« PoD: Back From the Grave | Main | Merrill on Dutcher »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I can't seem to resist reading between the lines here. The tone and wording of the letter strikes me as a bit dreamy (unrealistic) and condescending. We hurt his feelings and now he has to go.

Being the odd person that I am, I imagine a Mormon version of Senator Lloyd Bentsen responding to this by saying: "Oliver Cowdery was a friend of mine. You are no Oliver Cowdery."

But I hope Richard Dutcher comes back. I would be surprised if he could wholly leave Mormonism behind, considering it played such a big part in his craft. I've seen a few of his movies and liked them.


I agree with your analysis of Dutcher's departure. It was much more benign than say a Tal Bachman. I quite enjoyed a few of Dutcher's films. I think my favorite was Brigham City.

Your post was a bit more kind than another I read or other comments I read this morning.

"I would be surprised if he could wholly leave Mormonism behind..."

Danithew, you seem to be challenging Dutcher never to think or speak of Mormonism again, nor allow it to influence his life or work in any way henceforth. I would be surprised if Dutcher could run a four-minute mile or swim the English Channel. But Dutcher has never said he plans to do any of those things: not the running, not the swimming, and definitely not the wholly leaving Mormonism behind.

The cruel phrase "they can leave the church but they can't leave it alone" has done a lot to warp people's reactions to those who leave. Dutcher seems to have risen above that phrase, not just by admitting that it's possible he might return someday, but also by acknowledging that Mormon doctrines "will always continue to inform not only [his] future work as a filmmaker, but also [his] private spiritual journey." I wish you would not challenge him to excise Mormonism from his life entirely.

It's ironic that I, a militant ex-mormon/religionist, would find his reason for departing a complete and utter hypocrisy as opposed to you religious types who empathize and wish him the best.
If you are going to leave a religion, at least do it for a valid reason, such as the fact that you can no longer believe in its tenets, or no longer believe in God, not because your prayers had weasely led you in another direction.
My personal view is that he felt restricted by the church and wanted to branch out a bit. He was stroking you folks on his way out so you'd come see his future films.

Beijing, you are misunderstanding my comment completely. You must have missed the line I wrote that says: "But I hope Richard Dutcher comes back."

I am not challenging Dutcher to excise Mormonism from his life entirely. I don't believe that will be possible for him and again, I hope he comes back.

What I'm criticizing is the high drama of writing this article/letter and having it published. It strikes me as childish.

In his article, Dutcher wrote: Mormon doctrines are powerful and beautiful and have given great meaning to my life for more than 30 years. I'm sure they will always continue to inform not only my future work as a filmmaker, but also my private spiritual journey.

I think, in his own way, Dutcher is making the same point that I am making - that the church has been a huge part of his life for a long time and that he will probably feel a need to return to it ... he clearly leaves himself room to come back to the church when he evokes a comparison with Oliver Cowdery.

Again, I hope that is the case.

When I read this article, I am reminded of an LDS blogger or two who made a point of saying a dramatic goodbye to LDS blogging - only to show up again later. People are sometimes disappointed with the way they are received - they crave more attention, more appreciation, etc. We've already seen this kind of thing on a smaller scale.

That is very much what has happened to Richard Dutcher. He poured himself into making these LDS-themed films and he clearly feels (perhaps justifiably) that the LDS community took too brief an interest in his work.

The problem is that he has allowed this to so heavily impact his desire to be a part of the LDS community. That's where the drama comes in. He sees himself as an Artist (emphasis on the capital A) instead of a disciple. Yes, I'm being judgmental - but the advice he gives to Mormon film-makers and artists, as he simultaneously announces he is leaving, is a bit much. He claims he is being humble - but he's casting himself as a wiser mentor or teacher.

You can't quit the team and simultaneously play the leadership role. That's not the way things work.

Dutcher's exit is hardly surprising--given his opinions about Mormons and Mormon filmmakers. His interview with "Christianity Today" last November was awfully condescending and indicated that he wasn't really part of the LDS faith community anymore. That's where he said all other Mormon filmmakers were "delusional" and the "Mormon community just doesn't have reverence or respect for art." Is that the quality act you're referring to?

Danithew, when you say "I don't believe that will be possible for him," you're doing it again. He's not *trying* to erase the church from his life completely, and never said he wanted to. He makes that clear in the portion of his letter that both you and I quoted. You don't want him to erase the church from his life completely. So why are you trying to rub his face in the fact that it is impossible for him to do so?

It's like when someone breaks up with you as gently as they can, saying sincerely, "it's not you, it's me; I will always think of you fondly; I'd still like to be your friend if you're willing." It's better to let the breakup happen, and just say "I hope you find someone who's right for you." It's not very classy to say, "It's not possible for you to leave me. You really still love me deep down, and that's why you're begging to still be my friend. If you do leave, it's not possible for you to stay away forever. You're never going to find anyone who loves you as much as I do. Mark my words, you're going to come crawling back to me one day. Don't worry, I'll take you back when you come to your senses."

I don't think Dutcher is engaging in high drama by writing this letter. Compare the tone of Dutcher's letter to the tone of Kieth Merrill's letter, and tell me who's being dramatic. Dutcher offers a lot of advice and criticism initially, but his parting words are straightforward and kind: "May God bless you in your individual and collective efforts." Merrill, however, engages in foreshadowing ("my pointed retort is at the end of this note") and then he keeps you in suspense as to what that retort is until he finally says "good riddance" followed by an all-caps aside to self, followed by an epilogue...dramatic technique after dramatic technique....

I think Dutcher owed it to his Mormon fans to make his departure public. He is a public figure in the Mormon film scene, and a lot of people were looking forward to the film he was going to make about Joseph Smith. If he hadn't written and published the letter, we would all be assuming that he was still a member and still going to make that film whenever he could. Whenever his next film came out, there would be at least some people who would go see it on the assumption that they were supporting a Mormon filmmaker who was making films that reflect their culture and values. And they would have been shocked by the violence and whatever else was in that film. So it was good for him to let everyone know in advance that there's not going to be any more like "God's Army" for the foreseeable future.

Also, the Hollywood crowd and general public have Dutcher pegged as a "Mormon filmmaker." Isn't it better for the church's image if everyone knows he has cut ties with the church before he starts releasing violent R-rated movies?

"Yes, I'm being judgmental - but the advice he gives to Mormon film-makers and artists, as he simultaneously announces he is leaving, is a bit much."

George Washington gave a farewell address before he retired from public life, full of advice for the country's future leaders. Coach Taylor on "Friday Night Lights" gave a farewell speech to the Dillon Panthers before he left to take a dream job with a college team. Missionaries give farewell testimonies at zone conference full of advice for the mission just before they themselves head home. Parents give farewell advice on their deathbeds before they cross to the other side. Farewell advice is a wide-ranging and well-respected genre.

You don't have to take the advice. Heck, if you're not a filmmaker, it's not even addressed to you. But I think the years of work Dutcher did in Mormon cinema give him the right to speak--just this one last time--about his vision for its future. He could be wrong about the direction of Mormon cinema, but there is nothing per se wrong with farewell advice.

"He claims he is being humble - but he's casting himself as a wiser mentor or teacher. "

He never said he was humble about his filmmaking skills. In fact, he specifically said in that letter that he's working to get to the top of the heap of all-time great filmmakers. ("Bergman, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Dreyer, Ozu, etc. One of my greatest hopes, of course (in true competitive spirit), is that one day my name will be at the very top of that list.") That sounds to me like an admission that he's darned proud of his films and he has a high opinion of himself as a filmmaker. He casts himself as a wiser mentor or teacher with regard to filmmaking only.

He said he was humble with regard to his *spiritual beliefs.* That's different. That means that he realizes he could be wrong about what he believes, and he may change his beliefs later. He doesn't use the letter as a platform to try to convince anyone to believe the same way he currently believes. You don't see him telling people Mormon beliefs are wrong or encouraging people to leave the church in this letter.

As I had said at another blog:

"I am, of course, one of those who is not surprised. His harangues about Mormon cinema and those who make them have continually been more provoking then enlightening. The sign of his leaving was immediately apparent when he announced his future movie plans.

He was too full of himself and his pet interests, as most who leave the church are, to stay active for long. When your whole sense of self is invested in something Mormon that you think everyone should recognize as superior, it is not unusual for that person to lash out when others don’t agree. It was artistic hubris without question."

For those who say this letter sounds humble, I would actually agree. However, it is one drop in a bucket of so many other things he has said and done that make this one look staged. He is, after all, an artist. Although his movies have been higher quality than others, I have never been a big fan of his. As I have said before on my own blog post "Against Dutcher," he has always had serious personal and artistic problems:

"It isn't that he is a bad director. Surely much of what he does has quality that many LDS focused movies to do not. However, his films are far from good enough to call him the greatest film director the short little history of LDS film making has had . . . The problem is two-fold of ego and stereotypical Hollywood conventions."


"I feel that the LDS movie business is at a crossroads. It can either continue to be the sideshow Hollywood wanna'be that Dutcher has created, or move on. Mormonism should recede into the background, but be a powerful motivator, and the story should take its place. Characters should do more than change the way we expect them to (ala Anakin/Darth Vadar) and make actual choices that are unexpected. Of course, we shouldn't forget the one positive contribution of Ducther; recognizing that film is a visual medium and not a static stage."

As of now, I would say that Mormon movie business has reached its crossroads. The problem is, it crashed. Dutcher is simply one of the passengers who tried to grab hold of the stearing wheel and became angry upset when he lost control.

Beijing, I don't think your examples work very well. George Washington may have offered a farewell address before he retired from political life - but he wasn't simultaneously renouncing his American citizenship. Missionaries may offer testimonies before they finish their missions and go home, but they don't do so while saying they are leaving the church. In those contexts, it makes sense to leave advice and words of wisdom - because they are continuing to uphold the same beliefs and principles.

I thought his advice to Mormon filmmakers was pretty compelling, actually. I am mostly sad that he was treated so shabbily at times within our community after making some beautiful films (like, States of Grace for instance).

Danithew, he is continuing to uphold the same artistic principles. His criticisms were artistic only.

Just saw States of Grace the other night (finally), and I thought it was fabulous. Oh that the LDS Church could produce something so moving and compelling. I won't hold my breath.

Aaron B

I still need to get around to seeing States of Grace. Maybe I'll go check Netflix to see if it is around. Almost everything I've heard about the movie, up until now, has been positive.

I suspect that the debate over Dutcher's decision will be fueled to some extent by those who want to sympathize/respect Dutcher's choice and those who are critical of his choice to leave the church. Obviously I fall into the critical camp.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook

Blog powered by Typepad