Do not read this post if you have yet to enjoy The Ledge. Seriously, turn back now. Here are several helpful links which paint this film as a pro-atheist masterpiece. Click on those, then go watch the show.
Still here? Not to be reflexively contrarian, but I think that after thoroughly enjoying this well-executed and suspenseful thriller, we should take a moment to ponder the following: Does this movie tend to reinforce some of the worst stereotypes which are laid on us unbelievers in America?
Atheists are often portrayed as arrogant and caustic, ever ready to take the slightest excuse to passionately attack any expression of religious faith. Granted, I’m exactly like that myself, but then I’m pretty much of an all-around asshole, as my few friends will happily confirm. I’ve noticed, however, that most of my comrades at the local freethought group don’t take nearly such a combative approach. Unlike me, they are frequently fairly friendly, even in the face of faith-based foolishness. I suppose one could make the argument that the protagonist was in this movie was goaded by unsolicited expressions of homophobia, but the viewer gets the sense that he is pretty much always like this.
We unbelievers are thought of by theistic moralists as sexually unrestrained, indifferent to the sanctity of marriage and the Golden Rule. The protagonist perfectly demonstrates all of these unpleasant qualities by deliberately seducing his neighbor’s wife, in precisely the same way that his wife had been seduced away from him – screwing unto others as he had been screwed, rather than doing unto them as he would be done by.
We are also thought of as Nietzschean, arrogant, and selfish. While this might be true of the hard-core Ayn-Randroids, it is not true of the vast majority of us. The protagonist of this movie, however, acts in the spirit of a Randian leading man, taking charge in every situation and even pressuring one of his subordinates (whom he had brought on and could presumably let go) to into a sexual relationship. There is a reason people get sacked for this sort of behavior nowadays, especially when they don’t prove invariably irresistible to the opposite sex. Had the male lead looked less like Charlie Hunnam and more like the bosses I've known, we might have instantly realized just how creepy his unsolicited come-ons really were.
What just kills me about all this seductive nonsense is that none of it was essential to the plot line. The male and female leads could have fallen in love simply by spending too much innocent time together and not ever realizing their inner feelings until they were mutually overwhelmed. Granted, that’s a bit of a trope, but then the scheming seduction of a submissive female by a dominant male is even more overused and timeworn, as tropes go.
Speaking of submissive females, can I grouse about Liv Tyler’s character for just a moment? She doesn’t seem to have an independent thought in her head. She goes from being told what to do by her crippling addiction, to being told what to do by her pimp, to being told what to do by her church and her husband, to being told what to do by her godless boss and eventual lover. At no time does she take a stand against the flow of events as they pour over her. No wonder she talks to goddamn softly the whole time. I’ve never met a woman quite like this character in the real world, and with any luck I never will.
To sum up, insufferably arrogant and inordinately sexy atheist man seduces unbelievably submissive and similarly sexy Christian woman. Psychopathic jealous husband takes Old Testament commands to heart and does what comes naturally. In the end, everyone gets that which they should have seen coming, and we can all go home happy, with most of our worst stereotypes about men, women, atheists, and Christians more-or-less intact.