A Message from Matthew Chapman, Writer and Director of The Ledge

The Ledge, the movie I wrote and directed, is a pretty mainstream movie that has as its lead an outspoken and unapologetic atheist/humanist. I think this is a first. It stars Liv Tyler, Terrence Howard, Patrick Wilson, and Charlie Hunnam.

Everyone is outraged by extraordinary religious violence such as 9/11, but I wanted to concentrate on the kind of smaller tragedy that is often the consequence of more “ordinary” religion. I wanted the movie to be accessible to a much, much broader audience than is usually reached by books on the subject. I wanted it to be appealing to women, because, as I said not long ago, “For a modern woman to believe in God is like a freed slave still living on the plantation.” So I cast Liv Tyler in the role of a damaged woman living with an equally damaged fundamentalist Christian. Both feel the only way they can survive is through faith. But Liv’s character is changing, wanting more freedom. She falls in love with her neighbor (Charlie Hunnam), an atheist, and they begin an affair.

The fundamentalist husband (Patrick Wilson) begins to fall apart and goes to the sections of the Bible that might be relevant to this situation. The logical conclusion of illogical belief is rarely, well, logical! In this case, the fundamentalist sets up a plan to force the atheist to kill himself as a test of faith, or rather non-faith. The atheist ends up on the ledge of a tall building faced with a choice between saving his life and saving another’s, all without the promise of an afterlife. A cop (Terrence Howard) tries to talk him down, but he too is involved in a crisis involving love and faith.

I won’t say more about the movie because I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say, it contains debates about the nature of faith and non-faith, and the atheist, though far from perfect, clearly emerges as the better man. It was, as I was often told, a “miracle” that it ever got made. I like to think it had a little to do with my own abilities as a writer (but perhaps I’m just being eccentric and arrogant).

It is now being released by an excellent independent distributor, the Independent Film Channel (IFC), in an unusual way. It became available online a few weeks ago, then on Video On Demand across most of the country.

On July 8th it will open theatrically but only in New York and Los Angeles. Unless it does really well, it will not open much wider and not reach the people who might really benefit from seeing it. Nor, unless it goes theatrical nationwide, will it stir up the kind of press that might stimulate the kinds of discussions that all of us want.

The way the movie business works is this: if a movie does well in its first two weeks, with particular emphasis on the opening weekend, then it is perceived as a success and the distributor will take the risk of spending more money to open the film wider.

No one in Hollywood was particularly overjoyed when Mel Gibson decided to make Passion of the Christ, but when he was able to persuade believers to go see it and it did well, other faith-based movies followed. A constituency was proven.

This is what I want to achieve with The Ledge. This is a unique opportunity to show that films that express a humanistic point of view, that reject the cruelties of religion, are worth making. If The Ledge works, if humanists, atheists, and agnostics talk about it, show their strength and go see it, particularly in New York and Los Angeles, a door will open. And it’s a very important door, perhaps the most important door.

Matthew Chapman has written and directed six films and is the author of Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir and 40 Days and 40 Nights. His latest movie, The Ledge, will be released July 8 and stars Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Charlie Hunnam, and Terrence Howard. Learn more at www.ledgemovie.com.

To hear Matthew talk about the making of The Ledge listen to the latest Humanist Hour Podcast