Polygamy and the consequences of living in it have experienced a renewed examination in the past five years. Discussions about the long-shunned practice is growing, and if some kind of genealogical curiosity hasn’t led to an examination of Polygamy, recent court cases involving Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs will pique it. Sons of Perdition focuses on the journeys young people exiled from the sect.
The documentary provides a very smooth representation of three ex-polygamous youth. No voice-over narration is used. The people effected are allowed to tell the story, with occasional commentary from other former FLDS members and people familiar with FLDS practices.
Sam, Bruce and Joe have each recently left Colorado City, or The Crick, in order to escape the confines of a religion turned corrupt under their current prophet’s control. The three teenagers settle in St. George but struggle to adjust to life without their parents or their religion around, and it’s a difficult thing to escape.
They use what skills they learned from Colorado City to get work, which is a surprisingly large amount considering their ages. 17-year-old Joe’s experience with heavy machinery is probably equal to builders twice his age.
The boys, well aware of their unfavorable status with the FLDS, take advantage of any opportunity to do something forbidden by their former leaders at The Crick. They visit amusement parks, watch movies, and listen to new music; but they are also prone to experimenting with drugs and drinking throughout the documentary. Since their religion automatically damns exiles, partying doesn’t seem problematic for them.
One cannot help but feel bad for what these kids went though before they left, and there’s definitely an anxious curiosity about how successful their futures will or will not be. Bruce starts attending classes at a local high school, and the adjustment seems smooth enough for someone that just ran away from home. Sam and Joe seem to struggle more to achieve what they want. Sam wants to attend high school, but is limited to places like Job Corps. Joe’s focus is on getting his family members away from Colorado City, especially his 14-year-old sister Hillary.
Sons of Perdition isn’t filled with much shocking information about polygamy. Anyone who watches local news knows almost as much about the polygamist communities scattered throughout the west as the documentary tells them. The documentary focuses more on the emotional aspects of families associated with the FLDS. Many people probably can’t identify with that kind of estrangement from family, but filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten capture the boys’ feelings on the relationships quite well. It’s a topic the boys struggle with a lot.
The documentary prompts discussion of religion and family and how we prioritize them. The boys want family, but they don’t want it with the religion.
Contact with the estranged families back in Colorado City would have added another dimension to the stories but was understandably difficult to obtain. Viewers are left only understanding the culture through the experiences of ex-members, as well as recorded talks from Warren Jeffs. The glimpses audiences have of the boys and their families are very captivating, but questions arise of what it is like for the parent to be separated from the child.
Sons of Perdition has screened at the Tribeca International Film festival and open at the Provo Wynnsong Theater on February 25. Visit SonsOfPerditionTheMovie.com for more information.