Hello Happy Valley!
Okay, if I plan on reviewing a selection of “Mormon Movies,” there are a few that I absolutely have to cover. And God’s Army is right up there among the top ones. When this one came out, I was still at BYU and fairly recently off my mission, so you can imagine it interested me. But while the backdrop of the story is decidedly LDS, there is a message here that pretty much anyone can identify with from most religious backgrounds.
The movie follows Elder Allen (Matthew Brown) as he arrives in California for his mission. He came on his mission because that’s what you do, right? But he isn’t yet feeling it. You know, that sense of purpose and why he’s doing this. He’s paired up with Elder Dalton (Richard Dutcher) who immediately puts him through his paces. For instance, rather than go home to drop off Elder Allen’s stuff, they jump right in with door approaches on the way home.
The movie shows just about every major type of missionary, illustrating that they’re not just drones and copies of each other, despite the public perception to the contrary. And Elder Allen quickly determines that his faith is just not sufficient for this work.
He goes through a lot, and it could easily be seen as Mormon propaganda except for one thing: There’s hardly any real Mormon doctrine here.
There’s reference to not being able to drink coffee, and LDS members would call that doctrine, but really, how deep is that? There’s reference to God being our father, but that belief is fairly common, though different denominations take it to varrying degrees.
There’s even reference to the 1978 proclamation that finally allowed the priesthood to be passed on to the non-white males of the church. This is an interesting moment that centers around the only black Elder in the movie, Elder Banks (Desean Terry). And the movie doesn’t even bother to explain this perceivably racist doctrine. There are some serious discussions that could have been brought up, but that’s not the point of the movie.
In fact, it could be said that a large part of the movie is summed up by Elder Banks quite eloquently when he says: “It’s like [God] gives you a hundred reasons to believe and then He just drops one or two for you not to believe. So that you can choose. To see if you really want to believe.”
Faith is with the heart, not the head.
The movie isn’t about LDS vs. others. It isn’t about Us vs. Them. It’s about your personal relationship with God. It’s about choosing to believe in something.
So, while there are definitely mormons in the story, it’s not about that. And I am fully aware that the mere presence of mormonism in the movie will turn some people off, but if you can simply watch it for what it is, the message is for everyone.
And on a broader interpretation, this movie, and the success that it had when it came out, showed two things. (1) LDS films can be made well and do not have to be overly didactic and “preachy”. (Though some will probably disagree and say that this movie is nothing but didactic and preachy.) (2) There is a commercial market for this kind of thing. Granted, it’s not a huge market, and the more “Mormon” the film is perceived to be, the more you limit your audience, but the audience is there.
The movies that followed on the heels of this one have run the gamut of mormonism, from fully embedded in the culture and doctrine of the LDS church, to merely being produced by LDS filmmakers. From silly little romantic comedies, to very powerful war dramas. And the successes have been a bit hit-and-miss. But still, the market is there.
God’s Army is rated PG for practically nothing. A little bit of language but in a religious context.