As part of my movie watching for TGGeeks I’ve decided to take a look at the second of a trilogy of films for the LGBTQ community that has probably flown under most people’s radar, and the film I’m going to examine is The Falls: Testament of Love.
It’s been 5 years since we last saw RJ Smith and Chris Merrill. While RJ was sent home from his mission and dishonorably discharged, Chris Merrill stayed on his (because his father is on the Quorum of 12 Apostles, one of the highest governing bodies of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). However, once Chris’ time on the mission ended (he only had a short time left during their encounter depicted in The Falls), RJ picked up Chris and they happily took a lengthy road trip across parts of the US before returning to their respective homes. Much has happened in the 5 years since they were together. RJ moved to Seattle, took a job as Arts and Culture editor for a magazine, and even wrote a couple of books. While not presently active in the church he still wears his temple garments, prays and continues his belief in the truthfulness of the Gospel as taught by the church. Apparently he has never been formerly ex-communicated, and in the 5 years that have passed he never heard from Chris.
On the other hand, Chris chose to repent of the temptation that caused his fall in the eyes of the church. He has worked hard, prayed, and now has even become married and sealed in the church temple to his wife. Together they even now have a daughter that they both love. Basically, Chris wants nothing to do with RJ or to even look back at that time on his mission. For the most part he is successful until he receives a message that someone he knew, a man named Rodney, the pot-smoking friend that he and RJ met during their mission, has died. Out of respect Chris travels to be there for Rodney’s funeral. RJ is also there for he too received the same message about Rodney’s passing. Unfortunately for RJ this awakens some unresolved feelings regarding Chris.
From the start the movie picks up with the same narrative approach as The Falls with Nick Ferrucci providing the narration as RJ as he catches the viewer up from where they left off up to the present. At that point the point of view radically shifts from being a recollection on RJ’s part to just a standard “third-person” story, which is necessary given that RJ and Chris don’t share any scenes for much of the movie. The upside to this is that, as much as The Falls was RJ’s story, Testament of Love is really about Chris’ journey since coming home from his mission. What writer/director Jon Garcia is giving us is a character that feels compelled to bury who he really is in order to satisfy his family and religion. It shows what can happen to some gay men when forced to deny who and what they are all in the name of conformity and perceived religious beliefs. Ben Farmer, as Chris Merrill, does an absolutely magnificent job in showing this slow erosion of resolve. From the very beginning we see him proclaim how he is much stronger in his faith, which is an image he continually strives to project when he marries and when he and his wife work on raising their daughter. It’s when he meets RJ again that Farmer shows Chris’ strength begin to wobble, and throughout the course of the film he shows a variety of conflicting emotions, which at times, almost creates moments of rage and frustration.
However, this film isn’t entirely about Chris’ journey, as RJ has his own path he has to travel. He has managed to compartmentalize aspects of the church’s belief system while still his life as an openly gay man who is also in a relationship. Again, Ferrucci gives some amazing performances has he arrives at different points of acceptance in finally trying to reconcile his spirituality with his sexuality, until he too has his moment of rage and performs a personal act that shows him finally making a move to leave a belief system that he feels he can’t live with. It’s as if Chris and RJ on individual journeys, as if each of their paths were being traced along the outside of an egg, and when they meet they are almost at the part of the egg where they will be furthest apart, only to finally reach a point where their paths will naturally join up again. Once more, what makes this so effectively powerful are the acting chops of both Farmer and Ferrucci. Their individual scenes are absolutely amazing, but every time the story brings them together we see an acting chemistry that can only be described as magnificent. There are some actors who are described as being able to “chew the scenery.” I would not say that with either of these actors. They OWN the scenery. From quick moments of almost comedic frustration on RJ’s part, followed by a deep sense of pain and longing from Chris, both Farmer and Ferrucci are equally at the top of their game. They make the drama all about them, but never at the expense of the point the story is trying to make. I regard this as economical filmmaking at its finest. Nothing is wasted when these two are on the screen together, where outstanding character development and chemistry can also propel a storyline equally well.
There are others in this film and they are all just as strong in their roles, most notably Hannah Barefoot as Chris’ wife Emily and Bruce Jennings as Chris’ father, Noah. Playing the wife who loses her man to another man is a tricky performance to pull off, but Barefoot does it with all the perfect emotional nuances and beats that create a sense of truthfulness to what Emily is experiencing. Then there is Jennings as the grief stricken father. Noah places much of his own personal success and value in God’s eyes on the well being of Chris, and when that fails due to Chris admitting that he’s a gay man we see Noah completely crumble. It’s not a question of whether Noah’s feelings are correct or not. For him they are perfectly valid, and Jennings’ displays that with 100% conviction, even to the moment when he sobs with a broken heart on his son’s shoulder.
Nonetheless, this movie is more about Chris, so as much as Ferrucci was able to deliver some award winning quality acting both here and inThe Falls, this movie finally lets Farmer loose, and it is nothing less than masterful. One scene in particular sees Chris in his bathroom crying, and everything about that performance is perfection. It is so well done that it will practically pull the viewer through the screen and into the scene.
As much as The Falls managed to re-open old wounds from my time as a Mormon Missionary for the church, Testament of Love has given me the opportunity to look at my life since that time. I see my life as partially mirroring RJ’s, while the other missionary I was attracted to (that I mentioned in the review for The Falls) partially mirror Chris’ journey. This movie did manage to provide some element of healing, but still managed to leave me feeling emotionally raw inside. Jon Garcia has once again managed to write a very important story that addresses a very specific slice of the LDS population, and it’s a story that needs to be told. It goes beyond the idea of what two male missionaries with feelings of same-sex attraction of endure. This deals with consequences, and the damage that can take place within a person, or even a family, because of those consequences.
There are scenes of intimate relations between RJ and Chris (it never gets beyond what some might consider to be “R” rated), as well as one scene of full frontal nudity, and such scenes might be offensive to some viewers. As for the rest, The Falls: Testament of Love is a magnificent look at repression and denial, and the damage it can cause, not just on the individual in question, but on others as well. Nick Ferrucci and Ben Farmer are both absolutely amazing in this film, and it deserves to be classified as among the finest in LGBTQ cinema.