Sex, Love, Revenge … and Atheism? Finally, a Big New Film That Shows Non-Belief in a Positive Light

“The Ledge” is smart, riveting, complex, emotionally engaging, visually gorgeous… and best of all, almost entirely unpredictable.

Ledge still A young man walks toward the ledge of a tall building. He is clearly filled with trepidation and even terror; at the same time, he has an equally clear air of purpose and resolve. That resolve: To jump.

It soon comes out that the man is an atheist. And the audience’s first thought might be, “Oh, right. Atheism — depressing, joyless, no sense of meaning or life’s value. Why wouldn’t he just kill himself?” But the story unfolds in places that are miles away from any such predictable path. Far from being depressed or joyless, the potential jumper, Gavin (Charlie Hunnam), has a singular joie de vivre. Far from having no meaning, his life is filled with compassion and intense moments of connection, both large and small. And his suicide attempt is not, as it turns out, a result of his seeing life as valueless and meaningless. It is, instead, an expression of his deep sense of how precious life is.

For reasons I can’t tell you without giving away the ending.

Ledge-poster Let’s get this out of the way right at the start: I enjoyed the heck out of “The Ledge,” and am recommending it heartily to pretty much everyone. Atheists, believers who are curious about atheists, people who just like good movies — I recommend “The Ledge” to all of you. Written and directed by Matthew Chapman (author of Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir and 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, as well as Charles Darwin’s great-grandson), “The Ledge” is smart, riveting, complex, emotionally engaging, visually gorgeous… and best of all, almost entirely unpredictable. Its characters are, well, human — likable, aggravating, tough, loving, damaged — and the story is unpredictable in exactly the ways that human beings are unpredictable. It’s not a perfect film — I’ll get to that in a tic — but its imperfections are ten times more compelling than most of the boilerplate crap regularly churned out by the Hollywood machinery.


Thus begins my review for AlterNet of the new atheist feature film, “The Ledge”: Sex, Love, Revenge … and Atheism? Finally, a Big New Film That Shows Non-Belief in a Positive Light. To find out more about what made this movie so compelling, what made it flawed, and whether I think it really is atheism’s “Brokeback Mountain” (as its producers have been pitching it), read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


  1. Margo K. says

    “This movie is not available in your geographic location.” – SundanceNow
    Oh well, since I don’t expect it to come to a local theater, I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD to see it. Since you say the unpredictablility is one of the good things about the film, I don’t even want to read the review (even if you are careful about spoilers) until I’ve seen it.

  2. Julanar says

    Your next post should be on the article right next to yours called “5 Things Atheists Have Wrong About Religion.”

  3. says

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, this is a good one. I tell everyone that “The Ledge” is our effectively dramatic and thrilling yet imperfect atheist propaganda to “The Invention of Lying” as our effectively comedic yet flawed atheist propaganda.
    2. Off-topic, but I’ll second Julanar’s statement above; I also admit to a selfish desire to see you spank Be Scofield’s “5 Myths” article, even if PZ has already done so.

  4. says

    I’ve begun to wonder if suicide – choosing the time and manner of our deaths – is the only possible 100% certain expression of free will that we are capable of.
    Everything we do to ensure our continued existance and breeding potention could be just carrying out the genetic programming, or conformity to social norms and behaviours.
    But, acts that are not in our self interest – to risk our lives to rescue someone who isn’t related to us, to march into a war that is not of our personal making, to face death and then embrace it or choose life
    seems to be the only true expression that demonstrates free will

  5. Saffron says

    “The sad sex work particularly got up my nose. . .”. Oh all these stereotypes, as you call them! Because we know that prostitutes never get attacked in real life, don’t we?
    Face reality as it is libertines/libertarians–not as you want it to be.

  6. says

    Oh all these stereotypes, as you call them! Because we know that prostitutes never get attacked in real life, don’t we?

    Saffron, I think you may misunderstand what a “stereotype” is. A stereotype isn’t something that is sometimes the case, and that people think is sometimes the case. A stereotype isn’t something that is sometimes the case, and that people think is usually or always the case. It is, for instance, not a stereotype to think that women are sometimes not good at math. It is a stereotype to think that women are never, or almost never, good at math.
    Similarly with sex work. Yes, some sex workers go into the business out of economic desperation or emotional damage, and sex workers sometimes get attacked. But the popular belief about sex work is that this is always the case, or almost always. And media depictions of sex work almost always depict it this way. Thus, it’s a stereotype. Especially when it’s not the central story, explored in a nuanced way, but is instead a throwaway plot device that isn’t necessary.
    And if you think I’m a libertarian, you haven’t been reading my blog very carefully.

  7. says

    I just read an interview with Liv Tyler where she discussed the film and I immediately went home to watch the trailer. It looks pretty awesome and I was glad to see the atheist portrayed in a positive light.
    Thanks for the review – I will definitely have to get out and see it!!

  8. says

    As an atheist, I was disappointed as I watched the trailer, and I do not see how portraying an atheist as an adulterous sinner who lures a “a good Christian woman” into sin (in the eyes of Christians that watch this film) does anything positive to promote atheism. Christians already view atheists as heathens with no moral values, and all this film will do is confirm their suspicions. What this film also illustrates, is how insidious Christian dogma is in society, as even those that are not Christian fall into the trap of believing they are “born sinners” who can’t help but to “sin.” In this case, it is the atheist who “can’t help himself” from having an affair with his neighbor’s wife, and she, as a “born sinner” cannot help herself either. The truth is however, that it is all just a matter of choice. The atheist could have chosen not to have an affair–and so could the Christian.
    I could think of a thousand plot lines in which an atheist could be the hero without being a “sinner” in the minds of Christians. ( I do not believe in sin, but there is such a thing as right and wrong, and I believe in taking responsibility for my own actions.) How sad—that this was the best they could do.

  9. Kenny says

    If you haven’t seen it, DON’T watch the trailer!, lest the reason for his attempted suicide is completely obvious. It’s very unfortunate that they give away too much in trailers. I made that mistake, and now I *know* why he’s on the ledge, and can pretty much figure out how it ends. Unless there’s more to it than what they’ve already given away…?

  10. says

    As the director of this film I’d like to comment briefly on the above two comments, both of which seem to be based on watching the trailer rather than the film (which is available On Demand and from iTunes, by the way.) First of all, I had nothing to do with the trailer, it is not an accurate reflection of the film, and I totally agree it gives too much away. However, your guesses as to how it all unfolds may well be wrong… Secondly, Yes, the atheist is outspoken, angry, and imperfect – wounded, I would rather say, or perhaps human. The Fundamentalist is also imperfect – and wounded (and human). The worst thing I could have done would have been to portray the atheist as perfect in contrast. This would have been obvious propaganda, not a movie. What I wanted was two men at starkly opposite ends of the spectrum and I wanted them both to be flawed. I did actually start to write a film about the conflict between a sweet, mild-mannered sexless agnostic and a loving, charitable Unitarian in a happy marriage, but the fifth time I fell asleep and crashed face forward into my computer I decided to change direction before I lost some teeth.

  11. Doug Kirk says

    @Matthew Chapman
    I was on the fence about going to the theatre or renting your movie, but after that comment I wouldn’t feel right waiting it out.
    If it does well enough to hit theatres anywhere near Grand Rapids, MI I’ll be there.

  12. Joe Rivera says

    Ever since I watched the movie..”The Invention of Lying”, I knew that we would finally begin to see more movies, dealing with atheists in real-life situations. I congratulate Matthew Chapman and his team, in putting “The Ledge” together. We desperately need more movies like this one to show the whole world that atheists are intelligent, rational, and realistic human beings, after all.

  13. says

    I have just watched this movie and have promised to write a mini review for a Facebook page I administer and am finding it extremely difficult not to simply link to your review!

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