We are currently in the midst of what many are calling a “renaissance” of Mormon film, with films such as Meet the Mormons, Freetown, and The Cokeville Miracle redefining the genre within the last year alone. Now, a powerful Mormon Message has been transformed into a new major motion picture about forgiveness and relying on the grace of Christ, Just Let Go.
On February 9, 2007, Chris Williams and his family were driving when they were hit by a drunk teenage driver. Killed in the accident was Chris’ pregnant wife Michelle, his second oldest son Benjamin, and his only daughter, Anna.
Three months later, Christopher Clark and Patrick Parker interviewed Chris and a new relationship was sparked. When Chris called to see whatever happened to the interview footage a few years later, Clark and Parker asked Chris if he would be willing to share his story with the world as Mormon Message.
Forgiveness: My Burden Was Made Light was uploaded onto Mormon Channel on July 28, 2010. Today, it has over 800,000 views. When the filmmakers began looking for a story to tell as a full-length movie, they realized the potential of their original Mormon Message.
“It wasn’t till we started focusing less on what story would be COOL to tell and what story would do the most good that we realized we had Chris’s story right in front of us. Chris had actually called us and told us he would love to do a follow up piece on his Mormon Message, being that his perspective on the accident and the experience had deepened over time. We met at lunch, and this was about the same time Chris’s book had come out, LET IT GO – and we all came to the conclusion at that lunch that his story was so compelling that it needed to be told in a cinematic form,” said Clark, who co-wrote and directed Just Let Go alongside Parker.
In a Facebook post, Chris shard why he wanted Just Let Go to be made.
“My desire for this movie has been to invite those who need to forgive or be forgiven to just let go of what is holding them back and be healed, just as I and my family have been healed by turning to our faith in Christ.”
Just Let Go, released earlier this month, follows the aftermath of the accident as Chris struggled to forgive the young teenager who caused it.
“We took more from his journal and personal interviews than his book,” said Clark. “We wanted to get behind the press conferences and see behind closed doors what it was like to live through this, and everything you see in the film, Chris experienced! It was not an easy thing. He felt pain, he felt anger, he felt resentment. He sometimes wanted to end his life! Those thoughts came to him, but he overcame through Christ, through clinging to faith, clinging to forgiveness, and ultimately he was healed as he pressed forward with his commitment to ‘just let go.’”
The raw emotion of filming such a story has been a powerful experience for all involved. Not only did the filmmakers face the challenges of making an independent film, but they were also determined to find a way to stay true to their vision for the story, no matter their budget. Still, there were plenty of experiences that uplifted the entire cast and crew. One experience revolved around the film’s star, Henry Ian Cusick.
“Chris, shortly after the accident occurred, would try and escape life by watching the television show LOST, and in that show he fell in love the the character Desmond Hume in the show and his distant relationship with his love interest Penny. The show was therapeutic for him, and that relationship deeply reminded him of his relationship with his wife Michelle. Flash forward seven years later to us casting Just Let Go. Patrick and I felt drawn to Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond) because we felt he had the emotional complexity and acting restraint to pull this character off. We had no idea Chris had found solace and a comfort in a sense through his character in LOST, so when we told Chris who we had cast he laughed at first thinking we had cast the bald guy in LOST, Terry O’Quinn (Locke). Then when we told him it was Desmond, he was speechless! It was meant to be!”
While the film has religious undertones, many movie-goers were surprised to see a lack of LDS culture in the film with many members of the Church criticising the film because of it.
“So many LDS members who know the story will be surprised that he [Chris] is portrayed as a preacher, and religion plays a minor role in this film, although you can sense that Chris is a man of deep faith in the film. The film has been well received by all sorts of people, Christians, Spiritualists, Secularists, many are connecting with the human story found in Chris’ journey. It surprised me how many Mormons were upset by this, thinking we had cheated the story, as if Mormons own the principle of forgiveness and the divine grace that attends the soul who practices it,” said Clark.
Chris shared his own reaction to the criticism on social media.
“Some who have seen the movie wish it was truer to my calling at the time of the crash as a Bishop (a lay minister in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). After permission was denied to film at an LDS chapel, I suggested that the intertwined details of my stewardship as a Bishop were not as important to depict as the universal and desperately needed themes of forgiveness, hope and healing.”
Just Let Go is currently playing in select Utah theaters. You can learn more about how to see the film here at their official website. All involved in the film stressed the importance of seeing the film in theaters soon if there is any hope of it traveling outside Utah.
“We need our Utah friends that believe in powerful stories to see the film this weekend in all the major theaters in Utah. It is so important for the film to continue to have a life and make it to other areas. Vote with your attendance,” said Clark.
When asked what they hoped audiences would take away from the film, Clark and Parker said, “You cannot forgive on your own. It transcends human nature. It requires a divinely appointed principle to be applied, and when forgiveness is acted upon in faith, the grace of Christ intervenes and helps.”