Thursday, August 23, 2007
September Dawn (1 star out of 5)
'September Dawn' is a misguided 9/11 allegory
Roger Moore, Sentinel Movie Critic
August 24, 2007
They sat in their remote homeland and seethed with hatred over their
mistreatment real and imagined at the hands of the United States.
They plotted. They schemed. They worked each other into a frenzy of
religious hatred. And on Sept. 11, they struck back, slaughtering
innocent men, women and children.
It happened 150 years ago in Utah, when Mormons, supposedly on orders
from high up in the church leadership, murdered 120 American settlers in
a wagon train on their way to California.
It's an important piece of history, not least because of the Church of
Latter Day Saints' efforts to spin and deny the admittedly murky facts
of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
But Christopher Cain's movie about that September Dawn has no such
doubt. It has the chilling certitude of the self-righteous. This
misguided 9/11 allegory and fictionalization of that history utterly
demonizes the perpetrators of that massacre and those who may have given
Though classed-up by a couple of respected actors Oscar winner Jon
Voight is the Bishop who carried out the attack, Terrence Stamp is the
messianic Brigham Young it is barely a counterpoint to the Mormon-backed
hagiography movie trilogy, The Work and the Glory, which whitewashes
some of the same history Cain is so eager to cake in blood.
Feebly framed with the deposition Young gave 20 years after the fact,
screenwriter Carole Whang Shutter's version of this story hangs on a
tale as old as Romeo & Juliet. As a matter of fact, it is Romeo &
Juliet, as a strapping, open-minded Mormon horse-lover (Trent Ford)
takes a shine to fetching Miss Emily (Tamara Hope) as her group, The
Arkansas Company, stops to rest in Mormon territory on its way west.
His father, the Bishop (Voight), mistrusts "the Gentiles," as the
Mormons call non-believers. Her father, a Protestant preacher, is
tolerant to the point of sainthood.
The Bishop, knowing the mood in the territory after the Mormon community
had been run out of every state where they had set up shop (with their
leaders lynched) is thinking revenge. It doesn't take much prodding to
get the church leadership interested in making an example out of these
innocents. Facing the imminent arrival of U.S. troops, the leaders
resolve, "We will not be run out. This time we will stand and fight!"
To a man because the movie never lets us forget that the Mormons were
polygamists and patriarchal sexists these church founders are murderous
fanatics poisoned by the absolutism of their faith, their blind
obedience to their dictatorial leaders, their mania for secrecy and
their years of conflict with the rest of America. The phrase, "Joseph
Smith wants to be an American Mohammed" doesn't show up here by accident.
On the other side, Cain all but plops halos on the settlers. You'll
recognize Lolita Davidovich as a single mother who wears pants and a gun
and rides a horse like a man, "an abomination," fumes the Bishop. She
gets the inevitable "I have a bad feeling about this" line.
Adding the trite love story may give the film structure and a way to
bring the audience in, but that totally undermines the real history Cain
and Shutter want us to remember. In so stacking the deck, they lose
whatever credibility they wanted. This really happened, and the people
the film points the finger at may very well have gotten away with mass
Every religion, when scrutinized by a skeptic, is open to mockery. Tune
in to South Park if you want satire that ridicules, sect by sect, all
comers in the world of religious zealots especially Mormons.
But September Dawn isn't mockery. It's practically a call to jihad.
We can probably count the days until this shows up for sale on fringe
Christian TV channels, its virtues trumpeted by some minister or other
marketing his or her version of "The Truth."
There are facts here. It's thought-provoking in the ways it makes you
consider how this event resembles that later 9/11.
But there's the unmistakable air of evil about this enterprise, and not
just an atrocity the Mormon church caused to happen 150 years ago.