Documentary delves into a dark corner of Utah

Some documentaries focus on an interesting subject, but leave questions unanswered. Some documentaries do an excellent job thoroughly researching uninteresting subject matter. Sons of Perdition, however, is a magnificent blend of an interesting subject that is adeptly and effectively dealt with, and the end result is a thoughtful and provoking look into a captivating and horrifying corner of society.

The film, by Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten, focuses on the remarkable story of the “sons of perdition” — boys who leave their homes in the Fundamental Latter Day Saints stronghold of Colorado City (frequently referred to as the Crick or Boulder Creek).

The FLDS are a sect of Mormonism. They split from the larger church when, in 1890, mainstream Mormonism decreed that multiple marriages should be eliminated. The inhabitants of Colorado City are avid practitioners of polygamy under the supervision of prophet Warren Jeffs. The leadership and direction of the so-called prophet has markedly isolated the city. Jeffs outlawed most forms of recreation, insisting that piety and work are life’s most important virtues. Books and public schools are banned and anyone who challenges Jeffs’ authority is banished from the community, their children and wives distributed among other families.

About halfway through the documentary, Jeffs is arrested, tried and convicted of molestation and as an accomplice to rape. Yet Jeffs still retains a stranglehold over the community from prison (the sentencing has since been overturned on a technicality and he is being retried). Anyone who deviates from the strict values of the community is punished and if children misbehave or rebel, it reflects poorly on their parents’ standing and reputation in the community.

For two and a half years, the movie follows a group of teenage boys — Sam, Bruce and Joe — who have decided to leave Colorado City and abandon Mormonism. They left the Crick as a way to reject the strict indoctrination they were subjected to, or to save face for their parents, or both. They often leave with no clear idea of where they are going and no money. They abandon everything and everyone they know and community rules dictate that they will never be able to return.

The boys are totally unequipped for life outside the Crick. Most of them end up in St. George, a nearby city, floating around the floors and couches of those who left earlier or those sympathetic to their cause, dabbling with drugs, alcohol and sex.

The movie is amazing in its portrayal — not just of polygamy or Mormonism — but of the impact the isolated community has had on the development of these boys. Their educations in the Crick consisted entirely of math and religion and the boys are utterly incapable of handling the rigours and stresses of a public education.

The cinematography and production values are excellent and the filmmakers frequently manage to unobtrusively record intimate and personal events.

The film is a poignant portrayal of the effect that isolated societies and indoctrination can have on children and the direct fallout from Jeffs fascinating tyrannical rule. Estimates suggest that 400 boys have been exiled from Colorado City for disagreeing with Jeffs, acting out or dating women without permission.

Though the film does inspire questions about what can be done for Colorado City, it’s clear and dogged focus on the difficulties and struggles of the boys stands out as the most important and emotional aspect of the film. It serves to bring attention to a tiny minority that is totally unequipped for the life that most Americans take for granted.

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