REVIEW – The Ledge (2011)

FilmJuice have my review of Mathew Chapman’s jaw-droppingly awful The Ledge.

The fact that The Ledge got made at all offers an interesting insight into the difference between British and American attitudes towards religion. For example, despite having an official state church and being an ostensibly Christian nation, British society is now so profoundly secularised that atheism is now our cultural default. In other words, when you meet someone new you do not automatically assume that they are a Christian. Instead, you assume that they are either an atheist, an agnostic or sufficiently non-religious that you do not need to worry about offending Christian sensibilities in casual conversation. In fact, British society is now so profoundly secularised that many intelligent atheists are becoming annoyed at the shrill combativeness of the so-called ‘New Atheists’, thereby creating a market for books that embrace a less confrontational form of atheistic thought. America, on the other hand, is still a de facto Christian nation. This is evident from the fact that politicians tend to speak in explicitly Christian terms while even the more outlandish Christian beliefs are seen as serious moral positions. Simply stated, no British person would think to make a film like The Ledge because British public discourse has effectively banished the more outlandish Christian beliefs meaning that the confrontational attitude of the New Atheists comes across as bullying and uncouth.

Even more problematic is the fact that The Ledge is not the film it purports to be:

Despite ostensibly resembling a thriller, The Ledge is actually quite a talky and slow-paced film constructed around a series of set pieces in which characters deliver extended speeches for and against a belief in God. Given that Chapman places so much emphasis on these speeches it seems safe to assume that The Ledge is intended to be a film about ideas. Unfortunately, Chapman’s attempt to make a film about the clash between atheism and religion fails on two levels: Firstly, none of the ideas contained in The Ledge are particularly new or profound. In fact, the characters of Gavin and Joe are so unsympathetic and intellectually stilted that it rapidly becomes clear that Chapman has just as little insight into atheism as he does into religious fundamentalism. Instead of providing us with well-rounded characters and thought-provoking ideas, Chapman delivers banal caricatures filled with nothing more than hot air. Secondly, despite bloating the film’s running time and draining the thriller elements of all urgency and tension, the polemical aspects of the film are so poorly integrated into the plot that they seem more like a distraction than a primary focus. Look beyond the PR guff about ideas and The Ledge reveals itself to be little more than a squalid melodrama about a traditional love triangle.

Even more problematic is that, once you strip away all the God-talk, The Ledge is revealed to be a deeply misogynistic piece of filmmaking. At the heart of the film is a confrontation between two individuals who are so convinced of their moral and psychological superiority that they feel utterly entitled to the love of a beautiful woman. Indeed, while Joe dominates Shana by dragging her to a series of increasingly repressive churches, Gavin dominates her using mind games designed to make her fall in love with him. The Ledge is a profoundly misogynistic film because both forms of domination not only succeed but also go completely unchallenged by a director who refuses us all access to Shana’s thoughts and feelings. Denied both agency and meaningful self-expression, the character of Shana is nothing more than an empty vessel for the desires of selfish and hateful men. Time and again, Shana is given the opportunity to speak up for herself but instead Tyler simply stares impassively into the camera like a beautiful doll whose sole purpose in life is to be owned by an alpha male.

The Ledge is easily one of the worst films I have seen this year. Now that the scars have begun to heal on the viewing experience, I am almost tempted to say that the film is ‘so bad it’s good’ but then I think about the scene in which the atheist crows about getting Liv Tyler’s character to masturbate while thinking about him and I’m reminded that this is nothing more than a dull and misogynistic piece of pseudo-intellectual garbage.