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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saints and Soldiers (2003)

Saints and Soldiers contains an interesting dichotomy in LDS film. While nearly every scholar states that this is an LDS film there are no explicit references to any character’s faith. There are however, implicit references to aspects of the Mormon faith in Deacon’s character. He “doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t even like coffee”. He carries an unidentified book of scripture around on him at all times. He prays while on watch. He went to Germany on a mission for his church for two years. These are all clues that indicate that he is in fact a member of the LDS church. Therefore even without explicitly stating that Deacon is a member of the church one can imply membership because of these contextual clues. This analysis brings to thought a question about the uniqueness of the Mormon identity. Are there not other churches or peoples that have nearly the same standards as the church? On my mission I taught a family that on many occasions were asked if they were Mormon. They didn't smoke. They didn't drink (much). They went to church every week. They prayed as a family. They read the Bible together, individually and as a family. These traits are not unique of the LDS faith.

In many, if not all of the previous LDS films that I have viewed have, "[alienated] or [excluded] the non- Mormons" by "largely polarized [audiences] by recognizably Mormon subjects, themes, or treatments" (Givens, 202). Saints and Soldiers uses the cross overs between Mormon culture and the rest of Christianity to both reach a wider audience and create empathy between these two cultures. "Matt Whitaker and Geoffrey Panos (the screenwriters) choose instead to rely on a text coded in such a way that its meanings can be read in both particular and universal ways (202). By doing so they were able to bridge the gap between cultures.
Does this bridge, however, destroy the inherent nature of LDS cinema? If any culture can easily accept the themes and devices of this film without any prior knowledge of LDS culture do the filmmaker give up the film's Mormon identity? How is it any different than The Land Before Time (Don Bluth) or The Swan Princess (Richard Rich)? (Neither of which are considered LDS films). The LDS genre is a deeply complex genre. "There can be no linear scale of “Mormonness” for a film" (Astle, 28). Each film must be evaluated on an individual basis. "A film that initially appears to have nothing to do with the Church might, in fact, be quite thoroughly infused with Mormonism, while one that is apparently full of Mormon content might be rather devoid of it" (29). 

There is no scale that one can look at and say, "There are 34 direct references to the church in this film, it must be an LDS film" or "Well, they mention the Book of Mormon, but not the Joseph Smith so it doesn't quite make the cut". The definition, however, lies in the inherent identity of the film. While Saints and Soldiers makes no explicit references to LDS faith or culture then "Mormonness" of the film is high because the identity of Deacon is so clearly LDS that there can be no question as to his faith. He must be a member of the church because he is what members desire to be like. He is not pigeonholed. He is not stereotyped or mocked. He is true. He is real. He bridges cultures like each individual must do in order to develop empathy and charity. For "[Charity] is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others" (Monson, Charity Never Faileth, October 2010 General conference).

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