Mormon Artist


Writer, Director: Joel Ackerman
Producer: Raven Alard

Envision. Create. Illuminate. For an entire decade now the LDS Film Festival has called to creators everywhere for the fulfillment of their mission—and in Joel Ackerman’s 2011 entry Cricketless, they got it.

I will warn you now that I went into this screening a little more than slightly biased; while most of the masses were intent on catching the Festival’s international fare at The Book of Life in the Grand Theater, I had chosen an afternoon in Showhouse II based solely on the fact that I had seen some of Joel Ackerman’s work before, and through those experiences had generally come to the irrefutable conclusion that whatever he touches turns to gold. His capstone film for Brigham Young University’s film program did not disappoint, as might be noted from my own notes of the evening—a reveling, scribbled mess of departure from my more careful thoughts on previous films. Crazy fantastic! I wrote across the page, two sizes larger than practical or necessary. Restored all faith in humanity! Cricketless makes me want to hug a film major.

No, really. I sang my way home and ran immediately to my roommate (conveniently working on a capstone film herself), attempting to put into that hug what I could not find in words: Thank you for capturing the deeper depths of beauty in this world and sharing it for all the world to see. Confusing her at first, I only had to say the word film to gain a mutual understanding, after which we reveled silently, smiling, in the glow and warmth of creativity’s victory.

So now you’re thinking I am either overly excitable or very simply insane. Let me explain.

The story structure may itself be simple; it’s boy-meets-girl in what the filmmakers call a “poignant romantic comedy.” But Cricketless redefines the meet-cute when the opening scenes have boy Adam O’Dea (Topher Rasmussen) literally running into girl Natalie Endicott (Megan Jones)—in his car. On purpose. Because he’d really like to get to know her. It’s yet another point against him in Adam’s lifelong list of strange offenses, and as an eighteen-year-old this last strike could send him to a fifteen-year stint in jail or an indefinite future in the mental hospital if no one can find Adam what he seems to lack: a conscience. With a week’s leeway, Adam’s mother Lil, attorney Greg Gregerson, hit-and-kiss victim Natalie, and acclaimed psychologist Dr. Noah G.. Carmoly set out to do just that through a series of unconventional experiments in search of signs of moral life. Despite disbelieving the existence of Jiminy Cricket himself, Dr. Carmoly’s shock tests and shell recordings lead to the ultimate revelation that Adam does indeed have a conscience—it just speaks to him in a foreign language.

Envision? Director Joel Ackerman explains that the genesis of the project stemmed from a common dismissal he heard in response to news of this-or-that horrific happening—robberies or rapes or murders. Attempting to explain the inexplicable, Ackerman would hear most people excuse the committers of crimes as simply not having a conscience. To Ackerman the answer seemed slightly more complex. “They probably do have a conscience,” he concluded. “It just speaks Armenian.”

Stemming from that idea alone he went on to then create a story not only beautifully crafted from script to screen but one that illuminates our understanding of right and wrong, the consideration and consequences of choice, and ultimately, how the Spirit speaks to us individually. “If you’re living life right it will hurt when you do something wrong,” Ackerman explained. But what if you don’t have the language to differentiate between the two in the first place?

Intentionally playing on the name of Adam, Cricketless’s main character embodies the innocence of the Garden of Eden, naïve and childlike with no thought between action and reaction. But Cricketless is set in the lone and dreary world, and through Ackerman’s eyes we begin to understand the consequences of innocence and the essential quest to understand the Spirit’s stirrings. Just as Adam in the Garden needed to learn the language of his Father in order to make righteous decisions, so is Adam O’Dea required to learn the language of his birth father (an Armenian love his mother met in Paris) before he can understand the difference between right and wrong. He needs to learn, essentially, what we all should take time to study: how the Spirit speaks to us, and then to act accordingly.

It’s a risky reveal and almost precocious plot line, one that flirts dangerously between soul-swelling perfection and Sunday School pedantic, but Cricketless is unquestionably—and seemingly effortlessly—the former. In only twenty-six minutes the film leaves you not only with a sense of pure satisfaction in entertainment rightly done but also with the unparalleled edification of Truth illuminated. Watching the film, you have plenty of time to enjoy the aesthetic of it all. Clever but never over-written, the script is succinct with enough space to lead and leave you to your own expanding thoughts. The acting was superb and spot-on, the art direction a dream of clinical whites and honeyed warmth. While fictionally fantastical, the story stays believable, and each character is emotionally rewarding. In the entertainment essentials, Cricketless is good to go. But then, once it’s over, you have the added joy of extended satisfaction in a film that leaves you to dwell on the more eternally important principles of the soul’s aesthetics, a film that not only fortifies an existing testimony but builds upon it. And that, in five paragraphs or less, is why I reserved my exclamation marks for this film in the Festival. You won’t need Jiminy on your shoulder to know that experiencing Cricketless was a good choice.

Envision. Create. Illuminate. Hug a film major. ❧

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