(Photo Courtesy IDFA 2002)
Three nineteen-year-olds travel, at the invitation of their church, from the
secure surroundings of their homes in Salt Lake City, Utah to an area not too
distant from the Black Forest in Germany. Sound like something out of a fairy
tale? No, their journey is made so that they might undergo a two-year
missionary training and rites of passage. Armed with their "Book of Mormons"
and a passable knowledge of the German tongue, they wander into the wilderness
(with financial support from their families) in order to find new recruits
while also exploring their inner selves. As expressed by one of their
fathers, "When they go away on their training, they're boys, but when they
come back, they're men."
Approximately sixty thousand Mormons go on
convert-seeking missions every year in an organized attempt to make the flock
grow. More often than not, these young men usually achieve their greatest
successes by gathering positive attentions from approaching displaced
outsiders, such as American servicemen living abroad.
Producer/director Nancy du Plessis has concentrated specifically on Jake, Matt
and Brady as the three young men heading toward Munich. The Missionary
Training Center (MTC) has not only offered them the opportunity beforehand to
learn the foreign language they need, but furnished them with abundant church
doctrine and missionary technique to assist them in attempting and possibly
achieving their goals. Walking from door to door and standing in the snow on
city squares, they do their best as they relentlessly, but both courteously
and jovially, try to spread the word of the BOM.
Of course, discipline and regimentation are necessary in making such a
campaign successful, so, as a result, they have rigid rules to follow, a daily
schedule to keep, and a sturdy hierarchy to listen to. The Mission President
and his wife amiably point out the proper way toward achievement while other
supervisors operate, according to doctrine, as "zone" and "district" leaders.
Young men ("Elders") and young women ("Sisters") must remain within visible
and audible range of a same sex companion for 24-7. (Homosexuality, by the
way, is not only frowned upon, but also forbidden. Look it up in the Book.)
In Germany, as they had already expected from tales they were told at home,
the young men are confronted with their first taste of skepticism. All the
more reason to offer their goods. Many doors close as they attempt to reach
out toward the members of households with their message in a friendly,
youthful, innocent, and hopeful manner.
What is more interesting than their success in attracting converts (within the
confines of this film), however, is their personal development during this
period. Offered a first exposure to the wide world as well as a newly
nurtured insight into themselves, the young men discover their own separate
and distinct personalities and visions of their personal road toward progress.
We see them at their energetic best and we see them exhausted from the daily
strain of their routine. We see them both in conviction and in doubt. We see
them as young, vibrant men and we see them struggling with both spiritual and
physical borders. When one of them has met the girl of his dreams, the
stringent tensions ordering his day seem to relax spontaneously and offer us a
glimpse of a young boy with instinctual and basic desires. Later in the film,
before we see the leader at home in the States confronting the boys once again
with consideration toward the next necessary step on the agenda, that of
choosing a lifetime companion and mate, we are told that going on a mission
and being trained by the MTS is also regarded as a definite status-symbol
attached to these young men, which makes them exceedingly popular among the
young Mormon crop of girls.
Various other members and ex-members of the Mormon community are given a
chance on camera by du Plessis to reflect upon their past experiences in the
community and this adds an additional flavor of what potential futures could
lurk behind the developments we watch taking place within our three lead
characters. A strict upbringing does not necessarily mean that the pathway
ahead has been completely cleared. A closely-knit white, straight, and
religiously united social structure cannot always prevent exceptions to the
rules, no matter how hard the determination of their leaders might be.
On the other hand, among the dictates of strategic planning and adherence to
organized doctrines, we discover there may also be some contradictions as well
as fantastical convictions present. Now, many people are aware that Joseph
Smith plowed new pastures in 1830 as he did his work in New York, but how many
knew that his convert seeking sectarians were all part of one, big gigantic
corporation heading toward a harmonious future? Yes, religion can be big
business and give you everything you want; that is, as long as you want it the
way they give it to you. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints
seems to be filled to the brim with managerial talent, overworked and trained
until nothing appears impossible, who are willing to try and convince even the
most non-aggressive non-convert that American Indians once lived in Israel and
were fluent in Egyptian.
Miss du Plessis shot 270 cassettes on DVCAM for more than 2 years before she
managed to edit the final 57-minute screening version. A fascinating study of
three boys from the Mormon community manages to offer a subtle revelation of
the corporate edges that almost remain completely hidden from the camera's
eye. The members have meetings where charts and graphs are used to analyze
their rates of success at gaining converts. The members all seem quite
content with their lifestyles and have created a world kept strictly safe from
any "undesirable" influences. If one is willing to become a forceful
marketing machine and follow the dictates established by a super-straight,
unremittingly demanding, and exceedingly regulatory board of leaders, this
might be the right place to seek a stable and bright, if not quite carefree,
existence. And they do have a lovely Tabernacle Choir.
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett