Richard Dutcher, Vehicle of God’s Grace

I was talking to Jay yesterday about Keith Merrill’s response to this talk from Richard Dutcher, and for the millionth time, I noted how utterly incomprehensible it is to me that people could see Dutcher’s work as unsupportive of faith or religious devotion, or in any way detrimental to the church or its members. In my experience, Dutcher’s films are so very supportive of both our community and its faith that I find Merrill’s response to Dutcher’s work utterly mystifying.

In fact, Brigham City was the catalyst for the religious experience which led me to rejoin the church. I know I’ve mentioned my history with the church before, but I’ll just recap it briefly. I grew up as a Mormon from a part-member home in Salt Lake City. My religious education, both at church and in CES, didn’t really center on anything I now understand as Christianity, with the exception of one edifying course taught by S. Michael Wilcox at the University of Utah Institute of Religion. In fact, despite the fact that I was a very active Mormon through college, my religious devotion didn’t really involve much actual religion. I tried to learn, and the church tried to teach me, truly it did. However, most of the religious information to which I was exposed on Sundays was at best decontextualized from the Gospel of Christ laid out in 3 Nephi 27. At worst, it was contrary to that Gospel. Of course, even if my ward, my seminary, or the Institute had taught nothing but Christ and Him crucified, the message would have been undercut by the treatment I received as a child of apostates.

I left the church during a personal crisis in my early adulthood, and I felt a lot of anger toward the church community due to the pain I suffered at members’ hands. I decided that I should judge Mormondom by its fruits, and in my experience, those fruits were usually rotten. (Remember, I was quite young. My views on the church have changed, as I’m about to detail below).

Several years afterward, I’d had my name removed, joined the Episcopal church, and had experienced a particularly intense conversion to what I’d probably classify as progressive evangelical Christianity. (Think Sojourners). I believed that the LDS church was off my radar. And then God used Dutcher’s work to completely change my understanding of the Mormon community and of my relationship to it.

My husband and I were living in Caracas on a research trip, and as Venezuela was in the middle of a severe political crisis verging on civil war, we weren’t able to leave the house much. I ended up watching many, many hours of cable television. As I mentioned above, I’d barely thought of the LDS church for years. I was deeply involved in my own religious life, and I believed my Mormon past had become a nonissue. I thought I was over the trauma of my exit. I had other things to think about. And then one afternoon, HBO Latin America played Brigham City.

I though, “Oh, neat, I wanted to see this when it was released.” I quite liked it. Until the last scene, I just enjoyed the film. It’s an excellent piece of culture-specific cinema. Since I’d just learned enough Spanish to realize that language is only the first, and by no means the most formidable, barrier to cross-cultural conversations, I really liked the way Dutcher used the East Coast FBI agent and the local residents as foils for each other, a kind of cultural negative space. They talked, and both thought they were communicating clearly, but of course they were having quite distinct conversations. The audience could either see the locals’ worldview or the agent’s worldview, but not both at once. It was like that picture which might be two faces or might be a vase, depending on your frame of mind.

The film was a lot of fun, right up to the last scene. I won’t describe the scene, because I don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t seen the film yet. I’ll just say that it was a stunning illustration of the love church members feel for each other when we are our best selves.

Suddenly, I understood. Suddenly the culture that I’d abandoned was beautiful to me. Its faith was comprehensible to me. The thing I saw on the television screen – the community founded in the waters of Mormon – was something my own faith lacked.

I’ve probably blogged about the rest of the experience before. The film ended, I walked away from my television, and as I left the room, I suddenly felt like a flaming hand was gripping my soul. (I always think that sounds overdramatic, but such a metaphor is the only way I can express what happened). I spent several hours sitting in our apartment, struggling with an almost unbearably strong compulsion to rejoin the Mormon church and to stay in it forever, accompanied by the strong conviction that God required this course of action of me, absolutely and without any negotiation. I really didn’t want rejoin the LDS church, but the idea of choosing not to rejoin was suddenly unthinkable.

Three weeks later, we’d returned to the U.S., and I was sitting in the office of the local ward’s bishop, telling him the story and planning my rebaptism. And I’m certain that had I not seen Dutcher’s film, that meeting would not have happened.

I needed to see the promise of Zion, the potential for true and abiding love within our church, which Dutcher illustrated so well. I don’t doubt that the divine ultimatum I received was waiting for me, and I have enough self-awareness to understand that Dutcher’s film is what made it comprehensible to me. I needed to understand you, my people, before I could embrace you. That embrace, my own capacity for which I attribute in part to Dutcher’s efforts and in greater part to God’s working on my soul, has made me whole where I was broken.

I see such beauty in Dutcher’s work, such truth, and so much of God’s love and light, that I am always confused by the strong negative reactions Dutcher evokes. Yes, he deals with death, with sin, with pain and the tragedy which is ever-present in this world. He says that such things are present within our church. Perhaps that bothers some of us. Perhaps we would like to believe that our church is free of such things. But death, sin, pain, tragedy, and guilt, are our lot, because we are neither immortal nor perfect. We know that sin exists in our own hearts and in our own community. We know that we may be blinded to it. The scriptures tell us that Satan wishes us to believe that “all is well in Zion”; we know that all is not well, though we are tempted to listen to the adversary’s seductive lie.

All will not be well, in Zion or anywhere else, until Christ returns to stand among us. Art that admits this is essentially realistic. When such realistic art goes further and shows us the Light which the darkness of our lives on Earth cannot overcome, it is a gift. Dutcher’s art is such a gift, at least to me; it taught me to understand the church, the fullest expression of God’s grace to which I have access in this life, and it prepared me to accept that grace.


  1. I should note that the Dutcher and Merrill pieces came to my attention through John Dehlin’s blog (Thanks, John!). I linked back to the original articles, though…

  2. Taryn,
    Have you read Merrill’s apology? (courtesy DMI Dave)

  3. HP/JDC,

    I hadn’t seen it – I’m very glad he’s reconsidered his initial response, and I’m glad you and Dave linked it. I’m still confused by that initial response, however – not in the “How dare he?” sense, but in the “Wow, do people really dislike Dutcher’s films?” sense.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Did you happen to see Kieth’s apology?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops, I see I’m milliseconds too late. (g)

  6. Jordan F. says:

    Which blog? Mormon Stories?

  7. Costanza says:

    For what it’s worth, I have always been moved by Dutcher’s own words regarding his testimony (published in 2001). They remind me of Taryn’s own thoughts, so I’m posting them here:
    “I had read the Book of Mormon a couple of times, as well as the Bible, and I had been very active, but I never felt that experience of having personal revelation that it was true. I was at a crossroads, if I was going to keep going. I was sitting in the Carthage jail where Joseph Smith was martyred, and I bowed my head and asked if it was real. I began sobbing and I couldn’t stop. Everybody was looking at me and wondering what was happening. It was powerful and wonderful. I was just filled with light. It didn’t come from within; it came from without. I was just a participant. It is still something I draw on and go back to.”

  8. I loved Brigham City and am sad to hear of Dutcher’s estrangement from the church in part for selfish reasons: sometimes it feels like most of my friends and those I admire and enjoy are leaving the fold. I like sharing Mormonism with people I care about and respect.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this public exchange puts either Dutcher or Merrill in a particularly flattering light. Tragic all around. Thanks for providing access to the debate, Taryn. My wife has wild memories of watching those international cable stations; I’m delighted that they featured Brigham City.

  9. Here’s the problem with apologies:
    We tend to remember the initial offense rather than the apology. Don Imus will not be remembered for his eloquent apologies. Nor will Bill Clinton.
    Kieth Merrill’s initial post was so cruel that it will stay in the minds of any who read it, and many will never see the apology.
    The irony to me is that Merrill’s films are (to me) the epitome of what President Kimball rejected in his famous call to artists thirty years ago: Despite high production values, they are mediocre (the word President Kimball urged artists to move beyond), badly-scripted, sentimentally manipulative, and formed with a “faith-promoting” agenda, which (like state-sponsored art) often ignores what is actually most essential and most personal about faith. His “Legacy Theater” films are epics, grand stories intended to leave the audience in tears. Dutcher’s films (which I love) are intimate and heart-wrenching, and much closer to the examples President Kimball actually used in his call to artists: Goethe’s _Faust_, Shakespeare’s _King Lear_, and Bolt’s _A Man For All Seasons_.
    Dutcher’s films do NOT reach every audience member, but for those of us they do reach, they do it powerfully.

  10. Jordan F. says:

    I was extremely moved by the final scene in Brigham City.

  11. Taryn, that’s an interesting post. It reminds me of a story Gideon Burton likes to tell about a friend of his who came to the gospel after viewing The Last Temptation of Christ. Not sure what the moral of the story is, except that I think there are many possible conduits to the Spirit. Dutcher isn’t that great a filmmaker, not by any objective standard — the comparisons he makes himself to Scorcese and DePalma were particularly unfortunate — but there’s no doubt that there’s a vitality and spark behind his work.

  12. The final scene of Brigham City was very powerful to me, also. It was the first time I experienced a moment in film that deepened my understanding of the Mormon, and thus my, experience. After the movie ended I felt so excited that someone was doing this – using our shared experience to speak to the audience. I felt similarly about States of Grace. While neither of them felt like ultimately great films, they were Mormon films and I am so, so sorry we won’t have Dutcher telling and exploring that story anymore.

  13. Taryn, thanks for a really great post. I, for one, don’t remember hearing nearly this much of your story before.

    I liked Brigham City, but didn’t love it. It didn’t do for me what it did for you. However, I finally watched States of Grace a few days ago. As someone who doesn’t have a large reservoir of spiritual experiences to reflect back upon, and as someone who is usually hypercritical of religious and emotional material in film, I can honestly say the film was one of the most moving and, indeed, spiritual experiences I’ve had in a long time.

    I don’t think everyone has to love Dutcher, but I do think the reaction of many LDS churchmembers to his films is an indictment of our community in some way.

    Aaron B

  14. Taryn,

    Thanks for this. It’s one of the strongest statements I’ve seen yet, about the importance of Dutcher’s work.


    Isn’t there a way to discuss Dutcher without denigrating other filmmakers? If Taryn’s epiphany was valuable — and I think it was — can’t we appreciate that beauty, without mocking other films or filmmakers or even production companies?

    I may not like the Book of Mormon movie or some other specific item. But it seems to me that sincere LDS movies — even Merill movies, even Hale Storm movies, even movies by directors we view as less talented than Dutcher — have the potential to bring the same epiphanies into the lives of people who see them. Not because of the ovverwhelming talent of the filmmaker, but because of God’s grace — which is where Taryn places credit for her own experience.

    Taryn talks about how Merrill’s deroagotory comments are not in line with her own experience of epiphany through Dutcher’s film. I suspect that comments denigrating other films or filmmakers (including Merrill) will not be in line with epiphanies others may have had through those films. (And to be sure, Dutcher has himself made such derogatory comments from time to time in the past.)

    There’s a time and place to be a film critic. But in the context of Taryn’s storytelling, it strikes me as inappropriate to pass judgment on other films, which for all we know may have themselves played a role in equally beautiful personal conversion narratives.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    I appreciate your sentiment Taryn, and I won’t diminish that by elaborating on my well-known rejection of Richard Dutcher’s abilities. Suffice it to say, I wish him all the best, as a filmmaker in cinema’s “real” world, a world where a character’s inner complexity doesn’t include whether or not he takes the Sacrament onscreen. Dutcher did make a breakthrough in Mormon films, and I hope others come along who can fulfill more completely those ideas Dutcher aspired to illuminate but fell far short of the goal.

  16. Maybe I’m just an over-sentimental sap, but Brigham City, Legacy, God’s Army and The Testaments or whatever it’s called all provoked similar spiritual experiences for me.

    Where many people poked at God’s Army for not being a realistic depiction of Mormon missionary life I found it quite realistically mirrored my experiences during the part of my mission which was served in the United States, both the the not-so-spiritual parts and the intensely spiritual scenes.

    The final scene of the Testaments where the Savior reaches out and heals the most ardent believer’s blindness struck me as being an intensely personal metaphor for the ways in which Christ can heal us all individually.

    Brigham City’s final scene deepened my sense of what the purpose of Sacrament meeting is, and the intensely communal and healing purpose that partaking of the sacrament can serve.

    Legacy inspired in me an awe and sense of reverence for the meaning of the culture that I cary with me on a daily basis, as much as my PhD holding, incredibly liberal parents would have me spurn the hoakiness of it. (I still don’t like the hoakiness of it, but I can’t help but respect it.)

    So… I guess mostly I’m sad that Dutcher won’t be making films which reflect back at us our own faith and culture anymore. And I’m sad that people have to get in a row about things like this…

  17. Kaimi, thanks for the lecture. You must think this is T&S!

  18. Actually, it was a good lecture, Kaimi–and mostly directed at me, since I’m the one who went off on Kieth. But it was well-deserved on my part. My post did indeed detract from Taryn’s beautiful conversation-starter.
    So, in contrition, let me simply say that my husband also had a strong spiritual experience with _Brigham City_. Though he has never ventured outside the realms of orthodox Mormonism, he wept for about 1/2 hour after seeing _Brigham City_ because he was so moved by it. For him, as a FORMER member of a stake presidency (he was released yesterday), _Brigham City_ expressed so much of what he himself felt in his leadership roles. He responded even stronger to _States of Grace_ and has seen it six times. (After sitting in so many disciplinary councils, he has a beautiful appreciation for grace and mercy.)
    Let me add that in his famous call to artists, President Kimball said he really loved the book _Ben Hur_, though he recognized that many would not consider that “great art.”
    I do have a strong desire for people to move into the most beautiful art possible instead of settling for something less, but who am I to say that nobody should be moved by _Testaments_? Since my dad provided the Mayan words for it, it has some remarkable accuracy! (But honestly–I took a non-Mormon friend to it and genuinely felt embarrassed. Sorry.)
    Oh dang, I did it again. Okay, how about this? I cried too. (It’s just that I hated myself for doing it.) That last epipany in _Testaments_ is moving. No question. Maybe we can simply be grateful for any art and artistic effort which moves us closer to the Savior.

  19. D. Fletcher says:

    There is a movie which provides a spiritual experience so profound it’s almost like spiritual conduit straight to God. It’s called The Passion of Joan of Arc, and it’s a silent movie from 1927 written and directed by Carl Dreyer; taken mostly from the transcripts of Joan’s trial, which still exist.

    Carl Dreyer was innovative in his use of close-ups. The entire movie is made of faces in close-up, and the faces are utterly fascinating to see, like watching a documentary of a historical event from the 1400s.

    I recommend it to one and all; it can be found on a Criterion DVD.

  20. Kaimi, I have said before that the spirit is present in Merrill’s films for the church in spite of his artistic talent (at least in narrative film). I think it speaks to the sincerity of his message, but not to the quality of his art. That said, who says we need great art. I just want a movie that I honestly wouldn’t mind spending a dollar to see at the local dollar movie.

  21. D., I remember watching The Passion of Joan of Arc at your place — those narrative faces! What a great film.

  22. In other words, I think that the reason I felt the Spirit while attending the Testaments had nothing to do with the wooden acting, bizarre make-up, and amateur special effects and everything to do with its testimony of the power of God and the love of Christ.

    I don’t think it is wrong to denigrate poor art, just because it can be used to feel the spirit. I would think that we ought to strive to find art that is both excellent and uplifting (or, at least, spiritual) and laud that. Dutcher’s work does that in my experience.

  23. hrm, that is to say, I don’t think that the fact that something can be used to feel the spirit means that it is above criticism. Read that in my prior comment where my argument goes a little loopy.

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    That’s the one, Steve. It’s an amazing experience to see it; particularly in light of the fact that the film was lost, and then found intact in a Norwegian mental hospital in the 80s!

    About Merill and Dutcher: I think both of them should be ashamed for their arrogant comments. I feel about both of them like I feel about the Mormon “pop” songwriters: though hardly artistic, if these works inspire one single person to transform their lives, then they will have done their job. Apparently Dutcher has moved a number of people, smart people like Kaimi and Taryn and Margaret, so I can’t fault his work for doing its job.

  25. HD/JDC: “Who says we need great art?” Did you forget your smiley face? I have learned that in this medium, we actually need to inset yellow, smiling heads so that people know when we’re joking.
    Maybe THAT’S why we need great art–so that our messages, our stories, our memories, can be fully conveyed without our inserting stupid yellow smiles.
    Would God have given us talents simply so we could entertain ourselves? (Granted, that would be ONE reason, just like he gave us sex for many reasons, pure pleasure being one, procreation being another.)
    If Dutcher can go from making _Girl Crazy_ to making a film so powerful that it provided a path back to the Church for Taryn (even if he himself would take a detour later), it says something profound about what our talents can do and how FERTILE they can become, how they can be used for the blessing of all.
    I think the real answer, HP/JDC, is in _Babbette’s Feast_. If you haven’t seen that, see it after the one D. Fletcher recommended, and after _Ordette_. Try to eat a Big Mac after you see _Babette’s Feast_”–which itself is all about art and love and grace (as well as feasting).

  26. Oh, just to clarify–_Babette’s Feast_ is about art, love, and grace. NOT the Big Mac. The Big Mac is about getting full fast. TO better understand, see _Super-Size Me_. (There’s not much that can’t be better explained via a movie.)

  27. D. Fletcher says:

    Here’s a little essay about The Passion by Dreyer, a Danish filmmaker, who also directed the movie of Ordet.

    P.S. I also love Babette’s Feast.

  28. D. Fletcher says:

    Here’s something I just found:

  29. Kaimi–

    I agree that films meant to inspire–almost in spite of the involved artistry–can move an audience spiritually; but do you really think the Halestorm pictures are meant to uplift or enlighten? Do you really think the RM is seriously attempting to do anything more than extract a few chuckles and make some quick bucks? I could be wrong, but I just don’t see those kinds of motives in the Halestorm movies.

    For what it’s worth, I also found both the last scene of “The Testaments” and the last scene of “States of Grace” to be spiritually powerful. I also think Dutcher’s skill as a filmmaker is formidable. I had a hard time knowing how to respond to his farewell. As many here have pointed out, his hubris is hard to ignore, but so is his sincerity. The essay struck me as tortured, if nothing else. I, too, am saddened by his departure, though I believe this will be a detour and not an exit. I will be interested–especially if he keeps honing his craft–to see what he has to say about Mormonism and the world once he returns froms the distant spiritual lands to which he is apparently embarking.

  30. There is also Carl Dreyer’s “Ordet” (The Word) which is powerfully spiritual. The depth of the content is given life, not only by the offerings of believing artists, but also by a brilliant structure which reveals the meaning of “the word” in such a way that one is left to consider that meaning without it preying upon one’s sensibilities–artistic, religious or otherwise.

    Both Kieth’s and Richard’s works fail in this regard. Truely the children of the world are wiser than the children of the Kingdom.

  31. That’s a great link, D.. Thanks.

    And, of course, you noticed which film was voted #1. Kudos to Margaret and myself. ;>)

  32. Taryn- Thank you for your beautiful post. I, too, was moved by the final scene in Brigham City.

    I enjoyed God’s Army, and I thought it to be a poignant and accurate depiction of both the spiritual miracles and the secular activities that encompass missionary life. I haven’t seen States of Grace yet, but I plan to see it as soon as I get a few free hours.

    I will miss Richard Dutcher’s films, and I sincerely hope he returns to the fold.

  33. Keri,

    Thanks, I appreciate that.

    I, too, hope that Dutcher will eventually find his way back to us. Not that I can blame him for having been disillusioned by our community’s behavior toward him. We’re always so very hard on our serious artists, at least those who deal with fiction.

  34. I dunno, I can’t recall Orson Scott Card or Gerald Lund having a hard time from our community. Maybe you don’t consider them “serious” though…

  35. And in other news, millions of faithful, serious, intelligent members of the Church didn’t know who Dutcher was to begin with …

  36. But I should add that TNS, that was a beautiful experience. God bless Richard in his time of trial.

  37. #6 Jordan, this blog:

  38. Mike Parker says:

    Coming off a string of very successful films, both critically and financially (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, A Few Good Men), director Rob Reiner released North in 1994. It bombed horribly, and he was savaged by the critics.

    In a recent interview a reflective Reiner said, “I am not as good as you thought I was; but neither am I as bad as you now say I am.”

    I think the same is true of Richard Dutcher. His films have been praised, but I think mainly because he took a subject (Mormonism) and captured it in a way that hadn’t been done before. So a film that would otherwise get two-and-a-half stars gets four because of how it treats its subject matter.

    I liked God’s Army because it captured the reality of day-to-day mission life. I thought Brigham City was a good thriller. But I doubt I would have been as captivated by these films if I weren’t LDS.

  39. Dan in CVille says:

    Keith Merrill’s remarks were really sad to read, and his apology was as thorough and heartfelt as we could expect.
    I am really baffled at Dutcher’s lack of reception by the LDS community. I was absolutely floored by Brigham City- that ending is one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen on film. It made me so happy to be a member of our imperfect community of saints.
    Kaimi, I understand your reluctance to denigrate Merrill’s and others’ work, but Margaret and others make some very valid points. It’s really bothersome to me that our Church movies have so much swelling, emotive music- I really believe to compensate for the weakness in storytelling. It’s almost as if the producers go into these projects with the idea that people need to come out crying, whether it’s from authentic spiritual feelings or garden-variety emotion, no matter.
    I remember when I saw the recent Church film on Joseph Smith. I was moved by it, yes, but I also wondered if we are setting people up for a hard crash by giving them the impression that Joseph Smith’s worst character flaw was an occasional spirit of levity, which really isn’t a flaw to begin with, so he was more or less perfect, right? I imagine that some people seeing that movie then go to Google to find out more, and many likely feel deceived by what they saw.
    Anyway, it felt really awkward for me to see Keith Merrill insult those of us who have been so positively affected by Dutcher’s work. Richard Dutcher has helped a lot of us to see redemption in the messy, confusing world we live in, and I hope and pray for his return.
    I also hope and pray that he finds success outside of the genre of LDS film, which I consider to be mostly junk food and comfort food, and not very much in between.

  40. Dan in CVille,

    And Dutcher insults those who have had a positive experience with Merrill’s films.

    I, personally, am a fan of niether. But even so, I think it worth pointing out that–aside from the (almost) gratuitous over-emotive elements of the films shown at the Legacy Theater–the biggest reason (imo) they are so well received by the LDS community is becasue they are produced by the church. They are safe — they have “credibility” before they hit the screen. The likes of Dutcher have to fight a little harder to establish that kind of trust with the audience.

    I hate to say it, but the fact that Kieth Merrill directed the first two really has little bearing on their “importance” to the Mormon community. The new JS movie had a different director[s] (not exactly sure who it was, though I have some ideas as to who might have been involved). Does that fact make a huge difference in terms of genre or quality? No, not really. At least with Dutcher you get something that is decidedly Dutcher — for better or worse.

  41. Obviously I’m the cynical bah-humbug but I felt manipulated by the Sacrament meeting scene in Brigham City. I felt a little more manipulated by Legacy and the BoM movie shown at Temple Square but it was similar. I was forced emotion when I didn’t feel like I cared enough about the characters to merit that kind of feeling. (I’m saying I cried in all three).

    Still I like Richard Dutcher I think he’s a pretty good storyteller and he’s got a good eye. I’m sad when anyone feels like they have to leave, especially when it’s someone who feels rejected for their creativity (which to me often connects us to God, also a creator).

    Kaimi, usually I’m with ya but we can respect Taryn’s lovely experience and be grateful it has brought her to us. We can be sad that Dutcher as another Mormon has left us. But when we talking about him as a Mormon filmmaker, I don’t see how we can’t compare him to others. I do think he’s the best out there. Or was. Ugh.

  42. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m with you, Amri. I completely resented the final Sacrament Meeting scene, and deplored it for using the Sacrament in this “acted” way.

    I won’t post my review of Brigham City, but suffice it to say, I found it almost complete nonsense, desperately seeking a Mormon audience to pay its bills, since no one else would bother to go to it. Good thriller? Um, no.

    For a scarier ride, and a better take on Mormon culture, watch The Executioner’s Song, with Tommy Lee Jones.

    At least God’s Army doesn’t pretend to be anything but an LDS movie for LDS people, and the same could be said of Legacy, etc.

  43. Do we even know that he’s leaving the church because his creativity has (supposedly) been rejected? Are we sure that it has anything to do with his filmmaking? I mean, it seems that everyone is suggesting it’s the fault of the Mormon community’s rejection of his work (whatever that means). That certainly could be the case but I’d actually prefer that it were something entirely different because to leave the church because people don’t like your art just feels kinda petty.

  44. People have emotional and spiritual responses to different films. Taryn’s experience is important, and it demonstrates why we need people experimenting with Mormon fiction. At the same time, we can’t be surprised when people have different experiences from ours. I had a good friend who had a spiritual reawakening, which included feeling of the presence of an angel, while watching The Land Before Time III with his kids. It’s a Wonderful Life and The Godfather have been instruments in my search for the right way through a dark world. However, I have never recommended either of them in a church meeting. We need to resist the temptation to say, ‘This movie is true’ (or untrue), even if it relates to Mormon life.

    Having said that, I’ve only seen three LDS films, two of them the Dutcher missionary films. They aren’t readily available to us here, and I don’t have a cultural void in my life which they would fill. I’ve followed the Dutcher films because my friend has acted in them, and I can see why some people find them compelling, and others resent the filmmaker’s desire to redefine the scope of Mormon culture and perhaps even doctrine. Allowances ought to be made for both reactions and everything in between.

    I knew Richard and his family many years ago, and he is an intensely committed and sincere guy with an astoundingly supportive wife. I wish them only the best.

  45. I think this thread illustrates how different styles and forms of art can reach different people (or not) at different times and in different ways. For anyone to completely dismiss any artist, artform or particular work is almost positively going to mean dismissing someone’s meaningful (or even enjoyable) personal experience.

    Thanks, Taryn, for sharing yours. I know more than one person who was deeply moved by that last scene you mentioned. I appreciated reading about your experience.

    As a side note, I generally liked Dutcher’s films. But I don’t particularly care for his attitude, which feels a bit like, ‘My way is the right way.’ The Herald article was almost painful to read…he says basically the same thing over and over again to LDS filmmakers, in (what felt to me) quite a condescending and patronizing way. I found it odd to hear him (once again) lecturing/complaining about a genre he is now choosing to move away from. (Although I can understand the need for a final word, to feel he has done all he can to “save” the genre he has felt responsible for in some way.) But still, he might care about Mormonism and Mormon film, but yet not enough to stay. That is a bit off-putting to me.

    Nevertheless, I do hope he finds his way back someday to embracing the faith fully, and I wish him and his family the best.

  46. I’m with you Rusty.

  47. Margaret,

    I’m sorry to let loose with a lecture. The chain of events — Dutcher’s leaving, and his own claims to being better than other mediocre artists, and Merrill’s angry reply — is unfortunate. And I don’t like the way that Dutcher’s departure gets tied in to how he is viewed as a superior artist. Your comment was a direct trigger, but it was really the combination of comments here, and at SSB, and M*, and elsewhere, that created a cumulative effect; I’m sorry to drop it all on you.

    To address your substantive point a little (hopefully in a non-offensive way), and the points also made by Amri and other commenters, a few reasons why I don’t like the way the different ideas get tied together.

    First, because losing Dutcher is serious, regardless of whether he’s a great artist or not. Dutcher has left our community and gone somewhere else on his spiritual journey. That may be the right choice for him and his family right now, but it’s still a choice that leaves our community less rich. But our community would also be less rich if it were Kieth Merrill leaving, or if it were, um, whoever the hell makes those damn Hale Storm films. (Mr. Hale?) What is it that Donne says? Any man’s death diminishes him, because we are all connected. And the great loss here isn’t that Richard-Dutcher-the-Artist is no longer a part of our community, it’s that Richard-Dutcher-the-Person is no longer part of our community.

    And second, I’m just not sure it’s right to suggest that one artist’s greater technical proficiency necessarily means that he is more vital to the community or will be more missed.

    I’m happy that we’ve, as a church, had artists like Dutcher to reach out to people who are touched by that kind of art. But really, I’m also happy that we’ve had Merrill, to reach out to people who are touched by his work. The church would (will) be less rich, without one, just as it would be without the other.

  48. Eric Russell says:

    Great post, Taryn. My feelings were similar.

    I’m interested in this idea of manipulation that Amri brings up, mostly because I don’t know how to put my finger on it. Brigham City is definitely strong in its finale and I suppose that if you weren’t flowing with the film already, it could easily feel like a jolting gear shift at the end. But I don’t think what it tries to present to us is unnatural.

  49. Dan in CVille says:

    Kaimi (47),

    I agree with you- there is a place for Keith Merrill and there is a place for Richard Dutcher in the Church. And I agree with others that Dutcher has been arrogant and petty at times; I am just trying to look past that for both he and bro. Merrill.
    What I lament is the possibility that when Keith Merrill gets the Church’s stamp of approval on his projects, it gives a lot of LDS people the impression that for an LDS-themed drama to be acceptable from a Gospel point of view, it needs to be as safe and sanitized as what we see in the Legacy Theater.
    Personally, I enjoy Merrill’s work, and I did enjoy the Joseph Smith movie I saw recently in the JS building. But I regard them as propaganda – useful, good propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. In real life, in our interactions in Church and in our personal efforts at living the Gospel, there is just not always swelling, emotive music in the background and most of the time we have to seek spiritual experiences that don’t rely on those kinds of emotive crutches.
    What I enjoyed about Dutcher’s films (I haven’t seen SoG yet) was that they depicted people I know, rising above difficult and frustrating problems that I recognize, and finding redemption in an often-dark and messy world that I live in. Admittedly, his production quality was not the best and his dialogue was awkward at times, but his movies relied solely on the strength of their stories, which were strong. I miss his presence in the Church already.
    There are many reasons his work was not accepted broadly within the Church, but at the end of the day, I think most people in Utah in particular go to the movies at the end of a long week of work looking to unwind and be entertained. I imagine there are a lot less people in Utah than, say, here in DC, who might crave an aesthetic experience on Friday night instead of Blades of Glory. A Dutcher film feels like more work, not entertainment. I happen to like that work, but even I have to be in the mood for it, and that is not always the case.
    What is sad to me is, I think Dutcher took this moviegoing dynamic personally, and allowed himself to be affected by it to an unhealthy degree.

  50. Steve Evans says:

    Kaimi, I agree very much with your first point. We should bemoan Dutcher’s withdrawal from the faith — just as we should that of any of our fellow saints.

  51. You know, this thread just reminded me of a more skilled LDS filmmaker than any of them, Matthew Barney. He is someone who has allowed his Mormon roots to find expression in films of staggering beauty. But he left Mormonism before he made his wonderful films, and he is so far outside mainstream sensibilities that I think it would be hard to negotiate his ongoing participation in Mormon culture, not least for him. I am a sucker for complex beauty, though, and I suspect that Barney will not be considered the Milton we lost.

    Which reminds me, why do we assume that Mormon art has to be made by the faithful (other than President Kimball’s hope for it)? I still considered Barney’s Cremaster 2 & 3 to be Mormon art. I don’t love Brian Evenson’s work, but there are parts of his corpus that are quite compelling and surprising. Why not embrace Mormon art as it is created and by whom it is created, without doing a membership check on the creators? That makes it sound like serving a mission or attending BYU.

  52. I’m still surprised by the number of thoughtful Mormons who liked States of Grace; which may as well have been called “The Revenge of the White Bible.”

    Throughout the movie I was happy to see the missionaries ignore the letter of the law to serve and show compassion on the suffering. I want my kids to grow up knowing that if it’s not evil to touch someone’s hand when they’re suffering from their sins and the rejection of their family.

    But States of Grace vindicates the exactness of the letter with a sledge hammer. Dutcher chose to teach that missionaries who ignore the exactness of the white bible to show compassion invited Satan to put flaxen cords about their necks and drag them down to hell. It was outrageous moralizing of the worst kind.

    I found the final scene to be ridiculous. A remorseful missionary being sent home would cuddle the girl he’d known for one week in front of his mission president, and his mother who’d flown in to escort him home? The scene was so preposterous, and so far removed from reality and the truth, that it’s a textbook example of a PG-13 lie.

    Actually, I found the final scenes in both States of Grace and Brigham City to be unbelievable, and therefore unmoving. It’s a sign of a weak director when they resort to showing actors cry to compensate for inability to involve the audience themselves in the scene’s emotion. “I know I’ve been unable to involve you emotionally, so let me show you these actors who are so touched they’re bawling their eyes out! Don’t you feel it now?” Um, maybe if you still-framed a baby’s face with an orchestral score?

  53. States of Grace vindicates the exactness of the letter with a sledge hammer.

    That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose.

    I prefer to read it as an ode to the rough edges of life, that all actions, even good ones can lead to strange and unintended consequences.

    So, the missionaries’ relaxing of the rules led to two outcomes, one good (the resuscitation of the Preacher’s soul), and one bad (fornication).

    Perhaps it is precisely in this contradiction that the grace of God is proven necessary? That sin entraps us all, even when we’re good?

  54. Rusty, I don’t think we can say what’s petty and what’s not as people leave the Church.
    Being rejected for your art (though like you say I have no idea if that’s why he’s leaving at all) could be like losing a hand, horrible but you can learn to live with it and then you become the cool guy without a hand or it can be like losing a liver, horrible in a way no one can come back from.

    Kaimi, you’re very generous. I don’t really like Kieth Merrill’s work although after looking him up on imdb I do want to see that rodeo documentary he did. Also, it’s unnerving that his parents didn’t spell Keith right.

    I am a bad person.

  55. (Amri,
    Not as bad as me, sister. I realised watching the Austrian Who wants to be a millionaire show last night that I’d deliberately give the wrong answer on “Ask the audience.” Why? Too terrifying to consider.)

  56. I think Amri has the right idea about what critcism of one’s creativity can do to the psyche. It appears that both Dutcher and Merrill have definitely overeacted, however. And both appear to have more hubris than humility at the moment. I know Dutcher has been blessed with a spiritual witness of the restored gospel, so I’m disappointed that he would throw it away and open the door to unintended consequences for his wife and six children. Rather than “announce” his renunciation of the Church and Mormon cinema, a more humble response to his disappointment would have been to continue to quietly go about improving his craft and moving away from “Mormon” themes into more universal ones. Great artists express themselves in their work, and don’t usually need to pontificate at conferences and in the media.

  57. Ronan, I think that’s a plausible, though ultimately unconvincing, explanation.

    First, the causal chain between the missionary’s bending the rules and the fornication is stronger than the causal chain between their bending the rules and the preacher’s resuscitation.

    Second, Mormonism doesn’t believe the good of helping a homeless person put their life back together justifies missionary fornication. It’s not true that people have to sometimes compromise their morals (I’m talking genuine morality here, not letter-of-the-law) to bring about good ends.

    Finally, letter-of-the-law Mormonism wouldn’t find anything ironic or “strange and unintended” about the storyline. According to this view, when the missionaries failed to follow the white bible with exactness, the eventual dishonorable release was assured. “When you choose the very first step on the road, you also choose the last.” That’s why the movie vindicated LOTL Mormonism — everything transpired just as the theory predicts.

  58. I am sad that RD chose to go inactive or leave the church. I sincerely hope he comes back. I never like to see people leave and I feel for his wife and children

    His voice will be missed.

  59. Troy Taysom says:


    What if we had Sam Peckinpah make a Church training movie showing deadly consequences for breaking “white bible” rules? I bet that would scare the missionaries straight.

  60. He never said he “has left the church,” but that he is no longer “practicing.”

    There was a great comment elsewhere that states:

    There’s no evidence that Richard Dutcher has left the Church.

    He is, of course, as he has said, “no longer a practicing member of the church.” The key word there is ‘practicing,’ I think; it’s an odd distinction to make if he’s had his name removed from church records. He has made it abundantly clear he no longer considers himself an insider, and may never be one again, but it’s my impression that he has not severed all ties.


  61. TNS,

    I deeply enjoyed your conversion story. I can relate to the flaming hand story.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  62. One of my favorite mission companions used to tell people that he decided to go on a mission after seeing “Robocop.” (That’s a bit of a non-sequitur. Sorry about that.)

    I’ve only seen Brigham City, but I thought it was a very well-done, very powerful movie that had meaning to both those familiar and unfamiliar with LDS culture. That’s what I thought Dutcher’s vision was–that Mormon culture doesn’t need to be mediocre and esoteric. Merrill’s response is exactly what Dutcher was critiquing: mediocre and esoteric. I would be embarrassed to have my non-LDS friends read that editorial (not that the Daily Herald has any non-LDS subscribers among it’s Utah Valley subscribers, but still).

    Dutcher could have been a little more tactful, but I think his message was interesting and provacative, as at least one of his movies was for me.

  63. Margaret, I love what you say in #9, but I have a hard time believing Spencer W. Kimball would have prefered Dutcher over Merrill. Pres. Kimball’s views on sin and obedience were sooo black and white, more so than, say, Pres. McKay. I think he would have been horrified by a film like States of Grace that depicted a Mormon missionary sleeping with a former porn-actress neighbor, despite the obvious nod to the atonement and the “miracle of forgiveness” in the last act. Maybe I’m just skeptical, but I can see him approving and enjoying Merrill’s schmaltzy films, and rejecting Dutcher’s films as dangerous.

    Having said that, I realize that you were translating what Pres. Kimball’s famous quote meant “to me,” as opposed to what it might have meant to Pres. Kimball.

  64. Strangely, I read the fornication itself in States of Grace as having been depicted with good and bad sides. For the woman, it was a genuine human connection in a life filled with a meaningless lack of relationships — and also a sin, although a sin largely in ignorance. For the missionary, a more serious set of sins was involved. On the other hand, the missionary’s aftermath to the sinning involved blessings for him, as well: a conversion from a belief that he could exalt himself purely through personal rectitude to an understanding of grace through Jesus Christ, and a willingness to distance himself from unhealthy and unrighteous dominion on the part of his father. So, as the Book of Mormon says about all things, even this part of the story was both good and bad, light and dark.

  65. Matt (#34 — sorry for the delayed response): “I dunno, I can’t recall Orson Scott Card or Gerald Lund having a hard time from our community. Maybe you don’t consider them “serious” though…”

    I think Orson Scott Card has received his share of criticism. Here’s a quote from a post at his blog on Mitt Romney recently:

    Besides, Mitt Romney doesn’t need the Mormon Church telling him how to do stuff. (As a Mormon, I kind of wish it would go the other way. I wish they’d turn the Salt Lake bureaucracy over to him for a couple of years to clear out the careerist paper-pushers who make it almost impossible for the Church to get anything done in a rational way.)

    Let me go farther than that. I’m a Mormon public figure, of sorts, and I know a few others. And I’m aware of exactly how the Church hierarchy deals with public figures.

    A writer like me is a constant target of meddling middle-level bureaucrats who seem to think that their job in life is to afflict me for anything I write that wouldn’t be appropriate to put in a Sunday school lesson. But in all the years of low-level harassment, the actual Church authorities, in Salt Lake and locally, have always stood by my right to do my job as I see fit.

    I think the subtext there is that creative Mormons receive quite a bit of criticism for not towing the orthodox LDS line, even if the ultimate Church leadership leaves them alone. I think Card has chosen not to focus on this in his public statements.

  66. Here’s the link for the above, by the way:

  67. BTD Greg (#62):

    Robocop? Did he give any details?

  68. As I recall, it had something to do with the recurring theme in Robocop that the end of the world was coming. I guess at the time, he wasn’t very active at all and it made him think about where he was in his life and his spiritual preparation.

  69. Taryn, it was his scripture cozy, which had “Thank you for your cooperation. Good night” crocheted thereupon.

  70. Dan Wotherspoon spent some time with Richard Dutcher on the evening of the day the Herald article came out and offers some thoughts on what lead Dutcher to write the article in the first place:

  71. Antonio Parr says:

    I have followed with interest the discussion with respect to Richard Dutcher’s recent announcement about his separation from Mormon cinema (and, apparently, the LDS faith). I am an admirer of Richard Dutcher. He succeeded in showing a Mormon faith that was not cartoonish, but complex enough to be real and worthy of consideration as a legitimate faith path.

    The Keith Merrill films referenced in this blog are not all familiar to me. I have seen Testaments, and thought that it was absolutely awful. I was particularly disappointed in the actor chosen to play Jesus, who I felt gave the most barren portrayal of the Son of God that I have ever seen. Give me Willem Defoe — heck, give me Ted Neeley from Jesus Christ Superstar — but please spare us the Norwegian Jesus who is void of passion or wisdom. Truly disappointing.

    But I digress . . .

    Dutcher portrayed Mormonism in a way that could be understood by non-Mormons. He did this by portraying Mormons as fallible humans, and that humanity authenticated the experience of Dutcher’s characters. Well done, Richard.

    LDS shmaltz . . . well . . . I’ll confess, I am moved to tears by LDS shmaltz. I am moved to tears by LDS Seminary recordings — from “Like Unto Us” to “Quest” to whatever was released most recently. Ditto for some of the EFY songs. Ditto for those Church vidoes that are brazenly manipulating me, yet somehow for my good, because I end up feeling holier and kinder and more gentle.

    Mormons have yet to do much in the way of great art. We have no Bruce Cockburn who writes songs about faith in a way that is wise and searching and art of the highest kind (not to mention killer guitar work). We have no Frederick Buechner writing about faith and doubt in a way that helps us understand why Christ was such a suffering servant. Ditto for visual art, although J. Kirk Richards shows great promise.

    I much prefer art that edifies the soul and mind and heart. I acknowledge that art can still be worthwhile if it only touches the heart, but would like to see LDS art move towards a fulfillment of all three.

  72. Dan in CVille says:

    Matt Evans (52, 57),

    You seem to really, really dislike anything that you perceive as unduly emphasizing the letter of the law. I don’t think that was Dutcher’s intention with SoG; could this be an example of you finding a message that was not intended? I wonder that because I haven’t seen anyone else react in the same way you have.
    I’m equally baffled by your response to Brigham City. Dutcher’s work seems to make you extremely angry, but for completely different reasons than I’ve ever seen before.
    You might do well to look at other people’s experiences with Dutcher’s work and see if you may have misunderstood it on some levels. I could be wrong, but your reactions strike me as unusually harsh.
    But I guess Dutcher certainly has that effect on some folks…

  73. “You seem to really, really dislike anything that you perceive as unduly emphasizing the letter of the law.”


    I don’t claim to know what Dutcher intended, I’m only speaking to what he communicated. The missionary slept with the girl only after he’d been alone with her, touched her, had her in their apartment, etc.

    J. Nelson-Seawright,

    You wrote, “the missionary’s aftermath to the sinning involved blessings for him, as well,” but your analysis of his potential blessings would apply for every conceivable sin, even rape. There are no blessings available to sinners that aren’t available to the obedient. Christ has every blessing.

  74. Brad Kramer says:

    I think the discussion of Missionary fornication here miss a larger point. I’m actually inclined to agree with Matt’s analysis if we assume that fornication is what actually was meant to have happened. I found it provocative that Dutcher was so evasive about what actually did happen.
    It’s easy to assume that it was fornication, because he implicitly spoon feeds that to an audience that was conditioned to expect it. But sexual impropriety is never directly confirmed. The point is not that he is performing some masterful directorial sleight of hand and that the was no fornication; the point is that we don’t actually know what happened–he never tells us–that it doesn’t really matter, and that our presumption of fornication is based in large part on the young woman’s past and our quiet judgment of her and not on the actual evidence presented. The evidence given in the narrative itself could just as easily point to a past transgression that he should have cleared up before serving, or to a non sexual sin that she simply convinced him he should confess and accept the consequences for.
    Dutcher’s point is not (I think) that lackluster performance of mundane duties leads to fornication or other serious sins but that when we obsess over identifying and labeling the sinful act itself we miss out on the depth of Christ’s healing power.
    When the (alleged) adulteress was brought before the Savior, the evidentiary case against her was tenuous at best. Jesus did not even deal with the question of whether or not she had actually committed the sin in question because his power to heal (and to shame those who sought to use her alleged sinfulness as a pretext for punishing her publicly in the most self-righteous, self-congratulatory manner imaginable) extended infinitely beyond the limitations presumed by a fixation on the nature, extent, and details of her supposed crime.
    The fact or fiction of fornication is irrelevant, what actually happened is irrelevant. All that is relevant is Christ’s capacity to heal, His boundless grace toward all who come unto him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
    So while on dramatic grounds I agree with Matt that the final section of SoG could have been directed more subtly (I thought the previous two hours were much better), I think that’s because the material and the subtlety of the message that section was trying to convey were simply too much for the somewhat unrefined abilities of a still relatively inexperienced but incredibly promising director.

  75. “I’m actually inclined to agree with Matt’s analysis if we assume that fornication is what actually was meant to have happened.”

    Brad, none of my argument is meant to depend on his being sent home for fornication. Whether his sin was drug use, rape, petting, murder or fornication, the message is still that the missionaries disregarded the white bible, failed to stay away from the edge of the cliff, and presto, true to LOTL script, the missionary’s bawling his eyes out and going home dishonorably.

  76. While I appreciate your irritation with “LOTL scripts,” Matt, I must say I find JNS’s interpretation of SoG much truer than your own.

    But I’m a firm believer that our reactions to film are largely a product of what we ate for breakfast, so maybe if I’d seen it under different circumstances, it would have irritated me too. As it was, States of Grace was quite powerful to me.

    Aaron B

  77. Taryn,

    Thanks so much for your beautiful essay. I was very moved by it. As you can imagine, I’ve been dropping in on various internet sites and reading the discussions. Perhaps it would be in my best interest to simply disappear without another word, but out of respect and affection for my friends and for those who have been generous in their support (including yourself), I’ve decided to address a few of the statements that have been made about me and my decision to leave the Church. I’d appreciate it if those who read this message would send it along to other internet sites. I’d like it to be read.

    Also, the ghost of Thomas Marsh keeps pestering me. He’s been following me around for the past few days saying, “Don’t let them do to you what they did to me!”

    What did they do to him? They turned him into a Sunday school lesson. (A note for all the literalists out there: No, Marsh’s ghost has not actually been visiting me. I’m just trying to make a point.)


    Thomas Marsh was one of the leaders in the early Church. Most of us know him only as that silly man who left the Church because his wife cheated another sister out of some “milk strippings.” The matter ended up with local Church leaders who determined that Sister Marsh had, indeed, acted dishonestly. As the story goes, Thomas was so offended and angry that he left the Church and didn’t come back until he was an old man, dead broke and half-senile.

    But there’s so much more to the story.

    Although the “milk stripping” incident is factual, it is not the reason Thomas Marsh left the Church. He left in those chaotic days in Far West, shortly before Joseph was arrested and taken to Liberty Jail. These were the days of Sidney Rigdon’s reach for power and his “Salt Sermon.” They were the days of the Danites (Yes, Virginia, there were Danites), and the days when Oliver Cowdery left the Church. Oliver’s complex and difficult decision was made at a time when his life was being threatened by other Church leaders. It was a crazy, dangerous time and Thomas was right in the middle of it. I’m sure those old milk strippings were the last things on Thomas Marsh’s mind when he mounted up and got his family the hell out of town.

    Yet this man’s complex life, and his difficult decision, has been reduced to an inaccurate Sunday school lesson in Pride. I believe this “lesson” is a slander, and a violation of a very complex human being.

    Although it may be out of my hands, I do not intend for something similar to happen to me. At least not without a fight.

    It’s unpleasant to acknowledge, but the LDS community has a history of character assassination. It is an ugly truth, but it is the truth. I have often joked (darkly, and among friends only) that when wandering sheep stray from the fold, Mormons don’t go looking for them. What happens is: somebody climbs up on a really tall tower, takes out a high-powered rifle, gets the poor straying soul in the cross-hairs, and then blows his wandering brain out.

    When individuals leave the fold, why do we find it necessary to blacken their names? This has been the case since the earliest days. Back then, a church member or leader could be in full fellowship one day and considered a wonderful, decent, loveable human being. The next day, if that individual chose to make an exit, he was the “blackest, basest of scoundrels,” an “adulterer” and a “counterfeiter,” etc.

    Today, we’re a little less melodramatic. But still, when a scholar, artist, intellectual, or even a rank and file member of the Church decides to leave, his character is instantly under attack: “I think he’s gay” or “I bet she’s having an affair” or “I’ve heard he’s a drug addict,” etc.

    Just for the record: I’m not having an affair. I’m not gay. I’m not a drug addict. I’ve never tried to illegally reproduce hundred dollar bills and I haven’t killed anyone. Sadly, I can’t even claim to have beaten anyone up, not since the 9th grade anyway. (Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t win that particular fight. A neanderthalic 12th grader beat the snot out of me.)

    However, I’m far from perfect: I do like to swear sometimes (seldom in anger, mostly for fun), and I’ve recently grown fond of really expensive dark Irish beer (enjoyed in moderation, of course). On occasion I’ve even been known to swear while drinking a beer. I’ve always been good at multi-tasking.

    I tried smoking cigars, but didn’t care for them. Cigarettes I hate. Coffee’s not for me, but I have found some great dark teas that I really like. There’s one in particular, Lapsang Souchong, that I highly recommend.

    Also, sometimes I daydream that Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie are both madly in love with me and I have to become a polygamist so that I can keep them both and not lose Gwen (my equally gorgeous wife).

    There you go. Not very juicy. Downright silly in fact. On to more serious matters.

    Many have jumped to the conclusion that I left because I’m angry that LDS audiences didn’t line up for my movies. If such was the case, I would be a truly shallow human being.

    First of all, LDS audiences did line up for my movies. Even my lowest-grossing film, STATES OF GRACE, made $200,000.00 at the box office. True, that’s less than 1/10 of what GOD’S ARMY grossed, but still…most independent filmmakers would kill (or, at least, maim) for a $200,000.00 theatrical gross.

    Some have very pointedly claimed that if my films had been more financially successful, I wouldn’t be leaving. Believe me, it has nothing to do with money. I didn’t make GOD’S ARMY because I thought it would make me rich, and I haven’t left Mormon Cinema because I’m afraid it’s going to make me poor. If STATES OF GRACE had made 20 million dollars, I’d still have made the same choice.

    Others have said that I’m angry because Mormons didn’t “get” my movies. I think the majority of those who saw them “got” them. I’ve tried not to pay too much attention to the very vocal minority who didn’t.

    Some have speculated that I may have been offended by a church leader or member. That’s not the case. Church leadership has never been anything but supportive, and I’ve never lost any sleep over disapproval from individual church members. I would never let a personal offense from a fellow traveler detour me from the path.

    Also, so many people out there think that I have been angry at other LDS filmmakers for dumping poor quality movies into the marketplace and ruining the reputation of Mormon Cinema.

    Okay…you got me. That one’s true. But it is not the reason for my departure.

    To conclude, it’s not necessary for anyone to jump to any conclusions. Please refer back to my letter and re-read the last several paragraphs. I shared my reasons. If you want me to be more specific, I’m sorry. I will not do that.

    Out of respect for the feelings and beliefs of so many of my closest friends and family members, and those who have appreciated my films, I choose to leave my reasons clear, although not explicit.

    Many have expressed concerns for my wife, Gwen, and our children. I’m grateful for your concern. We’re all fine, and happy. Gwen didn’t learn of my struggles and my decision in the morning paper, of course. We’ve been talking about it, and dealing with the ramifications, for over two years now. I can’t tell you how grateful I feel to have such an understanding, supportive and loving wife. I hope to be equally supportive of her and of our children as they continue to be active in the church.

    Again, I’m not angry at the Church. I’m not angry at Joseph Smith. I’m not angry at Gordon B. Hinckley. I don’t have any axe to grind whatsoever.

    My time as an active Latter-Day Saint has been a beautiful, wonderful, life-changing adventure. I’m not rejecting it.

    The best way for me to describe my situation is to share a metaphor. Buddha once compared his teaching to a boat that helps us cross a river. But, once we get to the other side, no one would think of carrying the boat around on his shoulders. Although grateful for its service, no one would say, “Oh, this boat helped me to cross over the river, so I’m now going to carry it on my back.”

    The wise traveler would, obviously, leave the boat at the side of the river and continue on the journey.

    I now feel the need to–with respect and gratitude–lay down the boat and continue on.

    The past few years have been very difficult for me. I’ve been trying to continue my journey toward God while carrying a boat on my back. I hope no one will take offense at this metaphor. I’m not saying that all of us have to leave the boat of Mormonism behind. Many of you will arrive Home in these boats, I’m sure. But, for some unknown reason, our mutual Father in Heaven requires that I take another route. A large part of me would rather stay in the boat. I like the boat. But, my brothers and sisters, it’s time for me to start walking.

    I have not, as I’ve been accused, abandoned God or truth. I believe I am being loyal to truth and reality (as best as I can perceive it), and that I am still reaching up, in my life and in my film work, to my Father in Heaven.

    I leave with love, and I promise to do my best not to take offense at those who currently have me in the cross-hairs. I’ll dodge their bullets, and continue on my way.

    Richard Dutcher

    P.S. I’m sure many of you are as confused by my decisions as you were before you started reading. I apologize, but these words are as much as I want to share, publicly, at this time. I hope to meet many of you, individually, in the coming years. If circumstances allow, we can sit down quietly and privately—maybe even over a dark Irish beer—and I can tell the story in more detail. Until then.

  78. I think Matt is right, but in an ironic sense. I say “ironic” because I don’t think Dutcher intended to convey the idea that not sticking to the “letter” is what will get us into trouble. IMO, what he was driving at was no amount of “letter” will save us. It is only the reception of God’s grace that will lead us to true conversion and ultimately to salvation.

    But the problem is there’s not enough sweet condescension in the film’s narrow universe. Sure, the scriptures may set forth a stark dichotomy between the letter and the spirit, but what is our real-time experience in striving to live the gospel? IMO, when we strive to do what’s right for the best reason we can come up with–God edifies us. And because of his edifying influence our understanding increases which causes our views of the gospel to broaden or deepen which in turn causes us to better negotiate between the letter and the spirit.

    Elder Farrel (imo) was a mere construct calculated to convey the importance of grace in true conversion–as the letter will never be enough to lead one to such. Plus, the stark ideological dichotomy between the two elders has the tendency to flatten their characters which has a further tendency to render the thematic content somewhat sophomoric.

  79. Richard, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are taking your spiritual life very seriously, and that’s something I can respect (not that you requested or require my respect in the least). I’m very interested to see what’s next in store for you.

  80. Richard,

    I wish you the best. But as one who is in the throes of his own crisis (and has been for four years now) I just want to say, be wary of that seductive horizon. You may find yourself chasing rainbows.

    Good luck.

  81. Best wishes to you Richard. I hope you will hang around the community though. And I hope one day God inspires you to return to this particular boat, if only to help some of us across.

  82. Richard. If only it were a wheat beer, I might take you up on your offer to talk. But a dark Irish beer? What would we have to talk about.

    Thanks for posting here. It kinda makes us feel special.

  83. Richard — I agree 100% about how Thomas B. Marsh is slandered and reduced to a caricature in our church lessons (as recently as Oct. 2006 conference). I’m no film critic, but I want to thank you for contributing to my understanding of Christ and the human condition.

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Richard, thank you so much for making an appearance here. We greatly appreciate it. Best wishes in your ongoing spiritual journey.

    (Will you still come and see us at Sunstone from time to time?)

  85. Well, gee Richard, if I didn’t already want to meet you after seeing your films, now I really just HAVE to meet you and hear your story. Someday, I hope.

    Good luck to you as you pursue your new path.

    Aaron B

  86. Kevin Barney says:

    But no beer for you, Aaron.

  87. Richard,

    Thank you for choosing this site, and this post, as the place you chose to publish the above. Amri’s right, it makes us feel special.

    It’s really nice to hear that we didn’t manage to drive you out of the community. I’ve known many people who left because we made staying too hard; it’s nice to hear from someone who simply feels they have some other place they need to go.

    About the coffee: I think you’ve made a horrible mistake. You clearly haven’t had the good stuff. Since I myself have forsaken it, it’s important that I be able to live vicariously through all people who are not practicing Mormons. Therefore, you must find the perfect cup of Italian espresso, and indulge at least once a week. Preferably with sweet, flaky pastries. They’re perfect for dipping.

    It’s always hard to recommend a reliable coffee place if you don’t live in the Bay Area, but Peet’s is a reliable approximation of really good coffee. And if you’re ever in Buenos Aires, well, any cafe will do.

  88. Richard,
    Good luck and Godspeed. Of course we believe the river is the path and the boat is what gets us down the river, and of course we hope you return to the boat, but I pray your shore leave is enjoyable as well.

  89. Thanks, all of you, for your best wishes on my shore leave. I’ll check in from time to time.


  90. Richard,

    Thanks for writing. The thing I’m most interested in knowing is why you decided to publicize your decision to leave the church, rather than just move on without fanfare. You evangelize in both your letters (including the claim that Heavenly Father sometimes leads people out of the church), and encourage others to outgrow the boat, too, (if only be example and social norming). Or to at least have a beer. But then you end your post saying you support your wife and children who intend to remain active in the church. This makes your decision to publicly “make a statement,” and make it public for them and those that know them, all the more befuddling.

    BTW, God’s Army was great.

  91. Matt,

    I promised I wouldn’t get pulled into a discussion. I’ve said enough. However…and this is my absolute final post (not that I won’t be lurking every now and then)…

    I’m sure it is difficult for anyone who isn’t in a similar position to understand, but (because I’ve been in some of my own films) I’m a fairly public figure, within a very limited geography. I live in Utah County and, honestly, every day I’m recognized and engaged in conversation. 99% of these conversations, by the way, are very positive. However, it becomes a constant burden to “play a character,” for want of a better phrase. Of course, everyone assumes that I’m super-active in the Church and all that. One starts to feel like a bit of a phony. I would prefer that people in general knew me for who I am rather than for who they think I am. Make sense? As I say, most people would never think of it as a problem. My spiritual life, because of my films, has been very public. I felt it necessary to correct some of the misperceptions. I very much want my spiritual life to be private again.

    I never wanted to be seen acting in any way contrary to LDS orthodoxy and, as a result, to burst someone’s illusions or to be accused of hypocrisy.

    That’s basically it, I guess.


  92. Aaron,

    I’m curious to know what parts of JNS’s analysis you agreed with: (1) having sex with a missionary she’d known for a few days was emotionally healthy for the girl; (2) people need to commit a grievous sin to realize they are sinners (having seen the movie only once, and more than a year ago, I don’t know how we were supposed to know that he thought he didn’t need Christ because his personal rectitude could save him; how we know that he feels differently after his sin (are we supposed to assume his crying at the nativity was the first time he’d been moved spiritually?)); or (3) it was a healthy way to outgrow his father (though if he agrees with his father that what he did was abhorrent, as we must if we assume he desires to repent, then I’m not sure how it will help.) For all we know the dad will welcome him with open arms once he gets home. But since we’re left wondering how the father will ultimately respond, I don’t see how we can read anything into something we can only guess at.

    Finally, it seems doubtful that many Mormons seeing the movie would accept, or even recognize, the message “missionary fornication isn’t as bad as you think, there are some potential upsides, too.” I would think Mormon audiences would simply see that the missionary committed a grievous sin, had to be sent home dishonorably, that he needed God’s grace, and that God will extend him that grace as he repents and commits to never again stray from the white bible or letter of the law.

  93. Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts Richard. I’m sad to see you go not only because I’ll miss your thought provoking Mormon films but because I believe yours was an important voice in our community. I wish you well on your personal journey and hope that it does, indeed, bring you back full circle.

    PS – You’ll be happy to know that I’ve decided to drop my small grudge at you for having stiffed me once when I waited on you at the Provo Los Hermanos in 2001.

  94. Matt, I’m sure audiences will read the film as they see fit, or to meet their interpretive needs — just as you’ve read my comment to meet yours. We all bring a lot of suppositions to anything we read. But there are ways of reading States of Grace that don’t involve the negative messages you see there. I think that is, perhaps, enough.

    As Mormons, we’re uniquely positioned to see the ways God uses sin to achieve His ends. We believe in a fortunate fall, and we’re taught by Lehi that all evil in the mortal world also has good in it — and all good evil; otherwise freedom would be impossible. That doesn’t mean sin “isn’t as bad as you think.” But it does mean that God loves us even in our sins, and He plans for us in ways that can make good out of bad. I read the fornication episode in the film as expressing that message. Others may have a more legalistic view; that’s the way of the world, I suppose.

  95. Matt,

    Your question to Richard almost comes across as a criticism or accusation. It seems to imply that anyone who announces that he or she has left Church activity is wrong to do so, particularly when that person says or implies that he or she believes it is God’s will to go on that journey. Or at least that it is wrong to announce it while purporting to support others who continue in Church activity.

    I cannot speak for Richard. But I imagine a reason a prominent member might announce the distancing of his relationship to the Church is to stop speculation about his status on the internet.

    I suppose a reason for sharing a view that God might lead someone out of the Church or to joke about having a beer is not to evangelize, but (1) to state an honestly held position based on one’s own experiences and promptings, and (2) perhaps to clarify that leaving activity may include an occasional beer (whether or not beer is really banned under the precise language of section 89).

    Now many members of the Church strongly believe, based on their own experience and promptings, that God would never lead someone out of our Church (other than involuntarily, I suppose, through excommunication). Some may strongly believe that God will always lead people to our Church, and never to another faith tradition (except before 1830). Indeed, some may strongly believe that Mormons have, if not exclusive, then at least “superior” access to God and heaven.

    I can only speak for my own experience and promptings, which have led me to activity in this Church. But God has never seen fit to reveal to me whether or not He would ever lead someone out of Church activity, or whether He would ever lead someone into another faith tradition. Because God has never given me a witness one way or the other on that matter, I choose to take people at their word when they tell me they feel God has led them on other paths.

  96. Matt…That’s a pretty gross distortion of JNS’s comment.

  97. Richard,

    I just wanted to say thanks for your films. They have inspired me greatly. States of Grace helped me see the Atonement of Christ in a new light.

    Your recent comments depressed me greatly. I’ve always taken great pride in knowing that a member of the Church could be a great film-maker and capture the Spirit in such unique and beautiful ways. Your departure leaves a void in the Church that will not easily be filled.

    I am still a believing and active member of the Church. I see no reason that my faith would call me to insult or slander you as so many have.

    I have been disgusted by some of the insults and accusations thrown at you. I have found many of these actions to be in direct conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I hope you realize, and I think you do, that those who have actually followed your career and work wish only to support you on the path you have chosen. I will always be in your corner to defend those who try to slander your name.

    You have a gift, Richard. I hope that you will at least make Christian themed movies and continue to touch the lives of many.

    Your fan, Drew.

  98. Thanks Richard. I understand how people’s assuming you’re something you’re not could be wearying. Good luck.

  99. Marc,

    I don’t think I distorted JNS. He said there were three benefits to the situation; I’ll list the three benefits he identified, followed by my characterization to Aaron:

    1. JNS: “For the woman, it was a genuine human connection in a life filled with a meaningless lack of relationships”

    Matt: “having sex with a missionary she’d known for a few days was emotionally healthy for the girl”

    2. JNS: “For the missionary, . . . the aftermath involved blessings for him, as well: a conversion from a belief that he could exalt himself purely through personal rectitude to an understanding of grace through Jesus Christ.”

    Matt: people need to commit a grievous sin to realize they are sinners

    I also asked why we should assume the missionary initially thought he could “exalt himself purely through personal rectitude.”

    3. JNS: “[The missionary showed] a willingness to distance himself from unhealthy and unrighteous dominion on the part of his father.”

    Matt: it was a healthy way to outgrow his father.

    I also asked how we could know anything at all about how this would change his relationship with his father.

    What about this struck you as a distortion?

  100. “It seems to imply that anyone who announces that he or she has left Church activity is wrong to do so”

    DavidH, as a general rule, whether distancing oneself from an institution or an individual, public announcements of disaffection harm the other party, so those who desire to end the relationship without harming the other party do not broadcast their decision. Consider the difference between one’s deciding not to shop somewhere because of poor customer service, and their writing a letter to the editor to announce their decision; or someone’s decision to not hang out with someone anymore, and their announcing it in a blog post.

    I found Dutcher’s explanation for his decision to go against the general rule to be genuine and reasonable.

  101. Thomas Parkin says:

    I felt that God wanted me to leave the church when I did. And I still believe that. I had a dream. (I’m not saying that I left the church because I had a dream – there were many reasons that all came together in a short period of time – including the difficulty I found in being a divorced member and my aesthetic aversion to Mormon culture – and other reasons – but I did have a dream that confirmed to me what I was doing was something to do with (I really dislike these words) ‘my path’.) And I did learn so many things that help me now that I’ve returned – things I would never have seen or known if I had remained active. (Things that all people need not see and know, but maybe I did.) Like Richard, I had no hard feelings about the church – though I’d had some difficulty. I still had what I thought of then as a ‘testimony.’ And I continued to recognize the influence of the Spirit in my life for a number of years of inactivity. (Eventually, that went away, as my diversions grew more and more serious.)

    It has become more problematic, ambivalent, for me to think entirely in this way. Mostly because I see the devastating effect my life decisions have had on my children. I live with the pain of it all the time. When I think of the tenderness that could have existed, and what I traded that for, I’m full of a woe that completley braks me. In spite of people who I admire very much who tell me I should ‘forgive myself’ or suggest that I’m not ‘letting the atonement work fully on me’ – when I think of the pain my children suffered becuse of me, it is more than I can currently forgive myself for. (I forgive myself for many things, but not yet that.) Still, all these things give experience and will be for our good, if in the end our ‘path’ leads us to surrender our own lives and Come to Christ – who is my only hope, and my hope for my family – and I am grateful for all my experience.

    Richard, if you are lurking – I wish you the very best. I think you may very well find yourself a better man and a better artist for the things you will go through now. It’s dangerous, but that may very well happen. Leave open the possibility that you will come back. When you’ve really learned everything God means you to learn, come back and tell us about it. The reality of any ‘journey’ is that it all always look different when we arrive than how we expected. And be so very gentle and accomodating to your family. Any ‘path’ that doesn’t accomodate _great_ sacrifice for them isn’t a path worth being on.


  102. Matt –

    1. “Genuine human connection” does not equal “emotionally healthy.”

    2. “The aftermath involved blessings for him” does NOT equal “people need to commit a grievous sin to realize they are sinners”… I think turning to Christ after sinning certainly can help us better understand the atonement and grace. Would we have been better off gaining that understanding through not having sinned at all, certainly. But the simple point is we ALL sin, allowing those mistakes to help us better understand the atonement and Christ’s grace is a blessing indeed.

    3. The missionary showing “a willingness to distance himself from unhealthy and unrighteous dominion on the part of his father” certainly does not equal “it[I assume you’re implying his sin here] was a healthy way to outgrow his father.”

    JNS is 100% right in saying “We all bring a lot of suppositions to anything we read. But there are ways of reading States of Grace that don’t involve the negative messages you see there.” Perhaps your experience with the film wasn’t great, but, in whole, I found States of Grace to be a beautiful movie about Christ’s atonement at work in the lives of people at various stages of progression. It dealt with some difficult, but all too real situations. Two close friends of mine growing up were sent home from their missions for moral transgressions. They’re still active and have since married in the Temple, but both found this film deeply moving given their personal experiences.

  103. molly bennion says:

    Richard, very best wishes. I was so encouraged to see your expressed hope to one day be at the top of the list of filmmakers treating spirituality with integrity and wisdom. I’ll be looking for the films that get you there!

  104. Matt #100,

    Are you suggesting that it is wrong or illegitimate to criticize the LDS Church? Didn’t Joseph Smith speak out against other churches when he reported that Jesus had referred to them as abominations? And what about Christ’s public criticism of the pharisees and saducees in the gospels?

    Given that we claim the right to persuade people to leave their religion and heritage in favor of our own, how can we expect to be beyond criticism?

    Under the golden rule, it seems to me that we have to uphold the right of others to engage our claims. Given that we are quite public about our faith, critiques of Mormonism ought to enjoy the same right.

  105. Hellmut: You’re right, people have free speech. But members of the Church violate a sacred trust when they urge others to leave the Church. Good faith and productive suggestions and observations of what is not working within the faith community are quite appropriate; but carping malcontents aren’t productive and don’t have a right to reciprocity.

  106. Glen Dutcher says:


    “public announcements of disaffection harm the other party….do not broadcast their decision.”

    Setting the Gospel aside for a moment, if we all lived by this philosophy, the World would still be ruled by a few colonial powers. Our country is founded on many principles. Chief among them is a God-given right, some say duty, to publicly announce our disaffection when it comes to issues about which we feel passionate. I don’t draw a distinction between secular and spiritual passions, and I don’t believe that I am out of step with the majority of my fellow humans.

    As for Richard’s decision, he is my brother and I love him. I have tried to be supportive of his endeavors since we were children. I continue to support him now. He made a difficult decision after much thought and prayer. Because he is a public personality, that decision was probably more difficult for him to make than it would be for the vast majority of us.

  107. We LDS are always hardest on our own. Yes, I consider Richard to be one of our own.

    Wether its criticizing Steve Young for playing football on Sunday
    or blasting Reid or Romney for their politics. They are not Mormon enough or too liberal or disregard the BOM teachings on war or whatever.

    I am tired of the constant nitpicking and finger pointing at our public personalities that come from within the LDS community

    Enough already


    May God bless you and your wife Gwen and the kiddos. I do really hope you return to activity someday but you will still be as far as I am concerned part of the LDS community till then.

  108. but, I think what most people are getting at here is that he is making a noisy exit, much like a whistleblower might from a corporation who was doing something they thought was illegal or unethical. And, when someone does that, most people WILL question his motives. Why? Why not just “exit, stage left” in a discreet manner?

    Dutcher gives a rational explanation as to why in one of his follow-ups.

    Personally, I think there is a lot more to it than that…

  109. TitusTodd says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Richard. My best to you.

  110. What a trip it’s been, and yet will be for you, Richard. While no two paths are the same, I wanted you to know that I, too, left the boat behind, walked a while, drank a little dark Irish beer along the way, and eventually took a nap at the base of my own bodhi tree, only to open my eyes and discover that it was well-rooted in the garden of the temple grounds, if you take my meaning. I will miss thinking of you as a brother in faith, but that’s easily enough chaged into a brother of thought. If you’re ever out near Seattle, I’d love to compare travelogues.

  111. My issue here is in the responses TO the responses to Dutcher’s initial letter.

    I keep thinking how difficult it is to avoid the label of hypocrisy in a religion dedicated to the achievement of perfection. And I think there’s undue criticism of the LDS community as a whole, when really it’s only a few Merrill-esque gospel juveniles making the whole look bad.

    What I see on the message boards is generally sympathetic, not derogatory. And you have to imagine that most true Christians are going to be content to remain quiet on Dutcher’s private decisions. But crazy people are louder, and hypocrites more obvious; they’ll condemn and flame and rant — and we all shake our heads in embarrassment that they’re part of our “fold”.

    I was just like these gospel juveniles myself at one time. (And in the seemingly-asymptotic progression towards perfection, I always will be.) I think that, because I hadn’t attained the level of happiness that the Gospel had promised me, that I was defensive and angry at the prospect of someone else leaving the Gospel, or of any non-Mormon finding happiness. Because if they could, then what was I knocking myself out trying to live a higher standard for?

    Pretty immature thinking. Pretty faithless, too. I’ve since found my answers to that question, and I hope the Merrills of the Church can soon find theirs, too. They’ll be better people, they’ll be happier, and the damage they do to our reputation will be minimized. (Maybe Kieth already did, as suggested by his retraction and apology. Let’s hope.)

    In any case, the actions of these few clearly don’t coincide with the teachings of Christ or the Church, regardless of how often they’re repeated in Church history. I believe we’ll all keep progressing, working towards building a Zion that the Lord can call His, and the actions of our members will more closely reflect the teachings we endorse.

    Richard, the world will continue to be improved by your dedication to uplifting and inspiring art. In part, I hope you come back full force just so we can say you’re one of ours.

  112. As a father, as one who has stepped out of the boat a time or two, and as a witness of many family members who have taken permanent shore excursions, my heart sinks for you, Richard. And I don’t mean that in a “sheep-in-the-crosshairs” way at all. If I lived in Utah County, I don’t know that I could remain active in, or indeed a member of, the church. I find ad hominem attacks usually unholy. I think sanitized truth is a lie. I believe the culture of Mormonism is its largest stumbling block to becoming the great religion it is intended to be. In short, I share some of your concerns (at least as I understand them in your public writings).

    However, I have gotten out of the boat a few times myself (to maintain your metaphor) and, as I said, have watched many close family members do the same in a more permanent way. I am therefore wholly uncritical of your choice; I would be a complete hypocrite if I were. But I would be gutless if I did not voice a warning. As one poster wrote, the river is the path. The river is the path.

    It just is. It is amazing how stupid and simple it is, but there it is. I don’t begrudge you your current excursion. I hope you make inspiring, unshackled movies and find what you seek. But, in the end, like Oliver, I think and hope you will conclude that your trip was nothing more than a giant circle back to the boat left in the water.

    As a smart man, however, you know that sometimes the circle journey never gets completed. And sometimes the boat is gone. It just is. It is amazing how harsh and random that is, but there it is.

    All the best on your journey.


  113. I think we are to hard on our own.

    From Steve Young playing on Sunday to the politics of Reid or Romney or to Aaron Eckhardt we are to quick to jump all over fellow saints.

    We actually do not know Richards status. I did not hear the words “name removed” or excommunicated. Even if we did we should always treat inactive or former members like they will return someday.

    All the best to you Richard and to Gwen and the kiddos. I do hope you return to activity with your faith renewed and I really enjoyed your movies.

  114. Richard, if you are lurking, I’ve been pretty critical. But if it’s any comfort, I went and put States of Grace at the top of our Netflix list. It’s the one movie you’ve done that I haven’t seen (though I’ve meant to for some time).

  115. I didn’t particularly enjoy Dutcher’s movies — “God’s Army” was in many ways a remarkable, remarkably accurate depiction of my experiences on a Spanish-speaking mission in southern California, but “Brigham City” was almost unwatchable, and “States of Grace” was a mess — though I respected his efforts to establish a “Mormon cinema.”

    “States of Grace” is no more “Mormon” than contemporary Christian music: there were one or two moments of insight, but the suicide scene simultaneously channeled “The Death of Marat” and the oeuvre of Mel “I Think I’m Jesus” Gibson, a distinctly Catholic staging, right down to the use of a Crucifix. The closing scene, which was in part a cheap rip-off of the end of “Places in the Heart”, was pure Southern Baptist cheese, grace administered not by the magnificent Savior of the World, who had “completed his preparations unto the children of men,” but by Ricky Bobby’s “eight pound, six ounce Baby Jesus.” It was ridiculous. Dutcher hasn’t been a “Mormon filmmaker” for at least two years. (Also, speaking from personal experience as a member of the Church in southwest Houston, ex-gangbangers who join the Church don’t go directly from do-rags and bling to the J. Crew catalog, but that’s a quibble.)

    The saddest thing about all of this is that Dutcher feels compelled to tell us that his rebellion boils down to experimenting with cigars, and drinking beer, and lusting after Angelina Jolie. He’s not gay, or a junkie, or a pervert; he’s evidently become a fifteen year-old.

  116. bbell,

    I agree, we are too hard on our own. I think, as a people, it would probably be useful to develop a few more of the attributes described in D&C 121:41-45, other than the “reproving betimes with sharpness.” The reproving part seems to come naturally to most of us, whether or not we are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”


    I suppose the very reason you dislike States of Grace–that it seems more evangelically “grace” (and redemption) oriented than a lot of “Mormon-y” work–is the reason I like it. And perhaps that is part of the reason I prefer much of contemporary protestant Christian music over contemporary LDS music.

    I doubt the States of Grace would pass correlation committee or missionary department review–but then, sometimes I wonder if the parable of the prodigal son would either.

  117. Thanks to BCC for providing the cordial interaction on this thread.

    As a Baptist evangelical living on LDS I-15, yes, I have my opinions on “States of Grace”, Richard D. . . . things I have written alongside every other podunk, little home spun blog.

    But I plan on still watching your films. You have a talent. And you make me think.

    Yet I must make my own confession. After seeing post-Mormon billboards rise on the landscape and reading your thoughts, I have contemplated creating another simple blog . . . Heart Issues for Post-LDS.

    Fair enough? :)

    I am surprised there is not a post-Mormon chapter publicly gathering in southeastern Idaho.

    When they do gather sometime in the future, I would be interested to listen to the conversations. But like my LDS friends, I will pass on the beer (personal encounters in Italy cured me).

    Keep on living in Utah County. It is a beautiful place. And keep on filming.

  118. Hellmut and Glen,

    You’ll notice that in my comment 100 I specifically said that leaving silently was the general rule when one didn’t want to harm the other party. In the cases you mention, the actors intended their public disaffection to harm the reputation, and lower the regard, for the other party. Christ *intended* to lower the regard for the Pharisees, and the revolutionaries *intended* to harm the colonial powers.

    Richard Dutcher explained above that he had no intent to harm the church in his decision to publicize his leaving.

  119. From the History of Thomas B. Marsh:

    … as I had often said while in the Church, if I ever apostatized I would go away quietly; I tried to do so, but the Saints kept inquiring of me if I was going to leave, and so did Joseph twice. I evaded him both times.
    The last time he almost got me into so tight a corner I could hardly evade. He put the question direct to me, whether I was going to leave?

  120. Wow,

    This whole Dutcher thing has tunned into our own little “Anna-Nicole Smith” type bloggernacle fiasco.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just leave people alone? I’m sure Mr. Dutcher would appreciate it.

  121. Like the Marsh story, however, I still think this is a tragedy (even if he doesn’t see it that way). Good luck Mr. Dutcher, and if your journey ever requires you to cross an ocean…remember how helpful the boat was in times past.

  122. Wow, CortM #117. It is remarkable how we can ostensibly read the same post, and come to such starkly disparate conclusions about what it said. He’s become a 15-yr-old? No, not at all. He’s become an adult.

  123. It’s weird reading reactions to what Richard Dutcher has decided to do – we seem to decide to harshly criticize his decision or clap him on the back for it. In some ways I understand the first reaction (from a believer’s standpoint) better than the second – though I do think we need to be charitable.

    His comment on this thread was easier to read, in many ways, than the announcement that appeared in the paper – but the fact is that he’s (at least temporarily) laying aside his temple covenants, Melchizedek priesthood, allegiance to strict LDS standards, etc. If the LDS Church is in fact what it claims to be, then it’s a very serious decision to be making.

  124. David McEntire says:

    Dear Richard,

    Thanks for helping me to realize more fully that we can all learn from each other, and that Christ can work in our lives in many ways.

    On a side note: you were the best VP at Hillcrest High School.

    Finally, I also wish you the best as you set the boat aside and start walking on a new path.


    David McEntire

  125. I am a little slow to the conversation…Loved the letter! I am not a filmmaker, but I feel the same way about many LDS scholars of religion. Too many squandered opportunities sold out to Deseret Book.
    Richard, I have no real interest in why you’ve left the church, but I would love to sit in a bar (I’ll have the usual root beer) with you and just talk someday! You seem like a very thoughtful guy and I’m just in it for the conversation.

  126. Richard
    I must say that I was shocked and saddened when I first heard of your departure from Mormonism. I find it difficult to understand how someone who seems to really understand spiritual matters could walk away. But I also understand that it is your journey and you must take it. I wish you the very best and I hope that your path brings you back to us someday. And Thank you for making movies that touched me so deeply.

  127. IRT to #122 “I’m sure Mr. Dutcher would appreciate” being left alone.

    I think he kinda wants the spotlight here…

  128. David McEntire says:

    While I still stick to my former comments, Richard, I felt the need to add that it is my sincerest wish that your walking eventually leads you back to the boat.


  129. #118 I doubt the States of Grace would pass correlation committee or missionary department review–but then, sometimes I wonder if the parable of the prodigal son would either.

    Maybe if they made it with with CG animated anthropomorphic vegetables.

  130. Hee!

  131. Thom Duncan says:

    Commenting on Margaret’s comments about apologies: I couldn’t figure out why I was not as moved by Kieth’s apology as much as I felt I should have until I read Margaret’s comments. The thing about apologies (which I have learned from my new squeeze, to whom I’ve made many in the few years we’ve been together since my divorce) is that, until a certain amount of time passes, they are really only words. The D&C says you can tell if a man repents because he will apologize and never do it again. Time and circumstances will tell if Kieth is serious. Does he react the same way the next time someone of prominence rains on his parade? We shall see.

  132. It was enlightening to read your comment. I was touched by your thoughts and how his movie affected you. I was deeply saddened by his leaving the LDS cinema scene, for the same reasons you are – because his work was so rich with reality and spirit. It amazes me he can leave it behind…
    Take care.

  133. Dutcher operates under a conceit that a lot of niche artists share: no matter how much they protest to the contrary, they do not expect to be judged purely on artistic merit. Kieth Merrill, while his movies are very different in tone, operates under the same conceit. Dutcher wants to be accepted as a Serious Artist, but legitimate criticisms (weak plots, confusing and improbable storylines, amateurish acting) are all dismissed as pandering to the wishes of the General Authorities. Merrill makes the visual equivalent of spun sugar — sweet, pretty, and not very nourishing — and if you say a discouraging word, your mansion on high is a duplex in the Terrestrial Kingdom.

    Dutcher is right about Mormon cinema: has anything done more to dumb down our culture than the dreck produced by Halestorm and their compatriots? One hundred fifty years ago, our artists were producing “Come, Come Ye Saints” and “O My Father”. Today, it’s “Church Ball” and Sons of Provo CDs.

    People have crises of faith every day, and that’s good. Like Milosz said, “Doubt is a noble thing. …[D]o not think that when I speak as one who knows with certainty that I do not also doubt; do not think, either, that when I doubt I am not also sensing right beside me, close enough to touch them, definite, indisputable things.” Art is born out of doubt (maybe the reason that so much of Mormon art is so dreary is that it’s being created by technically proficient folks, who are too zealous to accomodate doubt. Their stuff is lovely, but lifeless.)

    The problem I have is that the Dutch man didn’t choose to explore that doubt in his art; he wrote an op ed piece for the Provo Daily Herald. Most of us don’t make our inner struggles so public.

    No offense to beer drinkers, cigar smokers, or those who grow rubber-kneed at the sight of Ms. Jolie, but those seem to be pretty puerile pursuits. And a wife’s proper response to a husband’s comment, “Ooohhh I’d take some of THAT as a plural wife,” is a heavy skillet to the side of hubby’s head, even if said in jest, and even if prefaced by “Of course, you’d always be First Wife, sweetie.” Make said comments in, say, The Voice of Greater Orem, and the skillet slam should be punctuated by a swift kick to the groin.

    As far as I know, the Church isn’t behind the Veggie Tales series; that’s more a James Dobson thing. If the Church were making the movie version of the prodigal, there would be a Latino character, and an Asian character, and a Black character, who would be really, really wise. The main characters would all be white, of course. Gladys Knight would sing the theme song, as written by Kenneth Cope.

  134. Grace is an essential component of Mormon theology. Read King Benjamin — work your butt off, and you’re still nothing. Christ is everything, the sole hope for purity, and clarity, and redemption.

    But the grace we embrace is not the grace that I see displayed at the close of God’s Army 2. That’s an easy grace, a guiltless grace, a grace without consequences. Like I said, it’s Ricky Bobby’s Jesus, all cute and cuddly and dependent on me: after all, this Jesus is just a baby.

    Abiniadi teaches that in the day that Christ shall make Himself an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. And His seed are those who believe in Him. Let’s try depicting that on screen: Jesus in His full majesty as the Christ, bent and bleeding, in agony, looking each of us square in the eyes, each of us ripped to shreds, knowing that we did this, our actions brought Him to this moment, knowing that He knows it, too. And then hearing Him say He takes it all willingly, that His grace makes us clean, so long as we are obedient, so long as we believe. Babies are beautiful and sweet and cuddly, and they fill us with warm and loving feelings, but they don’t bring salvation. A grown man did that.

    There is a beautiful scene in God’s Army, the “burying your weapons of war” scene, that touches on that kind of grace. The soul seared, the sin confessed, the Savior, through the Spirit, teaching, guiding and cleansing. It’s a touching scene. I’m not real crazy about most of the movie, but that was very good.

    Having said that, I can think of about a dozen films, none of which, as far as I know, were made by Mormon directors, that either directly or indirectly explore this deep notion of grace. Maybe we need to spend less time creating our own unique cinema, and find the gold that’s already out there.

    Is it possible that the true Mormon art is raising your family, and helping the poor, and doing your home teaching, that the time and effort artistic expression requires is, well, kind of selfish?

    I am terribly sorry for being so long-winded. I really can’t explain why this has struck a nerve with me, but I’ll shut up now.

  135. Is it possible that the true Mormon art is raising your family, and helping the poor, and doing your home teaching, that the time and effort artistic expression requires is, well, kind of selfish?

    That remark is tasteless and petty. Just because someone disagrees with you on matters of conscience does not mean that he must be evil.

  136. Steve Evans says:

    Tasteless and petty, Hellmut? How’s that? Your comment seems unusually harsh – and in this case, misplaced.

    And where did CortM suggest that Richard was evil?

  137. Ugly Mahana says:

    “That remark is tasteless and petty.”

    I think the question could be more nuanced and introspective than petty. Perhaps this would be clear if the argument were made that raising a family instead of offering the Church and the world remarkable gifts of art is selfish. Sometimes art can be selfish. Sometimes indulging a family can be selfish. Balancing is hard. Saying that there is nothing to balance is foolish.

  138. Hellmut,
    Frankly you’re admonition would carry greater weight if you offered similar chastisement to your DAMU friends.

  139. Is it possible that the true Mormon art is raising your family, and helping the poor, and doing your home teaching, that the time and effort artistic expression requires is, well, kind of selfish?

    Answer: No, it’s not. Life is life and art is art, and we need both.

  140. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, that said, there’s a point at which sacrificing for art is in fact selfish. I don’t believe that “true mormon art is raising your family,” but I can see how failing in raising your family because of artistic pursuits would be selfish.

  141. CortM – I’ve seen States several times, and I simply don’t see it as pushing the idea that everything was all hunky dory during the closing scene… I see it as simply showing a troubled young man who had lost hope because of a tragic mistake realize that through Christ things could yet become perfect.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the “burying your weapons of war” scene… You’re right that there are a lot of non-Mormon films that portray this well. Your description of “[T]he soul seared, the sin confessed [and] the Savior, through the Spirit, teaching, guiding and cleansing” brought vividly to my mind the movie The Mission.

  142. To Richard-

    Thanks for the films. They were groundbreaking works of Mormon art. I enjoyed them immensely, and I wish you well.

    To everyone else-

    Now that the discussion has descended to discussing exactly what should or should not be sacrificed for art, I would love to see this thread put to bed. I am sure I will not get my wish.


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