- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This isn’t a movie review so much as it is a warning. “September Dawn” is not a poorly made movie, it is an expertly crafted attack on the Mormon Church. It is an anti-Mormon sermon projected onto the silver screen, as replete with distortion and bigotry as any of the Web sites, pamphlets or books conjured up to vilify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since it was founded more than 175 years ago.

The movie reviewers don’t quite get it. Without a background in Mormon history and doctrine, and without a knowledge of the favorite themes of the anti-Mormon industry, the sinister detail of the movie would not be evident.

Most discussion of this movie has focused on its claim that Mormon leader Brigham Young ordered the 1857 slaughter of a wagon train from Arkansas at a place in southern Utah called Mountain Meadows. There is no historical support for that claim, and a fair amount of evidence to refute it.

But the theme of the movie is larger and more subtle than the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The movie, under cover of being a historical drama, is really a religious attack. It is chapter and verse out of the books and sermons of anti-Mormon evangelists who believe God has called them to attack other people’s faith.

There is, unfortunately, a large tradition among some Christian ministers of mocking Mormon beliefs. Some of these ministers literally travel from town to town, congregation to congregation, preaching against Mormonism. Sacred aspects of Mormon worship and dress are ridiculed by these ministers.

A great body of anti-Mormon literature has built up over the years. This movie’s most hateful aspects are drawn not from history, but from that anti-Mormon literature. Details are included that can only be intended to offend and insult Mormons who see the movie, and alienate from the church those who consider becoming members of it. The material contained in the movie is not historical, it is hateful.

For example, the movie depicts in sinister form a sacred Mormon temple ceremony and the religious vestments associated with it. The dialog in the scene is not speculative and is extremely reminiscent of information found in anti-Mormon materials.

Further, the notion of “blood atonement” — a theme harped upon by anti-Mormon preachers — is all through this movie, woven into the plot and at least four subplots or tangents. The belief — that people must die to make up for their sins — has never been a doctrine of the Mormon Church, but is the essential premise of “September Dawn.”

So is the view that Brigham Young and various historical and fictional Mormon characters are maniacally evil.

The horrific way in which Brigham Young, a character presumed to be Apostle George A. Smith, pioneer John D. Lee and a fictional bishop are depicted is patently demonic. These characters could have come from nowhere other than the imagination of someone with an intense personal loathing of the Mormon Church and its leaders. Not since Adolf Hitler depicted Jews has Western cinema been used to so spitefully destroy the history and reputation of religious leaders. The characterization of Brigham Young is not a dramatization, it is a vendetta.

In fact, this entire movie is a vendetta. It is not about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it is about using the medium of the commercial motion picture to advance an anti-Mormon bigotry that is typically only shouted outside Mormon conferences, temples and pageants.

And that is not a hypersensitive response. It is an earnest assessment of the movie’s content.

The instances of pointed anti-Mormon insult are so gratuitous and abundant in this movie that their presence cannot be accidental. The movie intended to offend, and it did. The movie attempted to defame the Mormon Church, and it did. It is a heavy-handed smear job.

And unfortunately, it is not as bad as reviewers make it out to be. The actor who portrays the wagon train’s captain, as well as two others who depict a couple who fall in love, all do a very good job. The cinematography is strong, though it is often dragged into the dirty work of making the Mormons look like the fiends of hell. It is not a badly made movie. But it is an evilly intended movie. It doesn’t seek to entertain or inform, it seeks to tear down and destroy. And, sadly, it does a pretty good job.

BOB LONSBERRY

Commentator and talk show host. See boblonsberry.com.


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