Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
Actually, it's possible that the filmmaker might not be entirely comfortable with the label "LDS cinema," but since I saw this short as part of the LDS Film Festival (in Provo, Utah), I will never be able to think of this film as anything but. Which is not to disparage the film. On the contrary: I find this short exciting precisely because it shows what a new generation of LDS filmmakers may be capable of. So much of the material LDS filmmakers have been churning out lately has been either (a) efforts to import Hollywood conventions into the Mormon world, creating a parallel entertainment industry for LDS folks who want to see family-friendly films about people like themselves, or (b) efforts to export Mormon stories into the mainstream, often with a muted--or, in the case of "The Book of Mormon Movie," not so muted--missionary agenda. "The Promethean" avoids this import-export dynamic. Instead, "The Promethean" seeks to engage in ongoing philosophical and artistic conversations from a perspective that is distinctively, but not self-consciously or uniquely, LDS.
Precisely for that reason, LDS audiences may not know what to make of this film. This film isn't really intended for the kind of suburban Utah audience who's been the target of most LDS films, from "God's Army," to "Out of Step," to "The RM," to "Pride and Prejudice." "The Promethean" tries to be "arthouse." There's a certain awkwardness about the attempt--like the filmmaker's trying a little too hard to convince us that, yes, an LDS film can be hip enough even for a facial-haired, body-pierced, coffee-drinking, Sundance-type crowd. But chalk that up to a novice's insecurity (and maybe too many years living in the Mormon corridor). The film is intellectually engaging and a welcome change of pace from the schmaltz of "A Pioneer Miracle" or the heavy-handedness of "Rain," both of which it justly beat out in competition.
"The Promethean" is an allegory, loosely inspired by Greek mythology and set in an anonymous contemporary urban landscape. Every day, Prometheus is intercepted by hit men in Greek masks, condemned to death in the presence of Zeus, and shot. The next day, he returns to life, and it all starts over again. Yes, you saw this in "Groundhog Day," but "The Promethean" aspires--successfully--to the philosophical gravitas of "Memento." The theme here is freedom of the will . . . and it's at this point that we see an LDS influence at work. Prometheus must claim his freedom (his agency, in LDS parlance), even if this means the gods must die. The film reminded me of the Mormon take on the Eden myth, which sees the eating of the forbidden fruit not as damnable but as a necessary, albeit dangerous, step forward in human development. "The Promethean" uses a different myth to tell much the same story: as Eve must violate God's prohibition in order to progress, so Prometheus must take drastic measures to free himself from the god who holds him captive. It's a distinctively, but not uniquely, LDS take on a philosophical issue of interest beyond Mormon circles. If LDS filmmakers aspire to make distinctive contributions to the film canon, "The Promethean" would be a good model to build on.
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