mark. We are no better nor worse than any other group of people. The only thing that seperates us is, knowing where the path lies leading to our Father! A must see!

  31. My whole family loves _States of Grace_. My husband, son and I have a family review in the upcoming _Irreantum_. And we gave and received copies for Christmas. My husband, in particular, fell in love with it. He’s in a stake presidency and has been learning about mercy in some very difficult settings. This film touched him as no other has. He has now seen it six times.

    I actually do get concerned by the quick judgment passed not only on Dutcher but on his characters–the easy dismissal of the film by a reviewer on, for example, who left the movie halfway through and still felt he could review it. (He knew the missionaries broke the rules and that was enough.) This film SHOULD touch any audience member who has known the tender mercies of Jesus Christ. I consider _States of Grace_ the best Mormon film yet made, and Dutcher still our best film Mormon maker. Sadly, I don’t know that we will see another LDS-themed film from him. That is a huge loss.

  32. “This film SHOULD touch any audience member who has known the tender mercies of Jesus Christ.”

    This silly homogenization of aesthetics and pop-religion is the number one reason why LDS art has never gotten it’s ass off the ground.

  33. MikeInWeHo says:

    Imagine if one of the Brethren just made a quick comment to the effect that he really liked States of Grace. That might change everything. The Pope apparently saw The Passion Of The Christ and commented afterward “It is how it was,” and we all know how that movie worked out. The LDS look to their leadership for cues on something like this, it seems. Has the Church made any comments about Dutcher’s films?

  34. Mike,

    I think it would make a huge difference. We see this very phenomenon in the way an entire season of (insert show name) is sold out in a matter of hours merely because it is produced by the church and playing at the Conference Center Theater.

  35. I am not aware of any statement by any of the Brethren about any of Dutcher’s films–and I am glad for that, so that we can decide whether we like the movies or not based on our own preferences.

    I suspect that there are the same sort of divisions among the Brethren about the film as there is on the bloggernacle.

    In some ways the film is a bit inflamatory (and certainly discomforting) by requiring Mormons who watch it to confront their own attitudes about sin and redemption in contexts that most of the mainstream believes or hopes do not (or should not) exist.

    It forces us to confront issues like:

    1. Is redemption possible for a missionary who violates the law of chastity while a missionary and is sent home (most likely under Church discipline)? This situation has occurred hundreds, if not thousands of times.

    2. Can there ever be a future in a romantic relationship begun in violation of mission rules and the law of chastity? While this has occurred fewer times than the situation in #1 above, it has happened in at least one case of which I am aware (and the couple was later sealed in the temple), and probably many times.

    3. Is forgiveness or redemption possible for a person even tangentially involved in murder–especially after joining the Church? Does Jesus’ atonement really extend that far? I believe it does; I am sure there are substantial numbers of Mormons (and probably many leaders) who believe it does not and cannot.

    4. Is violating a mission rule ever justified? Does it always lead to catastrophy? Should it ever be “glorified”?

  36. any mouse says:

    okay, so dutcher SHOULD be in hiding… we just watched “the work and the story.” holy hunk o’ CRAP!


  1. […] This feeling was solidified in me last night as Ronan and I watched ‘States of Grace’. A very powerful film (the best Mormon film IMO). At the end the cast is gathered round a live nativity, and as one of them cradles the ‘baby Jesus’, they one by one fall to their knees. […]