Dissenting Opinions: Art From The Dark Side Of Happy Valley

Dissenting Opinions: Art From The Dark Side Of Happy Valley Mormon teachings depict the universe as driven by a plan, a plotline in which good will assuredly triumph over evil. Humans are believed to be essentially divine beings who will ultimately respond in accord with their truest nature. Given this framework, Mormons (like most people) generally prefer their art to reflect this optimism, to reinforce cherished notions and values. Yet in Brian Evenson and Neil LaBute, Mormonism has at least partially given birth to artists who have deliberately chosen to create stories that don’t pan out the way they’re supposed to, in which heroes don’t win out and villains often walk in the world unmolested. Or worse, artists who in many cases refuse to identify any moral framework or make any ethical judgment on the actions of their characters. What are these artists thinking? How can they defend their choices to show unrepentant and unredeemed selfishness, delusion, obsession, violence, and cruelty? In filmmaker Richard Dutcher, one finds another LDS artist whose films, though certainly depicting a brighter ethical universe, often portray Mormon characters with deep flaws who don’t always come around, a storyteller willing to shine a light on problems and the ragged edges of too-easy answers. What happens when LDS artists stretch boundaries? Why do they do it? What do we learn about ourselves as individuals and a culture in the ways we react to their work?

Elbert Eugene Peck, Brain Evenson, Neil Labute, and Richard Dutcher