Director: Scott S. Anderson
Release Date: 2003
Summary: Elder Rogers is nearing the end of his mission and he’s not working hard at all as a missionary. The reason he has given up: one of his former companions â€“ who he really liked and worked hard with while companions â€“ hooked up with his girlfriend when he got home and then married her. This crushed him emotionally and somehow destroyed his testimony as well. On top of that, Elder Rogers is from Salt Lake City but his parents divorced since he left on his mission, he doesn’t know what life is going to be like when he goes back home, and no one is writing him anymore (nor is he writing them).
The Mission President, in his infinite wisdom, decides that what Elder Rogers needs to spur him back to action as a missionary is to train a new missionary. The new missionary, Elder Calhoun, is a recent convert from Oklahoma. His parents and girl-friend (just a girl who is a friend) are all Catholics (in Oklahoma?). He’s an extremely naÃ¯ve hick who knows no Dutch, doesn’t know much about Mormonism or life in general, but is an expert chess player (he’s kind of like a Mormon Forrest Gump). What he does have going for him is faith and his naivete passed off as innocence. He really believes everything Elder Rogers says (even going so far as to write it down â€“ which becomes the longest running joke of any movie I’ve ever seen). He also believes that Mormon missionaries convert people to Mormonism in Holland.
Elders Roger and Calhoun live with two other Elders â€“ Van Pelt, whose parents have a lot of money (I got this from his clothes and his reference to Lake Powell) and who seems to only be serving his mission because he knows he can â€œget the ladiesâ€ when he returns. He writes to lots of girls back home and lots of girls (and his family) write to him. He’s junior companion to Elder Johnson, who is the district leader. Elder Johnson has a girlfriend back home and even has a date set for marrying her.
The movie opens with Elder Calhoun traveling to Holland then traveling to his assigned area to meet up with his new companion and district. Rogers, Johnson, and VanPelt all ride their bikes to the train station to meet him. Based on the experience of a close friend of mine who served his mission in Holland, it is accurate that missionaries travel alone when they change companions and areas (that was not accurate in my mission â€“ we were never alone). They meet Elder Calhoun then Rogers takes him back to their shared apartment. Rogers hasn’t done any tracting or missionary work in months and isn’t about to start. Instead he spends his days taking pictures of scenic Holland (flowers, windmills, etc.). So, on Calhoun’s first day, Rogers takes him to the park and lets him chase people with a Book of Mormon while he shoots pictures.
Calhoun’s very first contact in his new area (he tried on the train and the person threw the BofM he gave him away) is, surprise, surprise, an American (from the U.S.) named Kyle. He’s an optometrist who recently moved to Holland for some unknown and never mentioned reason. Nothing really comes of this first visit, but it sets up the obvious â€“ Kyle is going to convert (this is also given away by the fact that Kyle is Scott Christopher, who is in almost every Mollywood movie I’ve seen). Kyle beats a hasty retreat after meeting â€œEdgar Calhoun.â€ Calhoun, on the other hand, thinks he’s made a contact.
The next 30 minutes or so of the movie is really just fleshing out the characters â€“ which is an admirable idea as so many Mollywood movies don’t bother with this. Unfortunately, it’s really pretty boring. Elder Calhoun is gung-ho about converting people, Rogers sleeps in and doesn’t try at all, Elder Johnson receives a tape from his fiance but can’t find a tape recorder (the second longest joke in movie history), and Elder VanPelt continues to be his shallow, whore-mongering self.
Eventually Elder Calhoun decides that he knows what they need to do â€“ they need to fast. This coincides with Elder Rogers deciding he wants to do something nice for his new companion. He got up early and made breakfast for Elder Calhoun and himself (setting up the third longest joke in movie history when the other elders steal their breakfast). So, they fast. It doesn’t help, until Elder Rogers stops at a store on the way home. Inside, Elder Calhoun runs into… Yep, you guessed it â€“ Kyle. He proceeds to tell him about the Book of Mormon while Kyle tries to ignore him. He eventually gives Kyle a copy of the Book of Mormon (in Dutch, which Kyle can’t read) and Kyle agrees to call him.
They go home and Elder Calhoun refuses to break his fast hoping Kyle will call. They wait, and wait, and wait and then, finally, Kyle calls! (I bet you didn’t guess that would happen…). Kyle agrees to come over, but it’s initially just to give the book back. But Rogers and Calhoun basically won’t let him leave. Rogers then proceeds to teach the first discussion, during which he realizes that he does believe Joseph Smith saw supernatural entities (while alone, in the dark, with no witnesses) and found gold plates (alone, in the dark, with no credible witnesses). He tears up, Kyle tears up, and Elder Calhoun tells the first funny joke in the movie, â€œI also believe Joseph Smith was a pamphlet.â€
This encounter is Elder Rogers’ character arc. He decides he wants to be a good missionary now. Kyle, of course, agrees to keep meeting with them. But Rogers and Calhoun are now on fire. They start working hard â€“ teaching lots of discussions and giving out lots of â€œBooks of Mormonâ€ or â€œBook of Mormons.â€ (This serves as another running joke in the movie, with the allegedly correct version being â€œBooks of Mormon.â€ But I’m not convinced that that is the correct version. The complete title of the book is â€œBook of Mormon.â€ The plural of that would not be a change in the title but an added ‘s’ to the end, â€œBook of Mormons.â€ This doesn’t mean it is the â€œBook of Mormonsâ€ but rather that you have multiple books of the â€œBook of Mormon.â€ Anyway, this is another almost funny joke in the movie.) While Rogers and Calhoun catch a metaphorical fire and start working like crazy, Elders Johnson and VanPelt fall apart. Elder Johnson’s tape turns out to be a Dear John and they aren’t getting along. Their companionship gets so rocky that they end up fighting only to have the Mission President make an appearance and reprimand them all (giving out silly â€œspiritual prescriptionsâ€).
Eventually Kyle agrees to baptism, and it’s just in time for Elder Rogers to baptize him before he goes home. Kyle gets baptized, Rogers goes home feeling successful and wise, and the other missionaries are all inspired. The end.
As far as the story itself goes, it was actually somewhat credible, but utterly uninteresting. The movie fairly accurately portrays what missionary work is like in Holland â€“ lots of walking around with basically no one showing interest in Mormonism. The movie also hints at the â€œprestigeâ€ associated with training a new missionary, which is also accurate. There is also a scene in which Rogers tells Calhoun that numbers don’t mean anything, which is arguably true in the grander scheme of things (if there is a god, why would he/she/it care about numbers?). But in the mission field, numbers are the key to promotion, and promotions (and the accompanying prestige) are what missions are all about. So, this is kind of accurate.
There are also a bunch of cliches that are more irritating than funny. The missionaries break their alarm clocks when they go off in the morning (no one actually does that). Elder Johnson says â€œflipâ€ all the time (ultimately leading to the fight with Elder VanPelt). And, I forget who said it, but one of the missionaries tells another at one point that you should â€œnever wrestle with a pig because you both get dirty but the pig likes it.â€ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from my parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. There are a bunch more, but these are the ones that really stood out as I watched the movie. I don’t mind a few believable ones here and there, but these were just annoying.
While mostly credible, there are clear credibility problems. The biggest one is that Kyle, a doctor liberal enough to move to Holland, is actually interested in talking with Mormon missionaries. If Kyle worked for a large company that transferred him to Holland, I might buy it. But an optometrist who moved there willingly? Yeah, not credible. Also, the Mission President showing up just as all hell breaks lose with Elders Johnson and VanPelt was ridiculous. Though, I have to admit that what he did once he showed up was both clichÃ© (â€œspiritual prescriptionsâ€) and credible: he told Elder Rogers that he had promised his mother that Elder Rogers would write every week from then until the end of his mission then said, â€œYou wouldn’t want to make a liar out of me, would you Elder?â€ I actually grimaced at the manipulation, but wasn’t very surprised.
Intriguingly, there were also a couple of elements that stuck out for different reasons. After Elder Calhoun runs into Kyle in the grocery store, he asks Elder Rogers what led him to stop there. Elder Rogers says, â€œindigestion,â€ which Elder Calhoun interprets as â€œinspiration.â€ I know it was intended to be funny (which it wasn’t), but it was actually kind of revealing in a sense. What often passes as â€œinspirationâ€ to Mormons is usually just some other feeling misinterpreted. I may be giving the writers of this movie too much credit for throwing in this subtle jab at Mormon â€œinspiration,â€ but I thought it was funny. In that same sequence, Elder Calhoun revealed something else interesting about the writer of the movie. While describing the Book of Mormon Calhoun describes it as the record of god’s people in the new world, which belies a hemispheric model understanding. Apologists will probably just dismiss this as ignorance. But I love the fact that it does represent what the majority of Mormons believe about the Book of Mormon.
There was one final statement in the movie that I found funny. Near the end when Rogers and Calhoun are â€œon fire,â€ Elder Johnson is reporting their numbers. He says they had 97 baptismal challenges, â€œbut that’s because Calhoun challenges everyone.â€ That is actually an illustration of good writing â€“ Elder Calhoun’s character (naÃ¯ve Forrest Gump) was maintained throughout the movie.
In the end, I can see how this movie would appeal to Mormons â€“ it is basically one big pep talk about working hard as a missionary, having faith, and believing you can baptize people. Of course, all of the actors are Mormon, which means it’s not really believable, but Mormons can have their folk tales, too! I, on the other hand, had a slightly different interpretation that my wife found funny. The real lesson from this movie is that â€œthe only people Mormons can convert in Holland are Americans.â€ I also got a real kick out of the baptism scene. It takes place in a river and there are maybe 20 members watching from the river bank. I couldn’t help but say out loud during that scene, â€œAmazing, they got every Mormon in Holland to be in the movie!â€
Overall, this isn’t the worst Mollywood movie I’ve seen. There are funnier ones, but they are more ridiculous. This isn’t â€œGod’s Army,â€ but it’s a semi-accurate â€“ if boring â€“ portrayal of Mormon missionaries trying to figure things out in Holland. I wouldn’t recommend it for non-Mormons, but it might be a good teaching tool for Family Night for Mormons.