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Friday, April 8, 2011

God's Army

Here we are. We're at the place where it all began. In 2000 Richard Dutcher released God's Army. I remember the first time that I saw it a few years after its release. It was magical. I was a developing adolescent who was trying to find my place in the world. Here was a film that attempted to represent Mormon missionary culture in an unapologetic way.  The implication behind this boldness inspired many filmmakers to throw caution into the wind to build the LDS cinema movement.

In terms of his goals with his film Dutcher wanted to "[honor] his own people with a film that dignifies their life and beliefs" (Pace, 183) and to show Mormon missionaries as "real folks with blood in their veins" (186). To put it another way he wanted to show that Mormons are real people with faults and desires while still presenting them in a way that demonstrates his admiration for his own culture and beliefs.

How then did Dutcher measure up to his goal? Did he succeed in the presenting an honest representation of Mormon culture? The missionaries that he portrays are nothing like those in The Best Two Years or like the recent returned missionary in The R.M. They "are not the molded-in-plastic icons tacked onto in-house seminary and institute films," but "fully-realized characters" (184). These characters present an alternative view from the previous representations of missionaries in church sponsored films like Called to Serve. "It approached the marrow of Mormon life, mixing the messiness with the sacred, unafraid to discomfit some viewers. In this story, the missionaries, usually lionized in Church media, were scaled down to human proportions and shown to be just as real as the people whom they teach" (Robbins, 171).

This realistic representation of Mormon missionaries helps viewers to realize something about the reality of Mormon life. It is not meant to be perfect. Members are supposed to "[explore] issues of regret, doubt, racism, abuse, and death, punctuated with practical jokes, missionary banter, slamming doors, fights, miracles, and revelation" (171). This honest representation allows viewers to see redemption, something that, while attempted in other LDS films, is rarely seen to the degree that it is in this film.

Without this openness it is impossible to achieve an accurate perception of Mormon identity. If all we see is the good, the perfect then we cannot understand the depth of sorrow. Members of the church are asked to "know good from evil" (2nd Nephi 2:26). If we are to gain "life eternal" by "[knowing] God... and Jesus Christ" (John) then we must know that "[Christ] will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." In order to know this we must know the pain and admit that it exists. Only by accepting one's faults can he or she achieve true redemption. God's Army seeks to open its audience's eyes to this reality.

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