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Film / The Ledge

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"One life. One choice. One step."

The Ledge is a 2011 American drama film written and directed by Matthew Chapman and starring Charlie Hunnam, Terrence Howard, Liv Tyler, and Patrick Wilson.

Experienced cop Hollis Lucetti (Howard) is having a really, really bad day. First he finds out that he's sterile — so his two kids can't possibly be his own. And then there's Gavin Nichols (Hunnam), who is standing on a ledge, preparing himself to jump to his death. It seems like Gavin doesn't really want to die, but believes that someone else will die if he doesn't jump.

The situation is quickly revealed to be about a Love Triangle. Two men, one woman, and it seems likely that at least one of the three is insane. Gavin and Joe are fighting over Shana (Tyler). Gavin is her employer and also an atheist, Joe (Wilson) is her husband and also an evangelical Christian. But is their conflict really about the woman, or is it about their clashing beliefs?

The story is mostly a psychological drama with heavy focus on philosophy. Especially the interaction between worldview and self-image. The film also has an obvious thriller element, although this is a far smaller part of the story than the second scene would have the audience believe.

Because of its themes, the film was heavily promoted as one of the first in which the hero is an atheist which doesn't fit with the existing preconceptions of atheists in fiction.

Not to be confused with Man on a Ledge or Stephen King's short story.

Has examples of:

  • Activist-Fundamentalist Antics: Taken to a very deadly level as Gavin is about to "die for his beliefs".
  • Affably Evil: Joe, other than being a fundamentalist Christian and some Condescending Compassion, is shown at first as being a very nice, affable and easy-going fellow... except when he loses his patience when debating religion. Then, after discovering his wife's affair, he goes off the deep end.
  • Author Tract: Pre-release marketing touted this film as atheist-friendly, since it was going to be one of the few movies to have an openly atheist hero that averted the Hollywood Atheist trope; also the director, Matthew Chapman, is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Living in his own personal world of strictly black and white morality, Joe has a life that is very good but also very fragile. When reality doesn't conform to his over-simplified world-view, everything crumbles.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Shana explains that the reason she fell in love with Joe was because he took care of her and saved her from her lifestyle of drugs and prostitution to pay for it when nobody else would.
  • Bondage Is Bad: One of the problems in the marriage between Joe and Shana is his desire to dominate her sexually. This desire for dominance is definitely not discussed in terms of Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Once he kidnaps his wife, his first priority is to get her Bound and Gagged. Naked, of course. The camera angles are very modest about this: the fetish fuel is for Joe only, not for the audience.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Shana at the end of the film.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Joe, he is the fundamentalist Christian in a pro-atheist film.
  • Crapsack World: Joe argues that the world is a crapsack, but his argument is quite egocentric. It's all about him having made bad choices in his life and living a shitty life until he found Christ.
  • Damsel in Distress: Shana was rescued from her self-destructive lifestyle by Joe prior to the events of the movie. In the climax she has to be rescued FROM Joe.
  • Death Is Cheap: Discussed. Joe claims to be brave on the basis that he will go to heaven when he dies, so that death doesn't really cost him anything. Gavin doesn't think that this is really brave at all; that it would be braver for someone like him who doesn't believe there's an afterlife to risk his life.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: After Joe expresses pity for Gavin's "empty life without God", Gavin decides to sabotage Joe and Shana's marriage.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Gavin does not take kindly to Joe worrying about Gavin living an empty life without God and ending up in hell.
  • Downer Beginning: Hollis finding out that he is sterile, meaning that he is not the real father of his children, and that he must now try to talk Gavin out of suicide.
  • Driven to Madness: Joe, mostly because of Gavin's actions.
  • Egocentrically Religious: With Shana, it's merely that the nature of the universe conforms to her personal emotional needs. Joe takes things several steps further. The universe he lives in revolves around himself and his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Entitled to Have You: Gavin sees himself as Shana's appointed savior from an oppressive life.
  • The Fundamentalist: Gavin doesn't see Joe as having much personality beyond this trope. Shana does, however.
  • God Is Evil: Discussed by Gavin.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: The film attempts to portray Gavin and Shana's affair as a case of Good Adultery. Keyword being "attempts".
  • The Hero Dies: Gavin kills himself in order to save Shana from Joe’s ultimatum.
  • Heroic Suicide: It turns out this Gavin's motivation be up on the eponymous ledge. He's been blackmailed by Joe into killing himself, in return for Shana living. In the end, he does.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted with Gavin, as mentioned above. He did suffer a great loss, but it isn't shown as having led him to his atheism.
  • Homosocial Heterosexuality: It's really all about Gavin and Joe.
  • How We Got Here: The movie starts with Gavin climbing onto the ledge and Hollis trying to convince him to step down. Gavin then starts telling Hollis the story of the love triangle.
  • Lover's Ledge: Twisted in a very cruel way. The choice of place for Gavin's upcoming death is no accident.
  • Love Triangle: Gavin and Joe fighting over Shana.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gavin straight out admits (and is shown) using emotional manipulation on Shana in order to make her fall for him.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Gavin, when Joe assumes that he is in a gay relationship with his roommate.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Yeah Gavin, nice job ruining the life of Shana in the end, in which she ends up all alone, with her marriage destroyed and her husband in jail. Although, all this cost you was your own life...
  • Prayer of Malice: This is how Gavin interprets Joe's prayer for gay people. And that's how their conflict gets started: Joe mistakes Gavin for being gay, and Gavin reasserts his identity as a non-homophobic heterosexual by deciding that Shana is too good for Joe.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Gavin's actions of deliberately destroying Joe and Shana's marriage (who were not doing anything wrong other than the husband's disapproval of atheism and gays) was based only on his idea of becoming Shana's "savior".
  • Poor Communication Kills: Lampshaded by Hollis: if Gavin had just told him about the reason he was on the ledge from the beginning, he would have been able to inform the other police and stop Joe.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Gavin kills himself to save Shana’s life, Joe goes to jail for his crimes, and Shana is deprived of the two most important people in her life, making it likely that she’ll go back to her old life of prostitution and drugs. Nice job “saving” her, Gav.
  • Take That!: The opening shot shows a cross with a polluting oil refinery in the background. Bonus points for revealing that Joe works in the refinery.
  • The Presents Were Never from Santa: Gavin argues that Shana's inner strengths and weaknesses come from herself, not from God or the Devil.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: In his past, Joe was led into the temptation of self-destructive and abusive sexual behavior.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Joe starts acting unhinged only when he realizes that his wife Shana has been cheating on him with Gavin.