Matthew Chapman - The Ledge

July 4, 2011

Host: Chris Mooney

It's not often that Hollywood takes up the subject of atheism directly—much less sympathetically.

Even rarer is finding this in a film starring major names like Liv Tyler and Terence Howard.

But that's what Matthew Chapman has achieved in The Ledge—which also stars Patrick Wilson and Charlie Hunnan.

Besides being a screenwriter and author, Chapman himself is an atheist, freethinker, science advocate, and great-great grandson of Charles Darwin.

Without giving away the plot of The Ledge—which opens on July 8 in New York and Los Angeles—suffice it to say that it is a gutsy defense of freethinking and unbelief, framed as a star-studded romantic thriller. And perhaps even more than any work of nonfiction, it may have a unique potential to drive a national conversation about atheism.

So recently, Chris Mooney caught up with Matthew Chapman for lunch in New York City to interview him about the film, what inspired it, and what he hopes its impact will be.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

LedgeMovie.com

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

I’d like to be able to see this movie but I can’t.  I swore to myself that I would not support the career of a known spouse abuser (Terrance Howard).  Perhaps if my public library adds it to the collection, then I can borrow a copy, but I will not spend money to see any movie Mr. Howard has any connection to.  If not for him, I’d be among the first in line in my city.  I do hope this movie serves as a groundbreaker so that I will have another chance to see an atheist like me portrayed, hopefully realistically, in a future film.  I also hope the next such character is a woman.

Posted on Jul 06, 2011 at 9:18am by pwright Comment #1

0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Must be a really, really bad film.

Posted on Jul 06, 2011 at 7:31pm by Taylor Comment #2

0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Must be a really, really bad film.

I’ll never understand why anybody would need a movie critic to tell him how good or bad a movie is.

Posted on Jul 07, 2011 at 6:30am by George Comment #3

I’ll never understand why anybody would need a movie critic to tell him how good or bad a movie is.

That’s a very condescending interpretation.  If you want to waste your time seeing every movie that comes out, then you have the luxury of forming your own opinions.  If you value your time, then reviews are a good way of weeding out the real trash.  Rotten Tomatoes averages out individual opinions; anything less than, oh, say 50%, is a terrible movie no matter how interested you might be in the storyline.

Posted on Jul 07, 2011 at 6:50am by Taylor Comment #4

Chapman is an important voice in the movement and 40 Days and 40 Nights is a brilliant look into the humanity behind the Dover Evolution/ID trial.  Regarding The Ledge, I dropped everything to watch the film after hearing this podcast. The script is clunky and Chapman seems to go out of his way to cover all the athiest and fundamentalist character cliches in the first 45 minutes of the film.  For example, a dinner among new neighbors is immediately awkward when the fundies offer wine to their guests but then announce that they will not be drinking it and when the non-fundies are suspected to be gay, the Christian alpha male prays to save their doomed souls.  The attempt to squeeze all of the peripheral arguments into the plot takes away from what could have been a focused exploration of how someone embraces life, despite its tremendous challenges, without embracing nonsense and how that person explains his point of view to people who ran to religion, in one form or another, in the face of similar challenges.  By the time these relationships get going, the film is almost over. Hunnam’s atheist character is better developed through the way he confronts the ledge and interacts with and advises other characters in crisis - like Howard’s cop or a fellow employee - than through his “look at the stars” ponderings. It seems like more could have been done in the same amount of time. That said, the script improves as the momentum builds and the cinematographic portraits of Patrick Wilson in his climactic dialogue with Hunnam are stunning.

Chapman wants the film to be a catalyst and I think it can be one but, as an unfortunate reality, the nudity will probably limit the film’s access to groups like college classroom audiences or parents wanting to use it as a conversation starter for young adults. Unless I can concoct my own digital edit, my kids won’t be seeing it until their late teens. That’s a disappointment. Chapman could have sacrificed a little artistic integrity for the sake of widening the audience which, based on the podcast, seems to be his primary objective.

I commend Chapman for creating a dramatic work of art that is also a social conversation piece.  That’s a tall order for one’s first film and, I’ll put this as nicely as I can, I encourage the CFI community to focus on the latter objective. It’s well worth your time and it’s an important first step. I hope more films will follow but atheism itself is probably an insufficient dramatic centerpiece. In the meantime, buy every kid you know a copy of The Golden Compass.

Posted on Jul 07, 2011 at 6:52am by shawnpat Comment #5

I’ll never understand why anybody would need a movie critic to tell him how good or bad a movie is.

That’s a very condescending interpretation.  If you want to waste your time seeing every movie that comes out, then you have the luxury of forming your own opinions.  If you value your time, then reviews are a good way of weeding out the real trash.  Rotten Tomatoes averages out individual opinions; anything less than, oh, say 50%, is a terrible movie no matter how interested you might be in the storyline.

I have no problem paying attention to the average opinion of the public, such as the Amazon’s stars rating, but I have absolutely no interest to hear what a person who calls himself a critic has to say on art. But to each his own, I guess. I suppose if you consider yourself as sophisticated as the movie critics, then Rotten Tomatoes is probably the right place for you.

Posted on Jul 07, 2011 at 7:50am by George Comment #6

Do you think that’s true, byenzer? I guess it could be. But then, let’s not forget that the movie critics are getting paid a lot more than the author’s friends.  ;-)

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 5:29pm by George Comment #7

I’ll never understand why anybody would need a movie critic to tell him how good or bad a movie is.

That’s a very condescending interpretation.  If you want to waste your time seeing every movie that comes out, then you have the luxury of forming your own opinions.  If you value your time, then reviews are a good way of weeding out the real trash.  Rotten Tomatoes averages out individual opinions; anything less than, oh, say 50%, is a terrible movie no matter how interested you might be in the storyline.

Movie Reviews basically tell people what they should see, because the people who care about reviews need to be told what to see. Any sophisticated movie fan can make good predictions on a little info.

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 5:59pm by mid atlantic Comment #8

Movie Reviews basically tell people what they should see, because the people who care about reviews need to be told what to see.

Yeah, and others go to church to be told what position is acceptable in bed. I am not impressed.

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 7:53pm by George Comment #9

Movie Reviews basically tell people what they should see, because the people who care about reviews need to be told what to see.

Yeah, and others go to church to be told what position is acceptable in bed. I am not impressed.

Reviewers are laughable, what a good job to have- getting paid to give my opinion. :long:

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 8:12pm by mid atlantic Comment #10

I suppose if you consider yourself as sophisticated as the movie critics, then Rotten Tomatoes is probably the right place for you.

Kind of an ass, aren’t you?

Posted on Jul 09, 2011 at 4:40pm by Taylor Comment #11

Rented it On Demand the other night (it’s also available to rent at sundancenow.com). There’s lots to take in. It’s a thriller, a love story, and it’s philosophically compelling. I thought it was interesting that Charlie Hunnam’s Gavin looked like what Jesus Christ might look like if he worked the runway or graced the cover of GQ.  %-P. (And at times I could sense that he didn’t really have an American accent.) My b/f brought up something about an aspect of Det. Hollis’ (Terrence Howard) storyline that I hadn’t thought of. (Won’t spoil it.)

Speaking of Howard, I noticed his name in the closing credits as co-executive producer. Unless it’s a different Terrence Howard.

Anyway, the suspense did make my heart race. I really don’t know how to say more without including spoilers. It made me think. I liked it.

Posted on Jul 10, 2011 at 4:27pm by T. Ruth Comment #12

*shameless plug* In speaking of atheist movies… I have a film project that is about the irrelevancy of the existence of God, and we’re currently seeking funding through Kickstarter. We’re lagging a bit right now, and we need all the help we can get. Not to be one of “those guys”, any help would be greatly appreciated - if you can spare a dollar, or even just spread the word, anything would help - and thanks! Here’s the link:

[Edited to remove link—dougsmith, Admin]

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 at 2:55pm by RogersK Comment #13

*shameless plug* In speaking of atheist movies… I have a film project that is about the irrelevancy of the existence of God, and we’re currently seeking funding through Kickstarter. We’re lagging a bit right now, and we need all the help we can get. Not to be one of “those guys”, any help would be greatly appreciated - if you can spare a dollar, or even just spread the word, anything would help - and thanks! Here’s the link:

Very sorry for this, RogersK, but we don’t allow advertising or fundraising pitches here on the Forum, and certainly not as first posts. It qualifies as spam which is against the rules. Thanks.

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 at 3:22pm by dougsmith Comment #14

Thanks for the show.  I enjoyed listening to the interview, and watched the movie the night after I heard it.

Unfortunately, I found the interview about the movie much better than the movie itself.

I think the big problem for me is that, if this movie is designed as a vehicle for attempting to change views, it’s not going to do it.

The main character is, IMO, kind of unlikeable.  While I found myself agreeing with him on his reasons for disbelief, I got this feeling of general douchiness about the guy.  Like, his ability to take advantage of his position at work, drinking on the job, playing mind games in order to try to meet his goals, etc.

I mean, if the idea is that we can be ‘good’ without god, this guy isn’t our roll model, and will play into the hands of those who think Atheists don’t have a moral center.
And while he does have flashes of complete compassion, I don’t think these can overcome the downside people will see.

The fundamentalist character is so far out of mainstream (so extreme), that most people are going to dismiss him as just insane, rather than crazy due to religion. (A real Christian would never do that…..)

There is also a rather tall leap of logic in the story that rendered the ending somewhat nonsensical to me.  This would never transpire this way in real life.

I wish the movie success, and I’ve recommended it to a half dozen people, but ultimately, I think it’ll be preaching to the choir rather than reaching a broader audience who could really use a challenge to their belief system.

That’s my take on it, anyway.

Posted on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:55am by tamoore Comment #15

Interesting show. I strongly agree with Matthew Chapman that not only reason but also emotion is a necessary tool to promote the atheist agenda. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been done successfully since Sagan’s Cosmos—although, here the focus was obviously on science, not atheism. I look forward to watching the movie.

Posted on Jul 14, 2011 at 11:28am by George Comment #16

....

Anyway, the suspense did make my heart race. I really don’t know how to say more without including spoilers. It made me think. I liked it.

Good podcast—thanks to Chris Mooney for broadening the spectrum of his interviews, here and with Rebecca Watson (also good but over commented)

makes me want to see the movie.

Don’t know how it did but there is always the download…

Posted on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:32pm by Jackson Comment #17