We made it. About three months. Ten films. And enough Mormon culture to make me rip out my hair. Even still, after watching each of these films I am nowhere near exploring all of the avenues for Mormon cinema. There is so much out there to explore. I limited my study to ten films that premiered in theatres. There are countless straight to DVD films that are excellent sociological studies for the LDS church. There are web series, blogs, and not to mention the hundreds of church produced films in circulation right now. However, even with the vast amount of material that I have yet to explore there are many things that I have discovered about Mormon identity in film and how it relates to transcendental moments. There are a few trends that I have noticed while watching these films.
First, LDS film rarely has strong female leads. The obvious exception to this is Charly, however, even within the film she is seen as an anomaly for her strength. In every other film if there is a female lead she is either a marriage hungry single or a baby hungry mother (Hollist).
There are four films that could fit in the category of historical fiction (Saints and Soldiers, The Book of Mormon Movie, The Work and The Glory, and The Other Side of Heaven). All of these films are also in the top five grossing LDS films. Of these films two deal with the creation of the church (either in the actual historical events, The Work and The Glory, or in subjects directly related to the church, The Book of Mormon Movie). This highlights the importance of history, especially church history, to the LDS people.
Every film deals with Terryl Given's at least one of the three dichotomies that I stated at the beginning of the project: searching/certainty, the disintegration of sacred distance, and isolation/integration (Givens 190-191). This clearly states that these are the issues that are most important to LDS identity. They are what make the LDS people work like they do, act like they do, live like they do. They are constantly in a state of paradox as they battle these dichotomies.
Lastly, each of these films has at least one moment trying to express a spiritual experience of some sort. These moments often are an attempt to visualize what The Spirit feels like when it testifies of Truth. Each film takes this attempt on in different ways. Some have a simple fade to black and opt out of explicitly showing the moment. Others raise the music in to create a feeling of abundance. There are some that show lots of tears. While other pull back and let viewers place themselves in the role through minimalism and scarcity. There are obviously some films that work better than others in this pursuit. However the importance that these moments have in each film I have viewed directly relates to the importance of these moments in the lives of every Latter Day Saint. These moments are at the root of transcendence in the church. They are what each member wants more of in his or her life. It is the desire and in many ways quest of the Mormon people.
I started out this project by defining cinematic transcendence. I said, "Cinematic transcendence includes, but it not limited to, films that assist individuals discover their relationship with God, their communities, and themselves." Each of these films reveals another layer of Mormon identity or at least the representation of Mormon identity in film. Through this project I have come to understand a bit more about my own culture, my relationship, and myself with Deity. To me that makes these films transcendent.