Sons of Perdition (Tyler Measom, Jennilyn Merten) 2010

This is a documentary which follows a fundamentalist branch of the Latter Day Saints led by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs (in an area known by the inhabitants as The Crick). Specifically we follow a group of teenagers who are exiled from the sect and establish themselves in a nearby town.

Polygamy has not been accepted by the main church of the LDS which has caused Jeffs (who calls himself a prophet) to start his FLDS basically on the outskirts between Arizona and Utah and also away from most authorities. Sons of Perdition is an interesting documentary in two respects. In one respect we do see what it is like for people in this cult (not referring to Mormonism but this specific branch). The leaders keep a tight grip on the members and on the flow of information. Members are instructed not to read anything from the outside, watch television, and even go to other churches. The punishment is a complete banishment from the community and the threat of eternal damnation. It is almost a sad running joke that the people we follow do not know anything about the world around them. For example one kid who loves to draw is asked if he got his inspiration from comic books, to which he replied “What are those?”. Another kid recounts history lessons from his days at the Crick and unknowingly switches Bill Clinton for Hitler when talking about WWII. Women are also devalued as they are forced into arranged marriages. Some of the highest members of the church have over 50 wives.

For the most part we do follow a select group of teens which were exiled when they did not follow lock step with the dogma set down by Jeffs. This is probably the most heartbreaking part of the film. This is due to the fact that these kids have absolutely no knowledge of the outside world and their education has been severely disrupted. These are people that have not had any formal education struggling to even get a GED. This does not even take into account the emotional damage done by a lifetime of indoctrination. There is one part where we see a female who escaped and every time she gets intoxicated the mental barriers fall and she breaks down from the mental pain. Part of what helps is the fact many of the exiles band together to support themselves. In fact, they make several excursions into the Crick in order to help some others escape.

This isn’t the best documentary about the FLDS. It is very low budget and is more a personal story about these kids. It is not like you are going to learn a lot of factual information about Mormonism or even about fundamentalism. But Sons of Perdition is a rare look into a side of religious extremism that isn’t given much attention. I am from Arizona where Jeffs is being prosecuted and even here there isn’t much news attention to what is going on in that part of the country. This movie is a nice starting point when looking at cults in general and in Mormon fundamentalism.

 

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