Sons of Perdition
Exiled boys from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have been making news and showing up on the pop culture radar for a while. From John Krakauer’s exposé Under the Banner of Heaven and HBO polygamist drama Big Love to the conviction of former FLDS sect leader Warren Jeffs for accomplice rape last year, extremist Mormon sects are becoming increasingly well known outside of the regions they dominate and beyond the realm of religious scholars and the excommunicated.
Sons of Perdition—named for a verse in the New Testament referring to traitor Judas Iscariot, as well as the LDS Church belief that anyone who leaves the church will be unable to receive the glory of God in the afterlife and suffer eternal punishment—follows, with unprecedented access, former FLDS youth from Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona as they navigate the larger world post-expulsion. In many cases, young people are desperate to leave the compounds—colloquially “the Crick”—where they grew up with multiple mothers and dozens of siblings. But knowing what you don’t want doesn’t mean you’ll be prepared for life beyond indoctrination.
The film profiles several religious refugees from the Crick in St. George, Utah, about thirty minutes from the compound, where many exiles live in group houses and tiny apartments as they try to navigate the bizarre world beyond their sheltered, faith-infused lives. In these extraordinary circumstances, it is possible to see just how great a distance thirty miles can be. St. George, where most of the youth set up camp, is where Warren Jeffs’ trial took place. For the exiles and allies living there, while they are often still connected to home, trying to help siblings and mothers escape their abusive lives, it is also a world totally removed from everything they have ever known.
Most of the youth have never attended proper school, only taught math and religion on the compound. At seventeen, Joe has never seen a comic book, can barely read, and so genuinely confused about world history, he mixes up the names of Bill Clinton and Adolph Hitler. Joe’s sister doesn’t know the name or location of the nation’s capitol. Bruce, who is fifteen, is genuinely amazed to discover that Catholics believe in Jesus. All of them believe that by leaving the Crick, they will go to hell when they die.
Young women, a commodity in polygamous sects, seemingly fare a bit better as they’re less likely to be exiled. But, that doesn’t mean their struggles are any less difficult in other ways. Many of the girls have been married off as early as thirteen and have children to bring along—or in the case of Joe’s twenty-four-year-old sister Sabrina, her four children were left behind. Trying to escape with too many young ones in tow simply isn’t feasible. At one point, after trying to help their mother run away several times, Sam calls his own father’s actions—continually impregnating his wives, forcing them to stay with him and their children on the compound—“modern day slavery.”
If the boys have coming-of-age rituals to emphasize their freedom—drinking, drug use, trying to get into public school to meet hot girls—the girls have their own rites of passage; namely, having their long hair cut and styled at the mall and casting off their floor-length skirts in favor of pants. A sympathetic couple that takes in many of the ex-FLDS youth frowns on delinquent behavior, ultimately forcing the young people to find their own way. This is the only part of the film that feels truly cruel on the other side of emancipation; it’s tough enough for Sam, Bruce, Joe, Sabrina, and their friends to cope with turning their backs on all they’ve ever known. To be doubly turned away from their second chance at a family and home life seems strangely intolerant and shameful.
For people unfamiliar with extremist sects and fervent religious believers—anyone, for example, who found Jesus Camp to be shocking rather than a bit obvious—Sons of Perdition will amaze and startle you. Whether or not you’re knowledgeable about the ways the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints enslave women and pit boys against men before casting them out forever, this educational film will break your heart.