A True Atheist Movie: The Ledge

By Chris Mooney | June 21, 2011 8:50 am

I’m in New York today to interview Matthew Chapman about his new film, The Ledge. Chapman, if you don’t know of him already, is a screenwriter, director, author, and the great great grandson of Charlie Darwin. Here’s the trailer–I think people are going to like this one. Early buzz suggests it could be the “Brokeback Mountain moment for atheists.” Starring Liv Tyler, Terence Howard, and Patrick Wilson.

The film was nominated for Best US Drama at Sundance, can be seen now On Demand, and hits theaters July 8.


Comments (26)

  1. Hate to be the permanent wet blanket here, but this thing has “Brokeback Mountain” written all over it. That is, a movie that is actually attacking what it purports to be defending. Brokeback was praised as a defense of gay acceptance, but, adjustments made for skill levels, I doubt that Pat Robertson could have made something so anti-gay.

    For my part, I am hoping that someday they remake Contact and remake it properly.

  2. Jumblepudding

    Brokeback Mountain seemed to portray gay men in the American West as melancholy dullards with few interests outside of sex. Is this anything like that?

  3. Chris Mooney

    Have you seen it?

  4. Jumblepudding

    I am not among the vast mob who are reticent to view that movie but snipe it from a distance. It was like it gloried in the one-dimensionality of its characters. I say “seemed” because somebody whose job it is to dissect character motivation might be up in arms and try to start a debate I was without that disclaimer. I lost my patience with the film right around the awkward Hollywood cowboy rhetoric about “drinking from a whiskey spring”. I apologize for being so negative. The Ledge just looks good and I felt it deserves better comparisons.

  5. I have seen the film. If you want the problem with Brokeback mountain, it is that it considers homosexuality a matter of sex and not of love. It gives us a picture of two men who are prisoners of their appetites, and those appetites lead them to betray their employers, their spouses and each other. I’ve rarely seen a more condemnatory attitude taken towards being gay in a film.

  6. Teg

    I haven’t seen this, but it kind of bothers me that the atheist is portrayed as an adulterer. It reinforces the idea that atheism leads to moral relativism, a claim that faithheads have been promoting a lot lately (Ratzinger even went so far as to blame the supposed moral relativism of the secular world for *priests & bishops molesting children*!). I’m not clear on how he ends up on the ledge, but it sounds like extortion. It appears to show the hypocrisy of extremist “Christians” as well as presenting the (hot!) atheist in a fairly sympathetic light.

  7. Christy

    Aside from the Brokeback Mountain comments, I think that this looks like it might be pretty good. My only hope is that it does more in the defense of athiesm than just make Christains look crazy – because the at-least-I’m-not-as-nuts-as-THAT-guy argument would be a let down. We will see . . . .

  8. Revenant Shadow

    “Brokeback Mountain for atheists”? What the hell’s THAT supposed to mean? This looks like a damn good flick that deserves better comparisons. Period.

  9. The Mutt

    And they weren’t cowboys, dang it! They were sheepherders! Mangy, no-good sheepherders!
    ~John Wayne

  10. Orko

    Wow, is that what you people got from watching Brokeback Mountain? Sure, sex is a big part of it; anyone who denies the fact that sex is a part of a loving relationship is delusional or a liar. If you focus just on the fact thaat they had sex while they were together or that they had sexual appetites, then sure, you could come to the conclusions you’re making. If you pay attention and realize that sex was indicated when they’d spent days together, that they could have gotten sex in their respective hometowns, and that Ennis was devastated when Jack died, among other blatant indicators, you might have gotten the point of the movie. But hey, let’s just kvetch about the fact that 2 people into eachvother had sexual appetites for each other.

  11. Hey, can we talk about MY movie!!!

  12. Cory

    I have to disagree with these sentiments about Brokeback Mountain.

    That movie was about two men who were constrained by the society they lived in. They were not free to express themselves, or to live as they would wish. It was society’s complete rejection of homosexuality which caused them to hide in melancholy, dull lives, with spouses they were not sexually attracted to. It was those constraints that caused them to never experience the growth of a romantic relationship past the initial intense physical attraction. That movie did not condemn being gay. It condemned the sadness and pain that are caused when gay people are not allowed to be gay.

  13. I’ll add my voice to the chorus that Brokeback Mountain sucked and was insulting to gays. This movie looks pretty good, but from the trailer, I don’t see anything that would lead me to believe it extols atheism. Rather, it just seems to bash the religulous — which is fine, but hardly novel.

  14. Chris Mooney

    I will second the filmmaker and ask people to please consider the film in its own right and not get caught up on the validity of the Brokeback Mountain comparison.

  15. Cory

    Easier to talk about a movie you’ve seen, than a movie you haven’t, I suppose. 😉

    The trailer looks good! I don’t think a movie that challenges hypocrisy among devout theists is as groundbreaking as perhaps is being suggested here. But, the movie looks like it will be both ‘smart’ and entertaining.

  16. Sean McCorkle

    Matthew @11

    Looks intense! Will it make it to mainstream cinemas?

  17. Dave Burns

    I watched the film at the American Atheists Conference and thought it was great. I encourage everyone to watch the film and hope that it does well on a national level. The film should do a good job of spurring discussion of atheism and fundamentalism with those who haven’t really thought much about it. I hope it paves the way for more films to address the same topic and reach different audiences.

  18. Chris, Matthew, it is a fair request; I was simply saying why I was wary. I could have also cited “The Golden Compass”, a pro-atheist film that is so stupid and condescending that it makes me want to make a beeline for the nearest Jesuit recruiting centre.

  19. Ian

    The atheist Richard Dawkins once said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference”. If this is true then why should I watch this movie? Why would an atheist make a movie? Indeed, why would an atheist do anything at all?

  20. Cory

    Because watching movies and making movies are enjoyable things to do.
    What a bizarre question, Ian!

  21. Nullius in Verba


    People have purposes. A purpose is part of the machinery of survival, like thirst or sleepiness. The universe is not a person and doesn’t need one.

  22. Ian,

    We are the purpose. We and the mind and the consciousness in this pitiless Universe of blind matter. In this waste of blind law and empty order, we and we alone, are able to look out and understand.

    Isn’t that a grand thing?

  23. Forrest Leeson

    That trailer looks like PHONE BOOTH 2: ON A LEDGE.

    @19: Albert Camus, “The Myth Of Sisyphus”.

  24. As an atheist, I was disappointed as I watched the trailer, and I do not see how portraying an atheist as an adulterous sinner who lures a “a good Christian woman” into sin (in the eyes of Christians that watch this film) does anything positive to promote atheism. Christians already view atheists as heathens with no moral values, and all this film will do is confirm their suspicions. What this film also illustrates, is how insidious Christian dogma is in society, as even those that are not Christian fall into the trap of believing they are “born sinners” who can’t help but to “sin.” In this case, it is the atheist who “can’t help himself” from having an affair with his neighbor’s wife, and she, as a “born sinner” cannot help herself either. The truth is however, that it is all just a matter of choice. The atheist could have chosen not to have an affair–and so could the Christian.

    I could think of a thousand plot lines in which an atheist could be the hero without being a “sinner” in the minds of Christians. ( I do not believe in sin, but there is such a thing as right and wrong, and I believe in taking responsibility for my own actions.) How sad—that this was the best they could do.

  25. Joe

    Just watched this movie, and I have to say that I think it casts the atheist in a terrible light. Hunnam’s character, Gavin, is despicable, even more so than Patrick Wilson’s zealot. Gavin seems to use the same tactics in his philosophical debate that I as a non-theist find sickening when used by Christians – he gets angry, shouts, and implies that the theist is a fool for not thinking the way he does. Further, as Cathy Cooper pointed out, the message that theists will probably take from this film is that the typical atheist is “an adulterous sinner who lures a “a good Christian woman” into sin”. Gavin goes into intricate detail in explaining his insidious plot to ‘liberate’ this Christian woman from her marriage, and overall, he comes across exactly how Christians have thought of atheists for centuries – amoral, selfish, scheming, and lying in wait to facilitate someone else’s fall from grace.

    All in all, I don’t think this film could have served the propaganda filled Christian hate machine any better, even if Kent Hovind had been consulted. To say this film will do for atheists what ‘Brokeback Mountain’ did for gays is a false analogy; it would be more apt to say that this film will do for atheists what the Westboro Baptist Church does for gays – further demonize and dehumanize them.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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