Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seeing "17 Miracles"

      I was able to see "17 Miracles" when I was in Utah in August.  We went to a large theater in Provo.  With only 6 of us viewing the movie at that time, I was sure it would soon not be playing there. It was great to have a "private" viewing.  I was the first one in the theater; thus able to choose exactly where I wanted to sit to get the perfect view for me.  Then I sat and watched.

     Please read previous blog entry “Why?....” for my disclaimer as a movie critic.  So here are my first reactions to the movie.  I have since watched it many times.  More about that another day.

     So back to the theater......

     I had determined beforehand that my first viewing would be about the movie--the story of the miracles.  I didn't look for myself, nor did I look for family members.  I did look for the message.  I was not disappointed.  In many instances, I was completely amazed.  I had watched scenes being taken.  I knew how I thought they would look.  Sometimes the scene was similar to what I had expected.  Usually they were completely different--better.  I couldn't help thinking, "How did that happen?  How did they get that to work out that way?"  As much as I tried not to look at the extras, there were a few times when I still noticed. 

     In spite of all these distractions, I still shed tears.   Can any human being that is not “beyond feeling” watch these events without tears?  Some of the miracles I had read about before being an extra in “17 Miracles.”  Obviously, Elizabeth Crook Panting’s miracles have been a part of my life as long as I can remember.  I had read about the little girls jumping over the snakes.  An aside from the movie, Ellen Cantwell, age 9, was bitten on her hand by a rattlesnake.  All that could be done for her was to apply a mixture of powder and lard externally and some whisky internally—“after which she slept soundly for some time.”  Although surviving (another miracle with that kind of treatment!), she suffered for months .  I didn’t know about Ann Rowley’s experience or the Mellors’.

     One of the most touching scenes, to me, in “17 Miracles was when Levi was pulling the wagon with Bodil and Albert (as angels) pushing from behind.  I have always known that there were angels who helped these saints.  That is the only way that the majority of them could survive.  But I had never thought that those who had been part of the company might have been granted the opportunity to be among the angels who did help.  Yes!  That seems truly possible.  When I watched the scene, I got goose bumps.  I still do.  To see Albert “whole” as he is now in heaven, was such a tender touch.  I loved it!

     My first reaction to my first viewing was one of great sorrow for these saints.  I love Levi Savage’s assessment in the movie: “And though they did not have even the basic skills of  a frontiersman, they were disciples of the Lord and did have what it would take to become heroes.”     “17 Miracles” is a tribute to those strong, sturdy, faithful English and Scandinavian heroes.  It is a reminder to us.  I would give the movie a top rating.  “17 Miracles” portrays the stories in a true T. C. Christensen style.  For the most part, just the right amount of dialogue, the right amount of narrative, the right angle of the scene, the right actor/actress coalesced to bring to the audience the true emotion of the message.  The humor surrounding Albert, Levi and Ann Cooper, grants us short reprieves from the intensity of the situation.   It is a perfect balance. 

     “17 Miracles” combines all of these things to be a movie to be added to one’s personal library of movies.  Then, to be view again and again….so as to always remember!  


Friday, November 18, 2011

Why? Seeing the Promise in "17 Miracles"

     Before a discussion of my seeing the movie, “17 Miracles,” can be entered here, I must make a disclaimer.  Ah, yes.  I must admit that I am not a movie critic.  At least, not one that is trained or paid.  I am a person who views movies, I like to think, with some discernment and an analytical mind. It would be an interesting occupation for sure!  Often, I wonder if I couldn’t do as well or better than the professionals. 

      I have my own reactions and opinions about movies I see.  Often, I don't even see movies based on the reviews...or I make an effort to see them because of the reviews.  Often reviews are negative, yet I am persuaded to see the movie by those negative comments.  So it was with one of my favorite movies, "The Ultimate Gift."  The professionals were very negative and critical.  I loved the movie.  I loved the principles it taught--the very thing that the critics didn't like.  I loved the clever way in which those principles were incorporated into the story.  I loved the way that a grandparent reached over one generation to teach the next.   I loved the portrayal of grief work that was shown at the conclusion of the movie.  I loved the transition from jerk to hero.  In my opinion, it is one of the best movies produced.  My point is, that I may not see a movie the way a professional critic would.  I do look for values being taught in movies.  I look for a story line that is somewhat believable, even within fantasy.    

     When I was young, we didn't have to look for values in movies.  They were always there.  Sometimes, I wonder what has happened to Hollywood.  Where are the directors, the actors and actresses, the writers, the producers who want to use their talents to improve America.  Why has Hollywood turned away from all that has made it and America great?

     But I digress!  I am here writing about "17 Miracles," not other movies nor Hollywood.  I just wanted everyone to know my disclaimer.  I realize there are already many differing opinions already posted on the internet. I gave my retort to “Rotten Tomatoes” in a previous entry. I was going to address some other negative reviews, but have decided not to spend time on them.  They are too negative.   I would only admonish all who read those negative comments to remember two things.  First, it is obvious that the comments are written by those who look for controversy.  They do not wish to see the positive.  They are trying to stir up negativism. Often their objections have nothing to do with the subject matter and purpose of the movie.   Second, I would admonish all to do your own homework.  Everyone, including me, has their own biases.  Each of us is influenced by so many different aspects of our life, our experience, our faith.  Read and draw your own conclusions, based on your own understanding.  It may be quite different from these negative reviewers, who seek to pursue argumentation and sensationalism.  

     As I have studied all I can find about the handcart companies (and I have studied much), I draw a much different conclusion than these critics.  Their interpretations are not necessarily the final word.  Perhaps, it is because I am closer to the situation.  Perhaps, it is because I believe that the Lord actually wanted these people to go through this experience, much as he wanted the Israelites to go through the wilderness of the Middle East.  Easy?  No.  Necessary?  Yes.  The refiner’s fire comes to each of us in our lives.  We don’t become pure without it.  We all will have some kind of wilderness in which we learn lessons and grow strong.  Or we lose our way.  That is what we are trying to learn here.  What choice will we make.  It is what makes us saints...or not.

          Elder Kent F. Richards gave a clear view of why we all must suffer.  "Opposition," he stated, "is part of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. We all encounter enough to bring us to an awareness of our Father’s love and of our need for the Savior’s help."  (Elder Kent F. Richards, Ensign, May 2011, p. 15. ), italics added.

     The real question about the handcart companies should be:  Why did the Lord want them to go through this experience?”  I would hope all would understand that He could have stayed the elements.  He could have protected the saints in those companies so that they would not have had the delays they encountered.  The cattle could have been miraculously saved from scattering, people who became lost could have been guided so as not to cause delay-- so many events along the way could have gone differently and caused a more pleasant ending.  Those preventions did not happen.  Why?    Everyone may answer that differently.  I believe…and have believed for a very long time…that the Lord wanted these people to experience the personal miracles which saved them as a testimonial to future generations.  Who can tell about the Ellsworth handcart company?  Or the McArthur company?   The truth is that we mortals tend to forget the ordinary, the uneventful.  When something uniquely difficult or exciting, unusual or frightening happens, then we remember.  As the Lord has always told his followers, Remember!

     When the saints had to make a choice to stay or go on, they were given counsel to pray and make their own decision on personal revelation.  There were 100 who chose to stay.  Do we know their names?  Their stories?  What happened to them?  Perhaps their descendents know, but the rest of the church knows nothing about them.  We don’t even know if they eventually made it to “zion.”   They are forgotten, but the members of the two handcart companies who went on are remembered. 

     "17 Miracles" portrays events that are part of a prophecy, made long ago by a prophet of the Old Testament, Jeremiah:

      14 ¶Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no
           more be said, The aLord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel
           out of the land of Egypt;
      15 But, The Lord liveth, that abrought up the children of Israel from
           the land of the bnorth, and from all the clands whither he had driven  
           them: and I will dbring them again into their eland that I gave unto
           their fathers.                                  
                                                                                 Jeremiah 16:14-15
          It is true.  We don't think of the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt anymore.  We think of the God who gathered is children from many the lands.  The miracles of the handcart companies, as well as the other companies which crossed the plains to Zion, are part of that remembrance for us.  It is the strength of faith which duplicates that of ancient Israel.  The miracles that brought Israel from Egypt to the promised land have faded in our memories as we remember the miracles which brought Israel to the mountaintops.  It has all been part of the Lord's plan for a very long time. 
     "17 Miracles" has brought that plan to the forefront.  Our focus is on the miracles, the Lord's greatness, as we view the many times He blesses the faithful handcart saints.  Yes, blesses them!  As we are faithful, He will bless us too with miracles.  The day will come when we will smile at "17 Miracles" because we will realize there are so many that they can not be numbered.