I was surprised to see the LDS-related movie, The Work and the Glory, playing in my little Wisconsin town of Appleton, Wisconsin. We went on a Friday night where I ran into several other LDS families. It looked like a group of about 7 or 8 non-LDS people were there as well. Sparsely attended.
I was generally impressed with the movie. I thought the photography was outstanding and the acting was far beyond my expectations. For example, I found the father, torn by the pain of his family becoming Mormon, to be very believable. Joseph Smith struck me as just a little too self-assured and perhaps a tad too much like the Midwestern stereotype of a buff and cocky Californian twenty-something, but that’s the way movies are done, I suppose. (Perhaps I’m revealing some biases here.) I also thought the First Vision account was handled very tastefully.
Overall, it was an outstanding film for an LDS audience or for investigators of the Church. But it is being distributed to general audiences. What about all the people who walk into the theatre not knowing that they are about to see a very pro-Mormon movie? I worried that non-LDS audiences might be caught off guard and surprised or even offended. The trailer for the movie, like the printed ads, provides no warning of explicit religious content, and no indication that this might be considered a pro-Mormon movie that suggests that Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God.
Perhaps there reaction may be a stronger version of my reaction to the Robin Williams movie, “What Dreams May Come,” when the interesting treatment of the afterlife suddenly shifted and the whole movie became senseless when it began advocating the concept of reincarnation. Though I enjoyed it as a whole, the end of the movie seemed to become an ad for New Age Hollywood religion. Well, I should have seen it coming, and certainly couldn’t expect Hollywood to do much less. But the shift from a somewhat “mainstream” religious concept – that of an afterlife with a paradise and a hell – to pure New Age themes of reincarnation bothered me. And it was truly senseless in the context of the movie – Robin Williams has just faced hell to rescue his wife so they could be together, and now they are going to risk losing their relationship by each being reborn and starting over? Silly.
The Work and the Glory was far from silly. It was well done and often powerful. But I felt there needed to be some kind of indication to non-LDS people that this was a Mormon-related movie. Perhaps something like, “If you liked The Godmakers, you’ll hate this movie.” Or may, “A movie about good people becoming Mormons that even some non-Mormons will enjoy.”