The Falls: A Testament of Love, the sequel to the film about two young missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who fall in love with each other, is a bolder and far more mature piece than its 2012 predecessor, The Falls.
At the beginning of this film, Nick Ferrucci as R.J. narrates: “When I made love to him, I dwelt in the mystery of our oneness. … It was a feeling so spiritual.”
Jon Garcia, who was the writer and director for both movies, said, “In the first film, there was this sort of innocence about it. … These two boys were on a mission, and we kept it pretty tame because I thought ‘maybe it’ll have an LDS audience’ — and I know some saw that film and thought highly of it — but I don’t think that was my primary audience here.”
During the film’s brief prologue, we learn what happened to the men after their mission and R.J.’s excommunication hearing. Although R.J. was immediately sent home, his missionary companion, Chris (Benjamin Farmer), was allowed to stay. Nonetheless, they reunited afterward for a trip across America.
“We had the time of our lives,” reports R.J. “For a few months, it was just Chris and R.J.… We had no obligations and no pressure from our families or the church. On our own and loving every minute of it!”
Now, however, R.J. lives in Seattle and works for a magazine, and Chris is living the life of a committed family man and elder in his church, having met and married Emily. He had assured his local church official: “This phase of same-sex attraction is over. I am much stronger now.”
Life has seemed to move on for the two. But then they each receive word of the death of their mutual friend Rodney. He, as those who saw the first film may recollect, was the only one who accepted them without judgment, encouraging them to follow their hearts.
After the funeral, R.J. asks Chris out to catch up, and although Chris initially resists the idea of re-establishing contact (his body language shows the wall he’s trying to put up), he reluctantly agrees.
When asked why he cut R.J. out of his life, Chris snaps, “R.J., I am married and I am living honorably!” He wields the phrase like a weapon aimed at his former lover’s soul and integrity.
But Chris’ “honorable life” has left him sad and resigned — and living instead more a faint outline of a life. It takes an encounter with another so-called happily married couple (who are in a mixed-orientation marriage that the church endures for the obedient way the couple is living) to shock Chris into acknowledging the reality of his own situation.
“I’m sorry for how I treated you,” he at last confesses to R.J. “I truly loved all the time we spent together, but once I returned home, I felt my father’s shadow and his position in the high authority looming over me like a cloud.” Then we discover that he was sent to reparative therapy.
“There’s nothing wrong with us,” R.J. responds. “We’re just victims of a culture that doesn’t accept us!”
Garcia and company exquisitely capture the young protagonists’ inner turmoil of being with one person while desperately wanting to be with another.
“I enjoyed the research part of it,” Garcia said. Part of that research was meeting with a number of gay men from Affirmations, the organization for former and presently practicing LGBT members and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I spoke to a lot of them, and they told me their stories of their missions and of their coming out, and it was very inspiring.”
One such heartening moment occurs in the film when Chris’ father, Noah (Bruce Jennings), calls R.J’s dad, Tom (Harold Phillips), who was so judgmental in the first film. Here, though, Tom stands up and defends his boy. “I’m proud of my son,” he says. “R.J. has been on a very powerful journey to come to terms with who he is. … Now you and your family have to begin yours.”
Adding immensely to the film’s emotional authenticity, Hannah Barefoot, as Emily, gives a performance of honesty and understated dignity.
Compared to the first movie, Garcia said, this one shows “a lot more skin.” The brief bits of nudity include Chris’ shower scene and our heroes making love. “I felt these boys aren’t missionaries any more — they’re men, and so for them, having not seen each other in five years, there would need to be that burst of passion. And so that element found its way into the film.”
It was something everyone involved was ready for. “It’s a very bold decision to take off your clothes, and Ben [Farmer> was very courageous in that effort. There was nothing gratuitous about it,” Garcia said.
But perhaps even stronger than any nude scene or depiction of sexuality is the moment when R.J. takes his temple garment and cuts out the symbols woven into the fabric, making a potent statement about his renouncement of everything he knew and was comfortable with.