The Ledge is a good example of what happens when a story is made to fit the Procrustean bed of a preconceived philosophical dilemma. Actually, make that a preconceived sophomoric philosophical dilemma. The result is that characters in this movie find themselves in situations that would never really happen, and even if they did, they do things that no one would ever do, and even if someone was dumb enough to do these things, we wouldn’t care, because no one cares what happens to people that stupid.
The movie has two plots, and the principal characters of each intersect on the ledge of a skyscraper, where one man, Gavin, is about to jump, and another man, Hollis, is a detective trying to talk him out of it. The movie begins with the Hollis-plot. Hollis goes to a fertility clinic to donate some sperm, whereupon he finds out that he is sterile owing to a genetic defect, and has been so all his life. This means that the two children his wife had were not his. As we find out through subsequent scenes interspersed with the Gavin-plot, Hollis and his wife were wondering why they could not have children. So, they went to a fertility clinic to be tested. His wife Angela went by herself to get the results, at which point she found out that Hollis was sterile.
Get ready for some unbelievable stupidity. First, Angela did not tell Hollis, because she was afraid she would lose him. In other words, we are to believe that she thought that once he found out that he was sterile, he would no longer love her. All I can say is that any man who would stop loving his wife because he found out that he was sterile is a husband worth being rid of. But the whole thing is preposterous. Couples go to fertility clinics all the time, and when one of them turns out to be infertile, they have all sorts of choices available to them, such as adoption, surrogate mothers, or in vitro fertilization, but divorce is not usually one of them.
Second, if you can get past that, here is another stupidity. Angela decided to have children anyway, and to make sure they looked like Hollis, she decided that Hollis’s brother should be the father. So, she had Hollis’s brother go to the fertility clinic to be tested to see if he has the same genetic defect, right? And when it turned out that he was fertile, she had him donate sperm so that she could be artificially inseminated, right? Wrong! She had an adulterous affair with Hollis’s brother until she got pregnant. And that worked out so well that when she was ready to have a second child, she started having sex with him again.
All right, let’s move on to the Gavin-plot. Gavin hires Shana at the hotel he manages. She and her husband Joe just happen to live on the same floor of a nearby apartment. Joe is a Christian fundamentalist to an absurd degree, whereas Gavin is an atheist. Joe finds out that Gavin and Shana are having an affair. He calls Gavin on the phone and tells him that either Gavin or Shana must die for having committed adultery. If Gavin does not jump off the ledge of the skyscraper by noon, Joe will shoot Shana. Joe says he has the courage to die for his beliefs. This test will determine whether Gavin has the courage to die for his beliefs. Actually, if he jumps, Gavin will not be dying for his beliefs, but to save the life of the woman he loves. But by this point, the whole idea is so dumb that we don’t really care. Anyway, at noon Gavin leaps to his death, and that is so dumb we don’t really care either. After all, any normal person would have simply called the police and told them what the situation was.
There is a subplot about Gavin’s roommate Chris. Gavin took pity on Chris and let him move in with him when he lost his job on account of being HIV positive. Chris has a lover whom he wishes to marry, but the rabbi won’t perform the ceremony. Therefore, religion, be it Christianity or Judaism, is shown to be bad. Atheism, on the other hand, is shown to be good. There is a ludicrous scene where a maid in the hotel finds out her father died and becomes hysterical, and Gavin gets down on his knees and pretends to pray to God to save her father. That is so we will think him magnanimous. And when Gavin leaps to his death to save the woman he loves, knowing there is no afterlife, that is supposed to prove just how noble he is.
To an atheist like me, you might think that The Ledge would be refreshing, considering all the movies that have portrayed atheists in a bad light. But the movie was too lopsided and simplistic to be of any value, either intellectually or aesthetically.
After it is all over, Hollis goes home, intent on reconciling with his wife and accepting her children as his. Angela wants to say grace, but Hollis says, “No, not tonight.” The idea is that he’s had all the religion he can stand for one day. However, they will presumably say grace in the future. As to whether they will be having Hollis’s brother over for dinner any time soon, I cannot say.