Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wrestling With God: A Three-Way Conversation on Mormonism

Wrestling With God: A Three-Way Conversation on Mormonism from Torben Bernhard on Vimeo.


Dave & Shandie said...

hey i get to leave the first comment! Maybe my brutal honesty will incite enough anger in others that have watched this movie to comment as well.
First of all, good staging, writing, and characters. I felt like i was there.
Second, I couldn't help but to imagine the inner monologue of Martin Luther while listening to this. Very nice.
Third is a couple of questions:
What is the origin of this conversation? What really started it? - Why did you attempt to create 3 characters that were so different but then consolidate them at the end? I liked the differences. - Why is anger such a common byproduct of religious discussion? - And above all, what is or was assumed in the interview? Some tough questions were asked but even more difficult material was assumed.

Torben B said...

O.k. --- i'll try to tackle your questions one by one:

1. the origin of the conversation was a conversation that we hosted at my house with five people. We recorded it, transcribed it, then used the transcriptions as a foundation for the script. The underlying concept was that the transcriptions would improve the flow and authenticity of the dialogue.

2. i don't think the three characters are ever consolidated. Personally i feel that they all retain their individuality. We just gave the last word to the lead female character, Ruth. In my view, the two male characters are still at odds. Of course, that's just my interpretation and by no means the only one. i think that anger underlies a lot of religious dialogue because having your faith challenged brings your very identity into question, which is terrifying for many.

i'm a bit confused by your last question. What interview? Difficult material assumed? Please reframe the question and i'll try to answer it. Thanks for watching it and thanks for the support!


Dave & Shandie said...

I mean the interview/discussion of the 3 people in the video. Basically, as much as the conversation develops and questions mormonism, i feel that each of the three participants assume the church is true and that no matter how much they really question, they never have any intention of believing an answer that goes against that assumption. Does a question really achieve the status of being genuinely asked if the asker has no intention of acting upon any and all answers?

John-Riley Harper said...

Turned off at 1:05, because of this:

Left dood: one of my main problems with [mormonism] is that only something that comes from mormonism is true. At least culturally that's sort of the perception, ya know?

Right dood: If we accept the church is true then we have to accept it in its entirety.

Shows that these are people talking past each other without really communicating from the outset. He completely sidestepped and misunderstood the left guy's point and then the left guy didn't call him on it. Weak.

Torben B said...

i completely disagree with you. i think that is EXTREMELY common in conversation. In fact, i'd argue that it happens nearly everyday (at least, it seems to in my life). You should be more willing to maneuver through pieces before you turn them off.

Torben B said...

btw, were you "turned off" or did you turn it off? Either way, most of the script was based on a transcript from an actual conversation. It's not an "out for blood" argument, it's a discussion between friends mixed with understanding, mis-understanding, communication and lack of communication.

Dave & Shandie said...

i agree with john-riley. there isn't actually any discussion going on between these people. none of them have changed or evolved from the beginning to the end. how is there communication if all three refuse to really try to understand what the other is talking about? basically, they each have a podium and they're bearing their testimony while the other two shake their heads in disagreement.

Torben B said...

Once again, i disagree. Discussions do NOT always lead to some superficial catharsis. Actually, once again, i think most conversations are full of half-understanding, miscommunication, and sometimes premature perceived empathy.

Dave, You and i talk about religion all of the time, and i've never felt some incredible evolution that has changed my life and enhanced our communication. However, i have felt that i've come to understand how you feel more, despite my retained convictions and beliefs. You guys are expecting this be a out-for-blood argument with a superficial arch. This is a real conversation between people. This is NOT a debate. They are expressing their views. i'm not saying that they do come to some magnificent understanding. i am, however, arguing that this evolution you are talking about is not the only way to portray a conversation. Furthermore, i think that the end is a resolution between the three people. The men feel a little ashamed. She is finally heard clearly.

Dave & Shandie said...

touche. i see the parallels.

Will said...

I agree with John-Riley and Dave. I found the conversation quite annoying (and wanted to turn it off early but didn't) because everyone was talking past each other, and they were not at all rhetorically gifted nor capable of holding each other to more rigorous standards of communication. If the three wrote their explanations and arguments out as papers, I would fail them all.

BUT this inarticulate lack of real communication made the conversation quite realistic - painfully realistic. Most conversations sound much more like this than like the give and take in something like Plato's Parmenides. Nothing is resolved and everyone's reasoning is weak and unaffected up until the end. The girl doesn't provide any logical resolution but only an emotionally charged pseudo-anecdote (of the footprints in the sand variety) that silences others only because they would be ashamed to violate its pathetic (meant etymologically) cuteness.

My question for you, Torben, is what does your filmed version of the conversation here achieve? Or at least, what were you hoping to achieve in making this film? It is a realistic conversation and does show that there can be multiple viewpoints within one supposedly monolithic world view. And it also shows just how difficult communication is for people, especially on sensitive topics. Are you trying to show anything beyond that?

Torben B said...

Will --- great response. i still don't understand why the three of you are trying to turn this film into a philosophy colloquium, jotting down the logical fallacies contained within each statement. i would love to take part in your conversations (of course, in all fairness, Will admits that the conversation in the film in painfully representative of real-life conversations). This is film. This is not meant to be an academic treatise. The three characters are not turning papers in. They are human --- flawed, and often guilty of saying foolish things when trying to articulate what Mormonism means to them. Arguing that they are constantly talking past each other and, from time to time, speak illogically is missing the point. Would someone ever say that about a conversation between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise/ Sunset or Robert Deniro and his wife is Raging Bull? Conflict is interesting. Misunderstanding is interesting. Eventual understanding is interesting. Logical Arguments aren't nearly as interesting to watch in a film (or real life for that matter) as we may imagine. Argument (especially discussion), in my mind, is like simultaneous performance, most deeply affecting those who took part in the "event" itself. Both stories told in the film are true stories. i find them both sobering. i also find a great deal of beauty in the simplicity of the final anecdote, much less contrived than the footprints story. The story is never explained and is completely left to the imagination of the audience. the imagery is quite beautiful. At this point in my life (after volunteering to read all of the German philosophers and postmodern French philosophers as part of my major), i am more interested in simple sentences that unlock complex concepts. The accessible nature of simple language is interesting to me. It is also incredibly fascinating to me to read Buddhist or Taoist texts that provide access to a complex web of knowledge through a deceivingly simple anecdote. With that said, i think calling the story "cute" is a little too harsh.

Now, to answer Will's question. Considering that i co-wrote and co-directed this film with two other people, i can only offer my perspective. i think that you already touched on two of the main intentions; namely, to expose the diversity that is generally ignored in Mormonism (especially Utah brand) that is smothered into silence by the vocal majority and to experiment with writing authentic dialogue. Our approach to writing authentic dialogue was to host a conversation at my house, record it, and transcribe it. The transcriptions became the foundation for the script. The third point of the film, as i see it, is best articulated by the character Ruth and her final statement and story. We can all love each other, despite our differences. We waste way too much time in our lives cultivating biases. i hope that came through. i don't think that the fact that Ruth is our protagonist came off nearly as clearly as we initially hoped. Finally, for me this film is about young Mormons trying to formulate their identities. There are contradictions. There is confusion. There is everything one might expect in the transformative process of trying to discover what being "Mormon" means for YOU. This conversations is representative of countless conversations i've had with close friends through my seven years of trying to be Mormon. i think about my faith nearly everyday. Certain prohibitions act as sober reminders that i need to somehow reconcile my lust for experience with my new faith. It is so difficult for me.

Thank you all so much for your feedback. I really do appreciate it. i'm trying to view this film from a distance, trying to see what others may think of it. Sometimes i agree with you. Many times i do not. If anything, this film is the first of its kind within Mormon cinema. It is honest. It does not try to be contrived. It isn't afraid to express dissent. It is semi-real.

Will said...

Torben, All of your claims for this film at the end of you last comment are true. It is honest and doesn't feel the least bit contrived.

I'm with you that all dialog doesn't need to be logical, and that logical dialog would kill many movies. I also like what you say about the wealth of meaning available in simple language. Along those lines, plenty is revealed in the conversation. No logical resolution is found, but the anxiety and earnestness of the three certainly comes through.

The ending, as you interpret it, does not offer resolution but focuses attention on a critical issue. Regardless of whether this or that creed is "true", how do people maintain their intellectual independence (and, thus, their biases) while fully opening themselves up to each other and supporting each other? This seems especially hard specifically in the realm of religion, where people cling to a metaphysical Absolute molded in their image to certify their ethics (as well as their epistemology and metaphysics, and sometimes even their aesthetics).

How do we maintain such powerful and yet contradictory ideas and still live in harmony with each other? It seems that the answer to this might deserve a Nobel prize.

Andrew James said...

I second everything Torben says. Well put.

Will, may I suggest that in regard to art, being too intellectual is just as dangerous as being too emotional?

It is perfectly OK to stop intellectualizing everything and to just feel sometimes.

The irony here is that you like some highly emotional and (in my mind) contrived films.

In regard to emotion, there is a fine line one must tread when creating narrative art. Our film treads close to crossing that line, but never really does. Our film contains no music to cue emotional responses, no flashbacks, and no sobbing. I would like to point out that our film is substantially less emotional than half of your favorite films.

Torben B said...

Will --- thanks for the kind remarks and thought provoking comments. i'm going to start working on the Nobel Prize question :)

Will said...

Truce Andrew, truce! Your voluntary assessment of my favorite movies shows me clearly that I was less than kind with my blunt criticisms. I apologize for that. My field is aesthetic philosophy and I believe that emotion has at least as much place as logic in art as do many other things. I enjoy the emotional aspects of art. I'm sorry I gave any other impression.

Torben, thanks for your calm acceptance of my brusque comments. I think you definitely do have something with this short film and that it points you in fruitful directions.


Anonymous said...

Torben I would just like to say that I just showed the film to my parents and my dad walked out (not sure why and I didn't ask) and my mom kept thinking she could jump in and correct them on different issues. but what made me the happiest was when the actor on the left would come back with a great comment completely diffusing and my mother would look over and just see a big grin on my face, it was great. That is what makes this movie so good that it questions and doesn't resolve that it leaves it open for us to decide.

E. Hunter Hale said...

Attended the LDS 13TH FILM FESTIVAL with a little five minute entry. Received a DVD that included WRESTLING WITH GOD on it. What an amazing experience I had watching it. The acting and dialog where so real and well done that it had the complete feeling of being real people in a recorded conversation. The choice to keep the shots to basically two set ups worked very well. It is one of the most emotionally powerful films that I have ever experienced. I think that I am going to share it with my High Priest group next time I teach the lesson and see what their reactions are.

E. Hunter Hale said...

I have a question. Toward the end of the film there are color blocks inserted I believe three times. What was the reason for this? Not that you will actually be reading a comment this long after making the film but I would like to know why.