Sons of Perdition, the powerful second installment of Oprah Winfrey’s Documentary Club on OWN, is a candid, up-close account of several teenage boys who escaped from a fundamentalist-Mormon polygamist compound. As the title says, their upbringing has taught them that defying the sect's rigid control will damn them forever, and like Huck Finn declaring, ”All right, then I’ll go to hell,” they land on their own with no money but with a determined sense of freedom. As the cameras follow them, we see that they have fewer survival skills than Huck.
Directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Mertens spent more than two years with the boys to create this gracefully composed chronicle, watching them try to adjust to a teenaged life they’ve never known: one bleaches his hair blonde, another simply tries to enroll at a public high school. Sometimes they live on the streets. But not once do they they feel sorry for themselves, or regret their decision even when expressing how painful it is. “I have two Moms, 21 siblings,” one of them explains, matter-of-factly describing a family he may never see again.
Sons of Perdition takes us far from the soft-headed, cotton-candy image of polygamy in the reality show Sister Wives. Polite, soft-spoken and worried, these boys are more like real-life Bill Henricksons from Big Love, their lives shadowed - and you’d have to guess scarred - by the fundamentalist sect of their boyhoods.
The 2010 film represents a strong, and more artfully made, follow-up to the Doc Club’s premiere Becoming Chaz. Sons of Perdition, which has played at festivals, deserves the wider audience OWN can offer.
It premieres on the network tonight. There will not be an on-air conversation afterwards, as there was with Chaz, but the filmmakers and some of the boys from the doc will live-tweet while it is being shown. Here’s the trailer, which represents the film very well.