8 August 2002 | Punch-3
Fascism in the name of Jesus is still fascism
It's difficult to watch Richard Dutcher's very capable and entertaining, `Brigham City,' without choking on the intended Mormon zeitgeist that permeates the story. Dutcher goes to considerable length to successfully portray Mormons as loving, decent, church-going friends and neighbors as justification for suspending constitutional rights and imposing a theocracy.
Dutcher plays Wes Clayton, Sheriff of a fictional small town in Utah called Brigham City. Clayton is also the `Bishop' for Mormons in that area, which makes him unquestionably the most influential man in town. A widower who lost his wife and only son in a traffic accident years ago, Clayton is permanently saddened by the loss. Dutcher portrays him with a kindly stoicism, a righteous man who takes both his sacred and secular responsibilities seriously.
When a young woman from California is found murdered in an old barn on the outskirts of town, Clayton calls in the FBI and washes his hands of the investigation, telling his enthusiastic young deputy that this has nothing to do with Brigham City, that it was a random act that could have happened on any number of freeway off ramps. It's something Clayton desperately wants to believe; that Brigham City is a paradise of the faithful and as a result enjoys a divine immunity from the evil `out there' in the world. His duty as both Sheriff and Bishop is to keep it that way. Unfortunately, a second body is discovered, and Clayton is forced to realize that his `Eden' has been invaded by the outside world, and his duty now requires him to get involved.
His ensuing investigation makes your skin crawl. Clayton's methodology is autocratic and fascist. His first suspicion is that the murderer must be an outsider or a `Jack Mormon;' consequently, he and his deputies hang out at the only bar in town, collecting beer bottles and glasses to dust for fingerprints, hoping for a match from the FBI database. When the town's convenience store clerk disappears, Clayton ratchets up the police state, using his authority as Bishop to order church members to go out two by two, as in their missionary days, and search every house in town, lack of a search warrant notwithstanding. When one of them objects by saying he has to be at work, Clayton responds that nothing is more important than the life of the missing girl. When one of the town members rightfully refuses to allow a search of her house, he forces his way in.
Despite deep faith, good intentions, and concern for another human life, fascism in the name of Jesus is still fascism. Clayton's heavy-handedness is precisely why the Bill of Rights exists. While `Brigham City' is a good movie in terms of characterization and story, it is also a very frightening parable about the dangers of religion, and remarkably parallels our nation's attitude and course of action in the aftermath of September 11th. Essentially, `Brigham City' is a microcosm of what the christian right ultimately envisions as America's future, and it's no place where I'd want to live.