Silverdocs Documentary Festival 2010: 'Sons of Perdition'
In this documentary about boys exiled from Warren Jeff's fundamentalist Mormon cult, one notes that, "For [my family] it would have been better for me to die than to leave."
The Utah border town of Colorado City is a dusty and isolated collection of homes surrounded by scrub brush and soaring desert buttes. It's there that the fundamentalist Mormon splinter faction FLDS, headed up by the currently jailed would-be messiah and convicted sex criminal Warren Jeffs, is headquartered, and from there that a steady stream of boys have escaped or been exiled from. For the crime of going against the will of Jeffs they are termed "sons of perdition."
For their sometimes rambling, but continually heart-tugging documentary Sons of Perdition, filmmakers Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Measom (former Mormons themselves) followed what happened to three teenaged boys who left "The Crick" once they couldn't stand the polygamist cult atmosphere any longer. Although the three boys run the gamut of personality, they share both a fierce independence as well as a drifting sense of being lost in the world.
Once out of the Crick and living in the nearby town of St. George (where many of their kind wash up), the boys enter the shadow world of the FLDS exiles – three of the roughly thousand boys who left or were forced to leave the Crick since Jeffs came to power in 2003. Stuck between the world at large, an unknown entity they were raised to believe was one endless Sodom and Gomorrah, and the prison-like world of Jeff's little kingdom of thought-control where women were treated little better than tradable livestock, the boys slide quickly into an unmoored adolescent nihilism.
The oldest, Sam, is quiet and tough-seeming, a boy who could well have been a jock of popular standing at your average high school but was sick of seeing Jeffs exile men from the community in Politburo-like purges. The reasons given were always religious, of course, but the boys know full well that it was more about eliminating rivals for the limited supply of ready wives.
What little the film shows of Bruce is mindful of Casper from Kids, a joke-a-minute clown who probably needed another three or four years of seasoning in a steady home before being shunted into the world. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Joe is a shyer type who appears mostly concerned with getting his mother and sisters out from his hometown's tyrannical patriarchy. This yo-yo struggle resurfaces time and again as the women try to break the physical and mental bonds of years of indoctrination and fear.
After the packed Silverdocs screening, the audience seemed happy enough to ask questions of the filmmakers. An audible gasp was heard when the announcement was then made that Sam, Bruce, and Joe were going to come on stage and speak themselves. They stood there, modestly taking in the applause as the crowd came to its feet, looking a little older and more seasoned than in the film, but no less wishful that the story just shown had been about anybody but them.