The Falls : A Film by Jon Garcia

The Falls Trilogy : Films by Jon Garcia

Foreword: I have written two further appraisals. The sequel to ‘The Falls’ is ‘Testament of Love’ and the third and final film is ‘Covenant of Grace’: both of which have had a massive impact me, not only for the emotional intensity and the maturity of the themes therein, but I can relate to them on a more personal level, though not necessarily a religious one. I urge everyone interested in basic human rights, regardless of their sexuality and/or particular religion, to see ‘The Falls’. It is a gem of an independent film. My other two appraisals will be published here soon.

Part One: THE FALLS [2012]

Plot spoilers and some mild explicit language

I am attracted by the economical and ethically sound nature of writer/director Jon Garcia’s approach in the production of the first film in the trilogy. Basically, Jon had a combined production team and cast (which amounted to a handful of very talented and dedicated individuals) and next to no budget; but, a strong belief in, and understanding of his subject matter, and the skill and unique style of Jon’s direction in efficiently getting across the important messages within the storyline, gives this small independent film a newness – a combination of polished professionalism and a naive rawness – which raises it above most other films of this kind. Overall, ‘The Falls’ has the look and the feel of a film created by a much larger production company with higher production values. It has been positively acclaimed by film critics and public worldwide, and has reached the point where it has out-grown it’s cult status.

When I first viewed ‘The Falls’, I was completely unaware that there were two more complete films already out there, which were related to, and continued from, where the original story ended. And so, I saw the film as a separate one-off project (which it was originally intended to be) and in complete isolation from the others.

I knew immediately that I was watching something special and not in a general way: the film is fresh, completely absorbing and has a certain realism without it feeling like a documentary-drama. The characters stand out as credible (mostly endearing) people, performed by unfamiliar talented actors in an effortless and believable way: more so (with a few rare exceptions) than most, in the glut of gay related ‘issue films’ that are being produced nowadays.

By now, R J, Chris and Rodney will have won the hearts and minds of countless thousands because they are believable and fallible creations. Along the way I learned a few facts about the Mormon faith of which I was completely ignorant. Unity is a strong point and that is established well from the tight opening scenes. The family as a unit and the church predominant within that. R J’s kindness, wholesomeness, and love for his religion and his family is apparent. We don’t know at this point whether or not he is gay. He’s put out by the fact that he has only to travel 60 miles to his mission base, an indicator that he does want to break free of that strong family tie and have an adventure … “but”, states R J, “our Heavenly Father has sent me there for a reason.” God is the instigator in bringing R J and Chris together, to test their loyalty to Him and their strength of character. Will they stray from the ‘straight and narrow’ path? I prefer to think that He brought them together because they were meant for one-another.

Elder Harris is imposing and suspicious of R J and Chris from their first tentative meeting. Admirably played by Quinn Allan as a smug, nasty piece of work who makes the most of being zone leader by trying to expose the pair: jealous of their bond because he has been recently jilted by his girlfriend.

The slow break-down in Chris’s confidence, his mission and his closet door is well structured. When his enthusiasm for scripture and his telling of how the Mormon religion was founded is dashed by a surly prospective convert, Chris privately vents his anger and humiliation to R J. R J’s affection for Chris, and his constancy and reliability, is established very well from there in. He draws on his comedic nature and ably brings Chris around, when Chris gets too serious. The tension between the boys begins to relax and there is a touch of comedy during a mission interview regarding the Three Degrees of Glory, which lightens the mood before Chris’s jealous, possessive outburst concerning R J spending time with Sister Tulsa: a subtle, but plainly obvious indicator to the viewer that Chris is put out for quite a different reason.

When Rodney (another prospective convert) invites the boys in to talk on their second visit, the focus on him carving out his dead brother’s name on the varnished coffee table top with a hunting knife, initially gives the scene a dangerous and uncomfortable edge, but fears for the boys safety is quickly dispelled when R J draws Rodney out, to talk about his wartime experiences. Chris remains conservative, as his character would, even lightly reprimanding R J for being too inquisitive.

From there on, the theme of wrestling (which dominates all three films) and the various forms it takes, becomes apparent. Chris is wrestling with his suppressed desire for R J. His inability to act spontaneously begins to lessen. The reassuring touch of R J’s hand (their first intimate physical experience) across the table in a diner, results in R J literally becoming Chris’s ‘knight in shining armour’, when he wrestles two obnoxious homophobes who pick a fight after witnessing R J’s affectionate gesture.

The application of an ice pack by Chris to R J’s bruised hand is intimate and resembles a proposal of marriage with Chris on one knee. The scene is masterfully recreated in ‘Covenant Of Grace’ (part three in the trilogy) when Chris actually goes down on one knee in the traditional way to ask R J to marry him.

R J is ashamed he has done violence, as he states, “Mormons aren’t supposed to fight.” Chris replies, “Mormons aren’t supposed to do a lot of things”, and this is almost a confession of his suppressed sexuality and the point where R J feels sure that Chris is gay, like himself. They have both been wrestling for a long time with forbidden desires which are at odds with their religious beliefs, but the barriers between them are breaking down, and their growing trust and closeness is admirably established, when Chris and R J go to watch a film (a forbidden pastime) like two sweethearts on a first date. They just can’t fight their conflicting emotions any longer. The scene when Chris is half asleep with ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ held to his chest and R J lovingly observing him is, to me, one of the most tender passive love scenes on film. The cutting, lighting and the music are sublime and I was moved to tears at this point.

So, who will make the first move? The following day while walking in an area of woodland, they’re carefully dipping their toes in the water as they converse about doubt and temptation.

It is a surprise to R J when Chris asks him if he was going to kiss him the previous evening while he was dozing and he is genuinely taken by surprise when Chris makes the first bold move and kisses him. The first kiss is so tender that the ensuing off-screen blow-job, given by Chris, directly following the kiss, comes as a big surprise to the viewer, as well as R J who nervously accepts the act. It is at this point that R J’s mostly passive sexual nature is indicated.

When we were done”, states R J “we both prayed.”

For forgiveness? No. I think they’re thanking God for the experience, for bringing them out and uniting them. R J is sure that Chris is the one for him from here onwards and throughout the trilogy.

The following is a beautifully constructed scene. The simple shots of R J’s feet playing with Chris’s as they lie together and their discussion about how this will affect their devotion to the church is so intimate that a sex scene was simply not required. Jon Garcia, mastered the kissing scenes from the very first and they continue to be satisfying throughout the three films. New love is tenderly depicted, with the pair reaffirming their devotion to God and R J’s reassurance that whatever comes to challenge their new-found love, they will weather it. R J is a rock. The surer of the two throughout the trilogy that they were meant to be together. The kiss on the tram is so special. Chris is now relaxed enough to do that in public and R J is reassured by it.

The shocks begin with the intrusive insistence by Elder Harris that the lovers play some basketball. His nerdy oversized outfit was well selected. He’s a petty bully and his spiteful comment that they’re H O R s (an acronym for a basketball manoeuvre) is an insinuation that R J and Chris are whores and the double meaning is shocking. They now know that he has their number and it’s only a matter of time before he exposes them.

Their third visit to Rodney’s apartment is delightfully anarchic, but innocent. The boys needed, and have now found a ‘safe space’ where they can relax and be themselves and finally come out to someone they can trust. They smoke pot with Rodney and when they’ve mellowed they unashamedly hold each others hands. The scene is about R J and Chris letting go and breathing a great sigh of relief. Rodney’s casual approval (he’s seen it all many times before in the military) is reassuring and very funny and the thought of two Mormon elders, running wild, high on marijuana and breaking into a library and stealing the whole collection of Hans Christian Andersen books (one of Rodney’s many suggestions that they should perform as an act of liberation) is hilarious. I am guessing that line of Rodney’s might have been ad-libbed. It’s a great line anyhow! I will be tempted to say the same one day if the Mormons come calling.

Early one morning, Elder Harris intrudes on the naked lovers asleep in the same bed. The external shot of the picture of Christ stuck to the windowpane, looking outwards into the street, reminded me of how people would turn the holy pictures and family portraits to the wall before sexual activity took place.

Not only is Elder Harris a creep, he’s a liar! He clearly did not knock before entering the boys dorm, as he said he had to President Pierce on reporting the immoral couple.

The cutting back and forth, and the overlapping voice-overs between the discovery scene and R J’s interview of reprimand with President Pierce, is one of the technical highlights in the film. Chris’s angry declaration to R J that maybe R J is the bigger faggot and therefore to blame is gut-wrenchingly hurtful and spontaneously defensive, but a realistic reaction of denial in the confusion that ensues before Chris and R J are sent home in disgrace.

With Chris out of the picture, the dialogue between R J and his dad is candid and brave. It appears to be a case of like father, like son, when Elder Smith delicately hints, that he had a similar same sex attraction in his past, which he overcame (suppressed).

In the film ‘Covenant Of Grace’, Jon Garcia expertly inserts a similar conversation between R J and his dad, but, in greater detail, and it is more of a confession on the part of Elder Smith to R J. A quietly understated bonding between suppressed gay father and a confident, out, and supportive son on whom Elder Smith can rely. I wept during that moving scene, and did often, throughout the emotional roller coaster rides that comprise films two and three. Jon Garcia owes me for boxes of tissues!

Finally, the intensity created by the use of close-up and extra close-up shots throughout the film is what makes it all so special and affecting.

R J’s interview with the head of the church and his speech defending his actions is one of the most moving I have seen in a film. With his honesty; his unfaltering loyalty to Chris and his conviction that their love is pure and right, the strength of Jon Garcia’s personal message to any religious organization hits the bullseye.

“Shame on you!” states R J, accusing the church of homophobia; hammering home Jon Garcia’s message in an emotional speech that he should be proud to have written. The two main actors have the fine ability for acting naturally, believably, realistically and are perfectly cast. Most importantly: besides having become close friends in real life, Nick Ferrucci [R J] and Benjamin Farmer [Chris] have great chemistry on-screen and embody their characters effortlessly, in a connection which upholds the trilogy, in spite of the other very fine actors in the stories. The fact that the film concludes with an open ending is very reassuring and the final shot of a letter addressed from Chris to R J is the reason why R J is motivated and heading out on highway 35 to see Chris. A hopeful ending, which indicates that the lovers might be reunited, and resume their personal and spiritual journey.

Copyright © Russell Liney 2019

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