August 17, 2011


The documentary Sons of Perdition follows three young men (boys, really) who have escaped/been exiled from the Fundamental Latter-Day Saints in Utah. The three kids - Joe, Sam and Bruce - all try to adjust to life outside of "The Crick" (Colorado City) and the omnipresent influence of Warren Jeffs; the (recently incarcerated) "prophet" of the FLDS.

Life in the Church is strictly regimented and controlled - Jeffs has a say over every aspect of life there. No outside influence is allowed in - no books or magazines, no TV or movies - and people, especially the women, are very rarely allowed out. Actually, that's not entirely true: men are routinely exiled, as the FLDS practice polygamy (all overseen and controlled by Jeffs of course) and they need more women than they do men. The boys are often taken out of school - the FLDS school - and made to work. Made to work at construction sites, operating heavy machinery for example. They are kept cowed and ignorant, with the ever-present threat of exile hanging over them.

However, some decide to make a break from life in the Crick of their own accord and life is not that much easier on the outside. These three kids have been so sheltered, have had such little interaction with the outside world, they have no idea what the capital of the United States is or even that Catholics worship Jesus! As Joe, Sam and Bruce have previously been so sheltered and controlled (in addition to just being teenage boys) they go off the rails a little with drink, drugs and general stupidity. They're struggling to find their new place in the world and, oftentimes, have no concrete support; their families are all still in the Church and they have no place of residence so cannot attend school. The only people they tend to know are other exiles; some of these are willing to help with a place to stay and there are also social workers and a local philanthropist who takes them in but it is still a struggle.

The film is a tense and emotional affair, just by virtue of the subject matter and the three engaging boys. They may not know too much of the outside world, but they aren't entirely meatheads. Joe keeps working to try and extract his younger sister Hillary and his Mother from the cult. These two women are obviously desperate to escape but yo-yo back and forth after intimidation from Father. The authorities attempt to intervene in the case of Hillary but, as there is no evidence of physical abuse, are powerless to do anything. There are truly heartbreaking moments as Mother caves in and drags the 13 year-old Hillary back to the Crick, possibly to be married off to some up-and-comer in the Church.

Packed with emotional wallops but never trying to oversell itself Sons of Perdition joins Jesus Camp as a remarkably clear-sighted look into American religious cults. By focussing on three boys trying to find their way in this new world, with commentary and explanation of the FLDS from other older exiles directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten have crafted a remarkably effective documentary.

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