On Violence and Richard Dutcher’s “Falling”

If Richard Dutcher's latest film Falling ever sees the light of day in the form of a limited theatrical release, which seems debatable at this point, it will certainly alienate the last of his mainstream LDS fan base. Though the comments from the audience during the Q&A discussion following the private screening rang fairly universal in its tone of praise, the reaction of the twenty-some-odd people I talked to about the film in the hours and days that followed ranged from sad disappointment to outright hate. (And 'twenty' may be an understatement?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄùI probably spent 4-5 hours discussing the merits and demerits of Falling over the long Sunstone weekend… it is that kind of film.) If Dutcher is ever going to play to a 'home court' crowd, the Sunstone Symposium is it. So the Sunstone crowd's mixed (at best) reaction doesn't bode well for the reaction of the more mainstream and conservative LDS audience. How a non-LDS audience will react I'm less certain, though like any visually and thematically demanding film (think Breaking the Waves, or Monster, or Monster's Ball) such an audience will always be limited.

This would be a shame, however, because Falling has much to recommend. For one thing, Falling features Dutcher's finest performance as an actor. Second, Dutcher's historical ability to coax strong performances from the rest of the cast is once again on display here, especially evident in the performance of the remarkable Virginia Reece as Davey Boyle, Dutcher's on-screen wife. (Reece's credits to date are sparse, but her talent is undeniable. If Falling falls into the right hands, it could prove to be her big break.) Finally, but with some reservations (more on this later), the story, though difficult and bleak, is engrossing and relevant, and is edited with well-paced purpose.

—SPOILER WARNING—In Falling, Dutcher plays Eric Boyle, a 'stringer' by day to pay the bills, and an aspiring filmmaker during his off hours. Though he appears to be blessed with a loving marriage to his non-religious wife Davey, Eric Boyle feels like he is gradually falling, (both professionally and personally), further and further away from the youthful, idealistic dreams he held for himself as a Mormon Missionary. Boyle's perceived fall is gradual until a horrific, fateful decision?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄùBoyle films the murder of a helpless man by ruthless gang members instead of extending (or calling for) help?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùaccelerates his fall like the push of a fast-forward button. Meanwhile, Davey Boyle, an aspiring actress, wrestles with her own inner demons: what price is she willing to pay for success?

So why does Falling ultimately fail, and why will it fail with a wider Mormon audience? I have three or four minor problems with the film that, in the interest of space and time will not discuss here, but will instead focus on what I believe are the film's two major problems:

The first problem with Falling is the much-discussed violence. Though the film is violent throughout, the final act contains a violent sequence so gratuitous and unnecessary, that the film jumps right off the tracks. I say this not because I am squeamish or prudish about violence?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄùI've seen worse?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbut because it doesn't make sense cinematically. Just as Dallas Robbins explained in his review of Falling, this scene went on for so long, and was so graphic, it actually made me laugh. This is too bad, because Dutcher had worked so hard to hook me into the narrative, line and sinker. But by the 60 or 70 second mark of the scene, I was no longer watching a gripping story, but watching a director showing off. This was the basketball equivalent of LeBron James doing a ball-off-the-backboard-combo-360-degree-body-spin dunk on a breakaway. And flubbing it. In the 4th quarter. Of a pivotal playoff game.

Was the fight scene impressive? Yes, from a technical standpoint, the scene was very impressive. In the Q&A session that followed the screening, Dutcher, grinning with devilish satisfaction, was clearly excited about his cinematic accomplishment. The scene took four days to shoot, and both Dutcher and his sparring partner suffered broken ribs and fingers. Dutcher explained that he wanted to depict a 'real' fight scene, not the stylistic nonsense favored by Hollywood. So he depicted the physical pain and terror that accompanies such violence and edited the scene together without a score. As such, I imagine he will be loathe to cut even one second off his baby.

I don't disagree with Dutcher's decision to go for visceral broke; it's the degree and amount of violence that is the problem. Do we need to see a brick smash into another man's face, not once, not twice, but eight different times? The problem is that this scene is about the fight, not the story. Dutcher should edit it down and save the extended fight scene for the DVD extras, complete a director’s commentary track where Dutcher can explain in loving detail each choreographed punch and spurt of blood. 🙂

One more thought: Dutcher's over-the-top decision in this final scene is curious for two reasons:

First, in an earlier, unsettling scene featuring Eric Boyle's wife, Davey, Dutcher shows surprising restraint, which actually amplifies the feeling of violence. In this earlier scene, Davey is asked to disrobe in front of three leering men for a part in a movie. The scene is long and emotionally disturbing and draining as we see Davey disrobe to her underwear. Though she strips naked, Dutcher stops just short of showing any actual nudity, choosing instead to depict the violence of the act through the look of despair in Davey's eyes and the look of cool, lecherous detachment in the eyes of the three men. I have nothing against screen nudity, but Dutcher makes a wise decision here. Had he shown nudity, I'm afraid the act may have been too violent, and/or the scene would have become about the nudity, and not about the story. As such, Dutcher's decision to do the opposite?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùshow every last punch and stab and kick and shot?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùin the final scene feels incongruent.

Second, another early scene features Dutcher's character, Eric Boyle, visiting a movie producer, who chides Boyle that he needs to go over-the-top and depict the 'marrow of the bone' if he wants to attract any notice. Boyle begrudgingly agrees to try, but the clear moral communicated by Dutcher (the writer/director) in this conversation is that such 'marrow' is not about telling real stories, but about showing marrow, about graphic, boundary-pushing titillation or horror. In other words, the film exists as an excuse to depict the marrow, instead of the other way around. So when Dutcher (the writer/director, not his movie character) violates his movie's own moral message in the last act of Falling, it feels illogical and wrong.

Well, I've rambled on long enough so I'll stop short of discussing my other issue. (Note: I later explain my other issue in Comment #1 of Stephen Carter’s blog post.) As I explained above, there is a lot to like about this film. Dutcher engaged me in the storyline and characters from the opening scene. And certainly, any film that instigates so much discussion (and not just about the violence, the message is just as controversial) merits consideration as a piece of art. Nobody discusses crap.

I believe the above problem can be fixed in the editing room if Dutcher were so inclined. As I explained, he has some excellent material to work with. But this is simply my opinion. Dutcher no doubt has his artistic justifications for leaving the scene as is. And others no doubt agree with him. I'd love to hear your opinion. For those present at the private screening, what did you think?


  1. Mike says:

    I have yet to see the film, but I do hope that Dutcher is willing to edit the scene in question- not so that it is more palatable but so that it doesn’t distract from the story and the argument being made. I really feel frustrated with directors whose technique gets in the way- when it becomes so obvious what is being done it can cause me to no longer be hooked. The willing suspension of disbelief ceases for just a moment and it’s really a shame.
    I had hoped Dutcher improved as a director since Brigham City, and from the sound of it he has. It just seems he hasn’t enough to really step up to where he wants to be. The violence in the film will obviously alienate a mormon audience, which Dutcher doesn’t seem to think is a problem since he’s not setting out to play to a niche market, he’s trying to tell stories that are universal. Ironically it seems the very thing causing him to lose favor with a Mormon audience is what gets in the way of the story the most. (although the overall message of the film might lose favor with a Mormon audience as well, it isn’t the nail in the coffin that over the top violence would be.)

    A post at BCC a while ago talked about being brutalized by art. Sometimes I think that it is an important aspect of art. But if the brutalization becomes unbelievable or comical then it loses its effect.

    Hopefully Dutcher can edit the movie down just a bit. Failure to do so is so often what keeps good directors from being great directors. It makes potentially great films lose their punch, and it also turns mediocre possibly enjoyable action flicks into Waterworld.

  2. Rory says:


    Thanks for posting this. I’m still struggling to come to terms with this movie, but my two biggest issues are completely separate from yours. The final fight scene was incredible and difficult to watch, but while I can see your point that it doesn’t fit with the moral statement earlier in the movie, I felt like the character was living the “marrow” advice – the possibility of him putting it on the screen or taking the high road disappeared with his step into darkness as he filmed the gang attack, and instead set his course on an inevitable living of it in his own life.

    My problems were:

    1) I had trouble connecting with the main character – or any character, for that matter, aside from Davey. Hers was the only journey I felt deeply, and I did feel the violence perpetrated against her in a very visceral sense. I felt her fall more than his. I felt her conflict, her sacrifices, her struggles. But aside from her, I didn’t care about anyone else. It simply didn’t matter. (This may be overstating it, as there were points in the movie that I began to feel Dutcher’s character, but overall I was fairly detached)

    2) The mormon content felt forced, and the final scene following the fight was far too long. Whether I was focused on the soccer ball (Wilson, anyone?), or wondering where the police were, or wondering just how long this was going to last, he lost me. I would have preferred a simple statement of seeking redemption. As it is, I felt more manipulated than inspired.

    Finally, with respect to the final fight scene, I will offer this praise: I like violent movies, but I like the stylized violence, the fun violence. Dutcher, with his deliberate, extended scene, and with no score or “celebration” of this fight, brought home a very shocking and real sense of violence. I was invested in this fight in a way that I didn’t like. It exposed elements of myself that I am not proud of.

    So, I’m not sure if I will see this one again. But the fact that this movie forced me to really – and I mean REALLY – think about some of these issues, I am glad I saw it at least once.

  3. MCQ says:

    “Though she strips naked, Dutcher stops just short of showing any actual nudity”

    Um, really? ‘Cause I must have a great imagination then.

    “Nobody discusses crap”

    Don’t get out much, do you? Ever been to Kulturblog? Crap is like fine wine there.

    “I had trouble connecting with the main character – or any character, for that matter, aside from Davey. Hers was the only journey I felt deeply”

    I disagree. The actress that played Davey (Virginia Reece, I think) was fabulous, but you didn’t actually see her falling. It was presented as a fait acompli when she tells Eric about the abortion and the affair. Eric is the only character that you see making the choices and agonizing over them (aside from the stripping scene, which I agree was extremely well shot and acted (and there was nudity btw, just not frontal)).

    I totally agree with your second point Rory, and I think this is far more important than the violence. The end of the movie just dragged. I liked the way it finally ended but it took forever to get there: The Christus and the kid and the soccer ball and the stumbling along and the bleeding and the Christus again and the kid is now in the tree and …holy mother of pearl, just get to the freakin’ point already!

  4. Rory, I’ve heard other people say they were unable to relate and connect to any of the characters. For whatever reason, I was able to connect and feel empathy for both Eric and Davey Boyle.

    Agree with your second issue, not the Mormon content per se, but the extended stumbling-down-the-street scene. The scene would be stronger if: 1.) it took place in an abandoned alley or park, and 2.) was a little more subtle about the point it was trying to make.

    MCQ, you must have a good imagination because I don’t know what nudity you are refering to. I think there was a quick shot of maybe the side of her butt, but I’ve seen worse on network television.

    As for discussing crap, I think you know what I’m trying to say, but I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or difficult. People do not typically discuss Big Momma’s House 2, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, or Wild Hogs, but movies like Falling, or other religious-themed films like the aforementioned Breaking the Waves, or Frailty, or Saved, or The Rapture, or The Apostle or the doc Jesus Camp do inspire conversation.

    And, yes, I quite enjoy discussing crap at Kulturblog.

  5. Matt W. says:

    As a mainstream mormon, I know the movie has the F-word in it, and the F-word is directed at God, so I won’t see it. The gratuitous violence, the nudity, or any other message that may be in the film will never make it out of the box, I would guess, for 90% of the mainstream of mormonism based on the above alone.

    On the other hand, I don’t go to the movie to receive messages. That’s why I haven’t seen “Pursuit of Happyness” yet either.

  6. The relationshiip I was really invested in was the one between Eric and Davey.

    The way I saw the plot shaping up was that these two really hurt themselves and each other, but then they start making some progress toward reconciliation (though I couldn’t see that reconciliation happening completely within the time of the film). That would have been quite a story, and we had a gut-punch second act with Eric’s near strangulation of her. Man, they both did some awful things to each other. But they still loved each other, otherwise why would they have cared so much about what the other had done?

    And then for it to just end.

    I think I know why Richard decided to do it that way. He was trying to tear any semblance of stability or possibility of happiness away from Eric so that the only relationship he could have was with God. And it did work. Eric was at rock bottom. I could certainly feel that.

    Maybe it uncovered one of my own gut beliefs: that we find God through our relationships with others, rather than relating directly to God.

    In a way it reminded me of what a reviewer wrote about Speilberg’s War of the Worlds. Something about how thousands of people had to die so Tom Cruise could grow up. It felt like a sadistic serial killer was choosing the most sickening and destructive way to get Eric on his knees in front of God.

  7. Stephen, your take sounds a little bit like a twist on the story of Job, which is a horrifying storying in and of itself. (The difference is that Job loses everything, but he never loses his faith in God.)

    I think Dutcher one-ups the Job story though, because the final message, to me, is that there is no God. Job loses everything, but at least he still had God. Eric Boyle loses everything, and God is not there to save him from the depths of his despair.

  8. Stephen Carter says:

    I can totally see how you came to that interpretation, Matt. And if we stick strictly with a formalist approach to the film, I’d tend to agree with you. However, Richard did say in the post screening session that the movie has been rejected from film festivals for being too religious. But Richard didn’t say, “That really confused me, because this isn’t a religious movie.” Rather, it seems like I remember him bemoaning that religious films get so little respect these days.

    That reaction leads me to believe that Richard intended Falling as a religious film. But your reaction (especially if it’s shared by many others) may cause Richard to do a little re-editing to make his intention a little more gettable.

    This is actually the reason I saw Falling as being the first part of a trilogy. The ending is so ambiguous (to me) that I think there must surely be more to explore.

  9. Mark L. says:

    matt t., enjoyed your comments, although I believe your gratuitous and unnecessary comment may not fit. having served in law enforcement in l.a. for a good number of years, mr. dutcher could have not been more dead on with the flow of a street fight – and length . however, to side with your comment, most people don’t recognize real violence. it is painful to watch, and yes, becomes comical when it gets to a certain point. I believe that is why you felt it was more about the fight and not the story. i actually saw it differently. i guess that is the beauty of film interpretation.

    my favorite scene had to have been davey’s audition scene. mr. dutcher could have easily given into the gratuitous nudity, but chose to show the horror of the situation for her. much more powerful by showing much less.

    so matt w., i acutally, in a twisted way, felt the “f-word” was done in proper context and was very necessary. we read throughout the scripture of those who curse God. though it made me feel very uncomfortable to hear and see it, the entire film itself gives a justification of why he curses God.

  10. MCQ says:

    Yeah, Matt T, I was just trying to be funny, I do understand what you are saying about crap. I swear though, that the film showed more than the side of her butt. Now I’ll have to see it again to see if I’m imagining that. Either way, though, your point is valid: Dutcher showed restraint in that scene that he seemed to feel was unnecessary in the rest of the movie.

    The movie can be “religious” even if the message is that God doesn’t exist. I don’t think that is the message of this movie, I’m just saying that if it were, the movie would still be accurately described as “religious.” As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the problem that the festivals have with it is the repeated image of the Christus. Take that out and the religious message becomes much less overt, and the festivals would probably love it.

    I think the Job comparison is interesting, but remember that Job was not complicit in what happened to him, whereas Eric is. Job is this righteous man who is the victim of what can only be described as “an act of God.” Eric would probably be the first to admit that he himself is responsible for at least a portion of his fate. Whether that makes it harder or easier to bear may be part of what this film is getting at.

  11. Mark L. (#9), you misunderstood what I meant by “gratuitous and unnecessary.” I agree with you that the scene reflects the reality of a street fight. I never said it was unrealistic; in fact, just the opposite. In a Thunderdome/two-men-enter-one-man-leaves scenario, it would take a long time to kill a man with your bare hands, and you’d probably look like Boyle did at the end of it, covered in blood from head to toe.

    My point was that it takes away from the narrative structure. You could say the same thing if they showed Davey and Eric having sex for in real time, unedited for 10 minutes, or Eric driving in the car to work for 25 minutes, or Davey taking a nap for 2 hours. Editing these slices of life together is what gives a story structure and narrative thrust. My feeling is that the fight scene distracts from the structure and narrative thrust.

    MCQ (#10), agree with your comments about a religious movie being anything that contemplates the existence of God. Job is probably a bad comparison. Can you think of another character from the scriptures who would be a good comparison? The Prodigal Son, maybe? Eric Boyle is the Prodigal Mormon who gives up his inheritance for Babylon, but when he returns, his “father” is not there to welcome him home.

  12. Rob O. says:

    Thanks for the review Matt. I have read several reviews, and it seems the over the top violence is what is taken away from this film. I understand the first scene also has a lot of the f-word in it. Even with your excellent review of this movie being problematic, I will definitely have to view this movie. I am what I consider a mainstream Mormon, but definitely not a Utah mormon(if that makes any sense at all). Agreeably though, this movie will have to find a mainstream audience to be successful. Although, Matt, why would Sunstone be the “home court” audience, when the plot does not seem to be at all doctrinal and/or intellectual? Kind of a rhetorical question because I understand your point, just curious if a “frame of mind” attitude could alter viewpoints. Anyway, I am more interested in this film because of Dutcher. I’ve heard he has had this movie in mind for several years now, even before his leaving the church. He has been saying for a while now how he would be very interested in making a R-rated movie. I’m curious if he was over the top in the violence as a result of leaving the church. Like the drug dealer sending a message to potential rivals that he is for real. The one thing that was left out in this was whether or not the partially nude or not so nude at all was worth seeing in the first place?

  13. MCQ says:

    arj: I’m not seeing the typeface issue. Is it just on your end?

    Matt T: But he doesn’t return. It’s the prodigal son from hell, and I can’t think of a scriptural parallel. It seems like Dutcher is exploring the idea (kind of ironically when you consider his personal story) that each step down the road to Babylon may be untraceable. The scene where Eric finds himself regretting the fact that he doesn’t pray anymore and he’s “not supposed to be like this” is already too late. Davey is already having an affair. She’s already pregnant (perhaps with another man’s baby) she’s already planning to have the abortion. She sold her soul for stardom and, at least at this point, has no regrets. Eric is full of regret but has no way back, especially once he finds out how far Davey has gone. The chain of events set in motion by his videotape is already out of control and converging on him like a runaway beer truck. You don’t see stories like this in the scriptures (or in many movies or TV for that matter). There’s always redemption: Job gets re-blessed. Jonah gets spit out by the whale. Saul becomes Paul. Alma the younger sees the angel. The prodigal son comes home. Joseph is reunited with his brothers. Heck, “Behind the Music” has more optimism than this movie, and it’s about real life! Everyone on that show gets off heroine and makes a breakthrough album.

    One of the questions in the discussion panel after the movie hit on this issue, and Dutcher dodged the question, which was sad. The question was something like: t what extent is the movie saying that we are not in control of the events that take us down the path to destruction? Eric made some bad choices maybe, and he has to take responsibility for them, but he didn’t choose to end up in the place he finds himself at the end of this movie. That’s why his “F you” to God rings true, to some extent. It’s not fair. He didn’t deserve it.

  14. Booji Boy says:

    Please, people. Have you ever heard of spoiler warnings? For the sake of us who intend to someday see “Falling,” PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE warn us when key plot points are about to be revealed during your discussions. All it takes is two little words (SPOILER ALERT!). It’s just simple courtesy. Thanks.

  15. arJ (#12), typeface changes? I don’t see it either. What kind of browser are you using? I made a few html edits to the post, don’t know if that made it any better.

    Rob O (#13), I call Sunstoners a “home crowd” because Richard is/was something of a Sunstone Mormon himself, and most attendees are more liberal or open-minded about unorthodox religious/spiritual points of view and boundary-pushing art.

    I do not think the level of violence has anything to do with Richard’s relationship to the Church (i.e. “a result of leaving the church”), but everything to do with his artistic vision. The ultimate message of Falling certainly has something to do with his faith journey. It seems that Richard’s orthodox views, his transition-period views, and his post-Mormon views all influence the overall message.

    MCQ (#14), all good points. Seems we can’t force a scriptural parallel onto Falling, though parts of certain stories certainly apply.

    The question of how much “control” we have over our lives and whether we “deserve” the various positive and negative outcomes is indeed fascinating.

    Booji Boy (#15), I have added a “SPOILER ALERT” in my post. Some of the comments go into more detail than the post, though. I don’t have time to edit all of them with spoiler warnings. You are right, of course.

  16. Mark L. says:

    MCQ – only the side of her butt is shown from a distance. the scene was filmed/cut/edited so well that i felt i should look away. not for the nudity itself, but as though i was the sleazy director/producer looking for that.

    it appears mr. dutcher’s goal is to get this out to a festival. however, i can’t imagine him attempting to release it to a broader market until after the release of evil angel. he’d find more buzz and interest for falling if evil angel were a big hit. hell, he’s waited 3 yrs to screen it privately, whats another few months. by the way, anyone know when evil angel is coming out?

  17. Davey says:

    This is bringing up an older post… but is Job really so faithful and persistent? Remember when he curses God too? I’ve never understood the phrase “the patience of Job.”

    Seeing Falling when it opens in Salt Lake this week. I’m excited to see what I think. I love all of Dutcher’s other work, and admire the guy a lot.

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