The first thing I learned was about this incident in U.S. history. I'd never heard of it before I'd heard of the movie. I understand why Mormons wouldn't be thrilled about this movie coming out. I won't claim to know how LDS members, like LifeonaPlate who leaves comments on my blog, feel, but I can try to imagine. And I imagine it makes them feel similar to what I, as a Christian, feel when people say, "Christians?" and point to the Crusades. Or abortion clinic bombers. Or when Rosie O'Donnell says "radical Christianity" is just as threatening to America as radical Islam. But Mormons can give the rest of us a little credit. We can view the movie and understand that not all Mormons are out to massacre the rest of us. Even in the movie this was portrayed by a young Mormon man who was questioning what was happening and doing his best to stand for what was right. We're not circling the wagons in fear of all Mormons.
I also "learned" (or re-learned) from this movie as it brought back bits of information I'd learned in history class but had forgotten, like how the Mormons felt (or were) mistreated in Missouri and that led to them heading west. In the movie's story at least, this was an underlying cause for them to fear the wagon train from Missouri and the "immigrants" coming through. (I put "immigrants" in quotes because it really stuck out to me that the writers used that word in light of the current national controversy over immigration. I'm assuming they used that word because it was true to the time--what the Mormons would have really called the people coming through. And the screenplay was probably written before the current national discussion on immigration arose. I just found it interesting...that's all.)
The film also made me think about how I was viewing an 1850's incident from a twenty-first century viewpoint. "The wagon train just wants to pass through Utah to get to California. Why can't you just let them go?" Ah-ha! But in that day, (according to what I understood from the movie) it seems the Mormons considered that land their own nation. And they saw the wagon train folks as unwelcome immigrants coming into and threatening their nation. I can understand that fear.
As I mentioned, the film also brought up many questions for me. Here are some of the questions that linger in my mind:
- Several references were made to the the sins that Christ's blood does not atone for. Do Mormons really believe there are sins Christ's blood does not atone for?
- There were also several references to people needing to spill their own blood to atone for the sins that Christ's blood does not atone for. So their Mormon brothers help them out by spilling their blood for them (that means killing them)? Do I have that part right? I have to wonder, "Now how does that work out for that person in the end?" I mean, by the time a person whose blood has been spilled for his or her own sins figures out it's not going to do them a lot of good, they're dead. (Yeah, okay. I'm being a little facetious here. But then this is coming from a person who knows there is no sin Christ's blood cannot atone for.)
- What I've heard and understand about Mormon beliefs you could probably fit in an 1857 thimble, but I have heard they believe (some?) men will become gods and will have their own planets to rule. Do I have that right? There was more than one reference to that in the movie.
- According to Mormon beliefs, what happens to the women after this life? There was a reference to one woman becoming a goddess in the next life. (I would have liked to have had the benefit of "rewind" while watching, but the rest of the crowd in the theater probably wouldn't have liked that. And there actually was a small crowd there.)
- In one striking scene, Jon Voight's character, Isaac Haight, is praying at the dinner table and the pastor at the wagon train was praying with that group. The scene cuts back and forth from one site to the other, juxtaposing the prayers of these leaders against each other. While the Christian pastor prays for blessings on the Mormons, Issac Haight prays down curses on the Christians. The question lingers in my mind: Is this true to what a Mormon would pray? Was this just the portrayal in a movie of a man filled with hate praying curses on another group, or is this really in line with what Mormons would pray? Back then? Even today? Of course the real answer to that question probably wouldn't be given to us "Gentiles," but perhaps only those who are (or have been) on the inside of the Mormon faith would know for sure.
- The main character on the Mormon side (played by Jon Voight) who was portrayed as being the main instigator of what happened on September 11th, 1857, was named Isaac Haight. That's not a made-up movie character--that was the real guy's name. So my lingering question is, Is it coincidence or God's sense of humor that he was named Haight (pronounced Hate)?
The movie's story comes complete with what my husband called, "the Romeo and Juliette forbidden love" between two young people. Probably the scene I enjoyed most in the movie is the conversation between these two near a formation of rocks as they spent some time alone. The Mormon called the Christians "Gentiles" and that led to a conversation which repeatedly showed the confusion on both their faces. They were discovering the immense differences between their faiths. Like so often happens today, we use the same terms (salvation, God, atonement, Christian, Jesus, Christ, latter days, saints), but we are not speaking the same language.
Perhaps that's what Mormons really have the most to fear from this movie: that it reveals what they truly believe and how different that is from Christianity.
In my view, the movie is worth seeing whenever it comes to a theater near you.