Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » 17 Miracles, More or Less
 


17 Miracles, More or Less

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 23, 2011

Its official website announces this new movie with the statement:

Based on unbelievable actual events, and brought to you by filmmaker T.C. Christensen (Praise to the Man, The Work and the Glory), 17 Miracles will open your eyes to the stories of the Mormon Pioneers as you have never seen them before. Something extraordinary is about to happen.

It’s probably never a good idea for a movie that claims to be based on actual events to introduce them as “unbelievable.” Just sayin’.

In countless interviews during the course of making this movie (a process heavily reported by the Deseret News as Googling quickly shows), T.C. Christensen cautioned potential viewers that his movie was not a documentary. I didn’t expect it to be. I knew, for instance, that for dramatic purposes the director had combined experiences from two distinct handcart companies – despite how often we refer to “The Martin and Willie Handcart Company,” these were two separate companies under separate leadership that left Iowa at different times, did not meet each other on the trail, and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley three weeks apart. As is common with historical fiction, I also expected that several real persons might have been combined into single composite characters, that events would be telescoped, and so on. No problem, really.

And truly, that dramatic license proved to be no real problem, even for the historian side of me that does worry how popular culture reshapes people’s views of history. I don’t think 17 Miracles will be a problem in that regard, except, perhaps, that some people will have a harsher view of company leader James G. Willie than is fair, and will certainly believe that the film’s hero, Levi Savage, participated in events in which he had no role. A key and recurring idea of the movie, for instance, is that Savage participated in disposing of the remains of the Donner Party, and his nightmares regarding Donner cannibalism fueled his fears for the most desperate days of the Willie Company suffering.

(In reality, there is no reason to think that Levi Savage personally participated in the burial detail. He was one of well over a hundred Mormon Battalion veterans strung out along the trail, traveling within a few days of each other but not as one body; Savage does not seem to have been a member of Kearny’s escort, and I can find no evidence that Savage was involved in disposing of the Donner remains.)

A prominent character in the movie was Brother Albert (a character based on Robert Pearce). Brother Albert was a very little Little Person. I know of no reason to believe that Robert Pearce was a dwarf or midget or other Little Person; rather, he is consistently described in the diaries and reminiscences as “crippled,” not small. (Fellow handcarter John Southwell describes him, for example, as: “one of the worst cripples I ever saw to be a traveler. His lower limbs were paralyzed and his body badly deformed but he was strong in the faith. He was able to propel himself with surprising speed with the use of crutches.”)

Anyhoo …

17 Miracles is a pretty movie, visually – the scenery and color and costumes and properties are all worth seeing. The actors were more than competent, despite the overwrought dialogue put into their mouths. And the music was lovely, although the director tended to use it as a club over the audience’s head – music always swelled to almost unbearable intensity and volume during significant moments in a blatant attempt to manipulate audience emotions. I often felt manipulated, frankly, whether by the music, or by flowery speeches that surely never came from the mouths of suffering travelers, or by the too many and too realistic prayers closing in the spoken name of the Savior (it jarred me to see and hear sacred names and practices exploited so openly in the name of commercial entertainment; your mileage may vary) or by the publicist’s repeated assurances that I would need my handkerchief. I didn’t.

The movie didn’t live up to the potential of its story, despite its dramatic material, despite its reliance on Mormon emotional responses to the suggestion that God and his angels were blessing the handcart pioneers every step of their journey. 17 Miracles just didn’t live up to its premise. Along with the friend who accompanied me and with whom I found myself giggling at inappropriate moments, I repeatedly found myself wishing I had kept track of the miracles as they were ticked off so that I could know how many more I had to endure before the closing credits.

I believe in the miraculous. (Who was it who said that Mormons don’t expect miracles, we take them for granted?) I also believe that God was aware of the pioneers of the Martin and Willie companies, and of all sufferers. If this movie justifies its existence, it will be not because of the particular story it tries to tell, but because of the personal meditation and the group discussions it may provoke concerning miracles, their reality and purpose.

Oddly, perhaps, the miracles depicted in 17 Miracles that I found most easy to believe were the ones with the least objective evidence to support them.

***SPOILER ALERT*** several of the depicted miracles are detailed below ***

Early in the movie, an English woman takes her two small children and leaves her alcoholic, battering husband to go with her fellow converts to Zion. The family is aboard the train, almost safely away, when the husband boards the train looking for his fleeing family. He reaches their seat; he puts his hand on his wife’s shoulder; they lock eyes … and yet somehow the man does not recognize his family and continues down the aisle and out of the car.

There can be no objective evidence of such a story. Only the woman (her children are too small) could have known or recorded the event. There is nothing tangible to point to in support of the story. Yet for some reason I can believe such a miracle happened – it fits my other-world-view of how the spirit sometimes works in times of great danger (even though I know of other instances where fleeing family members were in fact removed from trains and ships and returned to husbands and fathers who did not support emigration).

I have a harder time believing in other miracles depicted by the movie, due to the reported miracles themselves, not to any particular flaw in the film. Twice, for instance, starving handcart families were shown as receiving miraculous bread from heaven. One woman sits down in the wilderness and refuses to take one more step; her daughter, pleading with her to continue, looks down at her feet and finds a pan of bread or cake just sitting there on the desert floor. In another case, a mother puts two biscuits and some water in a bake kettle over the fire; when she lifts the kettle lid, she finds the kettle completely filled with perfectly baked bread.

Why do I find both miracles so much harder to believe than the first? I suppose because neither fits my idea of how the spirit works, my idea of “the economy of heaven,” as that phrase is now developing. If the Lord is going to provide miraculous food, why for only those two families, and why on only those two occasions? If such a thing happened, it might have boosted their spirits, but a single meal could have done little if anything to prolong their lives. Who could either family tell of their great blessing? Are you going to go running to some other starving soul and say that the Lord has fed your children but not theirs? Something about it just doesn’t ring true to me.

And the claimed miracle that should have had the most objective support, but does not, bothers me the most. In one instance a woman wanders away from the camp to hunt for buffalo chips. She encounters a strange “traveler” who takes her to a cave, has her gather her apron into a pouch, and fills it with dried meat for her to take back to the starving pioneers. Such an unlooked-for feast of protein at that critical moment would surely have been remembered by everyone who participated … yet there is no mention of it in any of the writings by survivors. That to me is simply incredible. (In an evident nod to this glaring problem, the text crawl at the end of the movie claims that this woman’s daughter, evidently the source of the story, had grown to doubt her mother’s report until at some unrecorded date in some unmentioned place, some unidentified person spoke in church and claimed to have witnessed the miracle. I smell folk legend in the making, not confirmation of history.)

17 Miracles could also spark reflection on what, exactly, is a miracle. Is it a miracle – or some hoky attempt at symbolism – that the two white wolves who have followed and harassed the handcart companies from the beginning of their journey are chased away from a small child before the wolves can attack? Is it a miracle when two small girls encounter a lot of rattlesnakes and pray for safety, then for some inexplicable reason go skipping and jumping unnecessarily through the snake bed instead of quietly backing up the way they had come? Was it supposed to be a miracle – or bad editing – when a scene of men complaining that their rations are too small to give them energy needed to pull their carts is immediately followed by a scene of two energetic young lovers dancing and skipping and splashing through ice water as merrily and as joyously as if they had full stomachs and not a care in the world?

Finally — finally — the pioneers see men on horseback riding to their rescue. Then abruptly, as if the filmmaker had gotten as tired of his tale as I was, we see Levi Savage jogging along the lane leading to his sister’s home in the Salt Lake Valley. The entire last month of the handcart trek, some of the hardest travel and most grievous suffering, is skipped over with the snap of a finger. Levi is home. All is well.

17 Miracles is not a bad movie; you might justifiably enjoy it as much as the senior missionaries sharing the theater with us did last night (their laughter was obviously from delight, in stark contrast to our laughter).  But neither is 17 Miracles a great movie.

Leave your handkerchief at home. You won’t need it.



85 Comments »

  1. Before I read your review I figured this was the sort of film I had no intention of seeing. After having read your review I *know* this is the sort of film I have no intention to see ;-)

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — June 23, 2011 @ 9:49 am

  2. Ardis –

    This movie is a travesty.

    First, it diminishes the flawed advice given by Church leaders to cross the plains too late in the season. And, the companies were assured they would be safe. That was a grotesque mistake. Brigham Young was upset about it and the whole program was changed as a consequence. Yet, the movie champions the following of that horrible direction.

    Second, the movie is misleading and innacurate in its representation.

    Third, the movie is emotionally and spiritual manipulative.

    I believe this movie should be condemned, not praised.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  3. Most movies are truly meant to have us suspend our rational belief systems and accept what is shown as possibilities. Most documentaries are meant to have us believe facts as observed and retold in movie format.

    I have found that neither typically meet their objectives in my mind. For me, truth in documentaries is usually somewhere in between what is shown and what really happened. I don’t even expect truth in movies.

    That said, I probably will see 17 Miracles when it is available on DVD as I don’t expect it to come to California theatres any time soon. I hope I will enjoy it as a mini-mind-vacation trip that doesn’t cost too much.

    Comment by Cliff — June 23, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  4. Moniker, I live to strengthen “figure” into “know.” Glad to oblige. :)

    Steve, while I agree in general with your points, I do think your conclusion is unnecessarily harsh. This is entertainment, not history, and the filmmaker was quite upfront with that. Had this been posing as a documentary or had it appeared on paper masquerading as a scholarly paper, yes, I would probably join you in your conclusion. But I think each genre should be judged on the merits of its own art form — by its nature, movies intend to engage the emotions, and we all know they do that by creative reworking of the facts. Just as a viewer would be wrong to consider this as reliable, dependable history, so too we would be wrong to judge it as if it claimed to be reliable, dependable history. IMO.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  5. Cliff, we cross-posted, and your first paragraph succinctly says what I was stretching to say to Steve. thanks.

    DVD format would be a great way to see this film. In a setting with family and friends, you could all discuss what worked and why, or what failed and why, and could have that discussion about “what is the miraculous?” that I think this film ought to provoke.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  6. When’s it coming to New York?

    Comment by Mark B. — June 23, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  7. I hear they’re going to take it to Broadway, Mark, as soon as some stage is freed from its current hit.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  8. Ardis –

    My frustration with this show is that thousands will think this is the way it happened. Many will descibe the incidents as fact. There is a tremendous story here, primarily with respect to the rescue. But, that was left out. I’ve already heard folks describe this as a faith-promoting true story.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 10:39 am

  9. Yes, that bothers me, too, Steve. It’s why I like history so much better than fiction, or than artistic representations by anyone who feels that the art is more important than the history. One practical reason for having seen this movie is that when someone does say something wacky based on it — say, our next D&C year in Sunday School — I’ll know exactly where the wack came from and can more easily refute it by pointing out the source of the misinformation. Something tells me you’ll be doing a lot of that, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  10. Steve,

    I watched the movie with a full packed theater last week. I found the story to be entertaining, inspiring and believable. When the credits rolled everyone remained in the theater. NO one moved for a few moments, then they silently exited. There was a spirit there. The movie may have flaws that you have pointed out. But the movie is well worth viewing. It touches hearts and stirs emotions.

    I found your review to be a little on the harsh side, which is typical of movie critics. It is your opinion and it is your right to express it.

    My opinion is that the movie is inspiring and entertaining and well worth the money I paid to see it. I will buy the DVD when it comes out, because I’d like to see this movie again and have it in our family library.

    So for those who are reading this review, please don’t base your choice to go see this movie on Steve’s review. Go see for yourself, judge for yourself.

    I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the movie touches you. If not, then you’ve lost $8 and a couple of hours out of your life. I’m sure you’ve done that on many Hollywood movies in the past.

    Jen

    Comment by Jen — June 23, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  11. Jen, it’s MY review — Ardis — not Steve’s review. And I’m not a movie critic. I’m a historian. In this case, noting the film’s rewriting of history counts as more than mere “opinion” — it’s fact that can be supported by mountains of objective evidence.

    By all means, I support your right, and the right of any other person, to be moved and touched and inspired and entertained by whatever suits you. This movie failed to inspire me, and I’ve explained why.

    Incidentally, there were no more than 10 people in the theater last night, although I note that Monday’s showing was sold out at the Gateway theater.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 11:12 am

  12. Thanks for the review. This is the first I’ve heard of it. I suspect it will show up here in Washington at some point. One of the multiplexes in Redmond has booked several Mormon themed movies over the last few years, including “The Work and the Glory”. However, it is a $10.50 gamble here, so we tend to be a bit more selective and lean heavily on reviews and word of mouth in our choices.

    It would appear that this movie, while professionally done, still falls victim to the typical problem of most Mormon themed art: If there is any chance to hit you over the head to make sure you get the lesson, then prepare for repeated bludgeoning. From what you describe, the music and the dialogue seem to be about emotional manipulation rather than exposition. We’ve created a culture where we don’t trust the story to tell itself, and have become accustomed to a didactic style in our art. This sounds like more of the same. I’ll wait for the DVD.

    Comment by kevinf — June 23, 2011 @ 11:36 am

  13. Jen –

    I have real problem when the inspiration is something false.

    A lot of people were inspired by Paul H. Dunn’s stories. I collected his books. I was crushed when I discovered he had faked his background. Were they worth being inspired by?

    This movie glorifies the direction given by Elder Richards and other leaders. Brigham Young thought their advice was foolish. In it Levi Savage is depicted as worthy of merit because he went along after being browbeat for thinking the journey was a mistake. This was not a story of good faithfulness. It was a cautionary tale that blind faith could lead to death.

    As mentioned above, the heroic part was not the decision to go. It was the great lengths taken in the rescue.

    This movie misleads and misdirects.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  14. I’m doing this on my phone. Lots of spelling errors.

    I need to reemphasize that there is a tremendous story with the handcart companies. But, it is a cautionary tale. Namely, that leaders can make mistakes and, that, blindly following leaders can be disastrous. That was what happened here. And, in the roughly the same period, that is what happened at Mountain Meadows.

    But, there is a very heartfelt story. Faithful people can endure tremendous suffering. And, rescuers who give their all to save their fellow man are worthy of honor.

    In this movie, the suffering message does exist but the second one is shortchanged. And, clearly, the gross mistakes that led to this disaster are downplayed and blame redirected.

    This may be faithful history but is a deceptive version.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  15. So what would you say, Ardis, two stars?

    Comment by Researcher — June 23, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  16. I sort of thought she gave it a moon.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 23, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

  17. Sorry for the mistake Ardis.

    I hope that people don’t base their decision to go on your review though, because I feel they’ll miss out on the experience of viewing the film in theaters. The DVD will be awesome, but viewing it on the big screen is, for me, the way to see this amazing film.

    Steve I disagree with your comments, but appreciate your right to express them.

    The movie is a success in that it teaches us that there are things worth striving for in this life. Their desire to give all, to be free to worship the Lord in their own way and to bring their families to Zion was depicted so well in the movie.

    If you go to the facebook page you’ll see that many people have been touched by this movie. So again, please see for yourself and make your own decisions. To base your decision to watch or not on someone else’s review would be a mistake imho.

    Comment by Jen — June 23, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  18. Yes, kevinf, this film did suffer from the typical Mormon mistrust of the audience — “they might not understand that this is an inspirational moment, so I’ll have a character say so in so many words, and I’ll turn up the music.” Maybe not quite as heavily as some others I’ve seen, but certainly manipulative. I’m conscious of that problem and I try to let Keepa stories twang their own intrinsic heartstrings (whether or not I always succeed) — I did try to make clear the poverty that both the Dutch and German Saints were living in, for instance, but stayed away from lecturing you about what a touching, inspiring, moving story it was to think that out of their poverty they would follow the Savior to the point where yada yada yada. Either you recognized that yourself, or you didn’t.

    Steve, I mentioned that I was afraid that the reputation of James Willie would suffer from his portrayal here. That is in significant measure due to the way the director put Franklin D. Richards’s speeches and judgments in Willie’s mouth — another example of what you note as “blame redirected.”

    Yeah, that’s probably fair, Researcher. Two out of five stars. Like I said, it isn’t bad, really (Steve disagrees); the problem is more its heavy-handedness and its liberties with history, both of which are employed to manufacture inspiration. The movie aims to inspire for good, and that’s seldom wrong. I just think it goes about it in the wrong way and produces the kind of inspiration that crumbles into disillusionment when you look behind the curtain.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  19. To base your decision to watch or not on someone else’s review would be a mistake imho.

    And yet that is what reviews are for — including the reviews on the Facebook page.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  20. I generally find actually history sufficiently poignant and touching. But I realize that I am not the intended audience. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Ardis.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 23, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  21. Jen –

    I know I’m being really harsh but I find it offensive to distort this important story this way. My sense you think I’m distorting the factual history. A few minutes with any of the historical records will indicate otherwise. Of note, the view I’m expressing was consistent with Brigham Young’s take on the incident. He thought the advice to go was plain stupid — and voiced that.

    If I understand what you are saying, you think something is worthwhile if it makes you feel good even if the story is distorted beyond recognition and the incidents that inspire you didn’t occur. I guess we’ll have to disagree on that.

    I’ve read the Facebook comments. But, I wonder how many of those folks would have the same feeling if they realized that the facts were different.

    I love inspirational fiction. But, it needs to be rooted in the history. This isn’t.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  22. Ardis—Thanks so much for the review. I will be seeing the movie this weekend and will view it with a skeptical eye based on Ardis’s review.(I would of viewed it with a skeptical eye without the review but my viewing will be more focused because of Ardis)

    Let me pose a question to Ardis and anyone else who cares to comment. Would the movie have been better if it had been based on the historical novel on the handcart companies that came out last year. “In the company of Angels” rather than taking the “based on real events” approach??

    The novel uses real historical characacters (including my ggg grandfather Peder Mortensen) but takes a more realistic ,rather than a faith promoting approach to the story.

    Comment by john willis — June 23, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  23. I didn’t read the novel, john willis, so I can’t comment. Maybe someone else who has read/seen both will do so.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  24. On another point, I deliberately downplayed one item that disturbed me very much, but now think it’s worth bringing up: the issue of cannibalism.

    When the fictional version of Levi Savage assists with the burial of the Donner party, Levi flashes on a nightmare where he imagines the pile of Donner corpses, and a man crawling toward them through the snow with a knife, and then someone gnawing on bones which we have to believe are human. The images are very brief and very quick, yet they are graphic and unmistakeable. Then repeatedly through the course of the handcart story, the fictional version of Levi Savage flashes again to those disgusting and horrible scenes. Repeatedly.

    If your kids are watching the movie, you may want to be prepared with some kind of explanation. They may miss it, but again they may not.

    When I worked with David Roberts on Devil’s Gate, his handcart book, he considered the issue of cannibalism in connection with the Martin and Willie companies. Now, know that there has never been any hint or accusation of cannibalism in connection with the handcarts. A man like Roberts, who has studied (and personally lived with) survival issues under extreme conditions, had a defensible right to consider the possibility. But when he found not the slightest evidence to support that possibility, I argued with him that he would be irresponsible even to discuss it in Devil’s Gate. Readers seldom remember the details of the history they read, but once the issue was raised, I believed that many readers would somehow associate cannibalism with the Mormon pioneers — they wouldn’t remember that the possibility was discounted; they would remember that so sensational an issue had been raised.

    So much for that. T.C. Christensen has not only raised the issue, he has illustrated it. Ask people leaving the theater whether there was cannibalism associated with the handcarts and they’ll all say “no.” Ask them again in a year, and I’d stake anything that a small but sizable number would say something like “I can’t remember just how it was, but there was something about cannibalism in that movie. Yeah, I think there was.”

    The effort to manufacture artificial drama by having Levi Savage flashback to his nightmare to show how critical had become the pioneers’ position will, I have little doubt, actually result in tarring their reputation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  25. Very interesting posts and reviews. I saw the film ten days ago at the Gateway. I did my usual thing I do with historical fiction – turned my tolerance button ‘way up. But I was entertained by the scenery and some of the silly stuff anyway. When I realized it was a mix of Martin and Willie companies, I felt cheated they didn’t include the Hunt and Hodgett wagon trains. They had some of the same experiences and some suffered even more as they gave up their places in the wagons in favor of disabled members of the Martin company. Their belongings were left at Devils Gate to make room for the handcart people in the wagons. Most never saw their baggage again.

    Comment by CurtA — June 23, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  26. Ardis, what I remember most from a cursory read of Devil’s Gate is the glowing acknowledgment and thanks Roberts paid you in the back pages, while pointing to strong differences of opinion between the two of you. He obviously respected you enough to take your advice on this issue, and called you the most talented researcher he had ever worked with. Just thought that deserved some mention here.

    Comment by kevinf — June 23, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

  27. Yes reviews are so that people can read what others thought of the movie. But the reviewers have their own biased and unbiased opinions, depending on their own personal preferences. I still maintain that to decide not to view something because of another person’s opinion is naive.

    Ardis, I think you tar the people who view this film with the same brush in your statement.

    Ask them again in a year, and I’d stake anything that a small but sizable number would say something like “I can’t remember just how it was, but there was something about cannibalism in that movie. Yeah, I think there was.”

    Jen

    Comment by Jen — June 23, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  28. In another case, a mother puts two biscuits and some water in a bake kettle over the fire; when she lifts the kettle lid, she finds the kettle completely filled with perfectly baked bread.

    I just read this story in “The Price We Paid: the Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers” by Andrew D. Olson. I don’t have it in front of me, but it was a specific story associated with a specific person in the Willie Company, and I think it was referenced (but I didn’t check to see what the reference was — I’ll see if I can find it later tonight). The biscuits were said to be left over from the ship voyage, but too hard to chew.

    Comment by Martin — June 23, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  29. Jen,

    No one is taking issue with whether or not you liked the movie. Ardis found much to like in it as well. And you are right about biases. To ask someone like Ardis to disregard the apparent historical inaccuracies in a review is also naive. I respect Ardis’ fervent commitment to historical accuracy, and have come to give her opinion great weight on historical issues. She also is very familiar with how folk history and doctrine spread, and is making a guess about what a minority of the potential viewers would think.

    On the other hand, I have other folks that I depend on for reviews and opinions on the cheesy science fiction movies and books that I like, but I’m not going to Ardis for that. (Disclaimer: I have never discussed cheesy science fiction with Ardis, but recent discussions about the serialized version of His Father’s Son here on this site at least get close to that!)

    I’m glad you liked the movie. I reacted mostly to her descriptions of what appear to be clumsy plotting, manipulative use of music for emotional appeal, and bad dialogue masquerading as story exposition, something I don’t react well to. My decision to wait and borrow the DVD is based on a couple of factors, including the $10.50 price of movies here in Washington. No judgment on the movie itself.

    Comment by kevinf — June 23, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  30. This reminds me of the “My Turn on Earth” doctrine that missionaries have taught now for two generations. Not harmless at all. I hope 17 is not that bad. I’ll watch it on DVD to see what’s good and start a good discussion about history and miracles and whatever else comes up. I appreciate the reviews and learning how to review it.

    Comment by Carol — June 23, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  31. Thanks, Curt, and Carol, and especially kevinf.

    Martin, I don’t doubt that the writer/director has a source for every one of the depicted miracles, and I don’t necessarily doubt that some or most or even all of the depicted miracles had a little or a lot of truth at the heart. I believe in the miraculous. I do think it’s worth talking about what we mean when we refer to something as a miracle, and considering, even if only in our own minds, why some people are granted miracles and others in very similar circumstances are not. And I especially think it’s fair in the course of a review to discuss whether a particular depiction rang true, or not, and how and why. (Not that you necessarily disagree with any of that; I just wanted to clarify that I don’t think for a moment that the filmmakers invented the miracles out of whole cloth, although obviously they shaped how those miracles were portrayed on screen.)

    Jen, I’ve given specific examples to illustrate both what I appreciated about the film and what I found problematic. You have said repeatedly that you were inspired by the movie without detailing anything in particular to justify your reaction — apparently the movie gave you warm and fuzzy feelings for reasons that you cannot analyze. Unless you can articulate specifically how and why it moved you, and why my criticisms are invalid, you’ve occupied the stage here often enough. I’ll thank you to move along.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  32. No problem in moving on, this is your playground and you can invite or ban whoever you want to. It’s sad really though that you can’t allow anyone but those who agree with you, to play.

    Jen

    Comment by Jen — June 23, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  33. Ardis, I wasn’t being critical, and I haven’t seen the show, so I have no idea how that particular incident was depicted. I hate historical mash-ups. How do you know the filmmakers know when to stop? What if they mashed miracles together? What conclusions could one draw from the “composite miracle” which never occurred? In that case, I just had some info indicating that that particular story wasn’t a mash-up.

    With regards to the economy of heaven where it pertains to miracles, I find it impossible to model. Olson’s book seems to have multiple accounts of individuals obtaining food in miraculous ways at the same time others were dying from lack of food, exposure, and exhaustion. It’s hard for me to read about people grieving over lost spouses and children only to give thanks for a single sparse meal, miraculously obtained or not. But that’s kind of how life is. God gives you one small sign that He’s there, that He’s watching you, but He’s perfectly willing to watch you go through hell.

    Comment by Martin — June 23, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  34. Odd, Jen, I thought I was inviting you to play with the grownups by stating your case for the positive aspects of this movie. Now that you have given the definitive evidence of your inability to do that, well, thanks for stopping by, but you’ve worn out your welcome. Goodbye.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

  35. Thanks for the review, Ardis, and for the comments, all.

    Ardis said:

    “I’m conscious of that problem [of purposefully manipulating an audience's emotions]and I try to let Keepa stories twang their own intrinsic heartstrings.”

    And that, Ardis, is why your stories will have a longer shelf life. I suspect that your even-toned writings will read just as well in 100 years as they do today.

    Comment by David Y. — June 23, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  36. Jen,

    Ardis has brought up excellent points that people should be aware of. It’s a little scary to me how many people I have met who base a least a portion of their testimony off of “Feeling a good spirit” while watching a fictional church related movie or from reading fictionalized history, especially when they learn the truth and feel betrayed.

    It is also scary how many people base their knowledge of Church History on historical fiction like this or the popular “Work and the Glory” series. I attended a CES sponsered lecture by Susan Easton Black a few years ago. She mentioned that she spent some time working for the Church/BYU in Nauvoo. She said that she lost track of how many visitors asked her, “Will you please tell me where Joshua Steed lived.”

    I am not saying that we should not have historical fiction, but as several people here rightly pointed out, with so many members who accept it at face value and can’t seperate the fact from the drama, we need to be careful.

    Comment by andrew h — June 23, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  37. Ardis –

    I’ve tried to locate the incidents in the movie. I’m having trouble finding most of them.

    Are you sure they are all based on an account?

    I’m wonder if some of them are like the one you noted above, namely someone who remembered the mom talking about it years after . . .

    I’m much more comfortable with accounts contained in the journals of the survivors.

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  38. I don’t think they’re all based on what I would consider reliable accounts, Steve, or ones that we can evaluate as historians; I just meant that I didn’t think T.C. Christensen made them up on the spot. Text on the screen at the opening of the movie insists that the miracles are “true,” and I don’t have any reason to doubt the director on that point (although we might debate what “true” means in the absence of reliable, historically credible accounts). This article, for instance, suggests that the apronful of meat from the stranger story was available only through a family source, not one that has been published or had the benefit of historical scrutiny.

    (Again, before anyone accuses me otherwise, I don’t necessarily disbelieve this story; I have unanswered questions, though. Also, I think it’s fair to say that there is more than the usual degree of artistic license in the telling of this story: When the woman goes back to thank the stranger, we see her from a vantage point inside the cave, with the camera shooting over the left shoulder of the mysterious “traveler” whom we see watching the pioneer; when we switch to her perspective, we see a blank hillside where the entrance of the cave should have been. Even if the story were 100% historically accurate from the pioneer’s perspective, obviously the filmmaker totally invented the “traveler’s” presence and watchfulness at that point — no historical record could document such a thing.)

    So in sum, I don’t think the filmmaker made up his miracles, but I also suspect that some are historically questionable.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  39. Jen may or may not still be around, but i want to respond to something she claimed in her first post (#10), ’cause it’s a dangerous claim with probematic evidence, in my opinion, and needs to be called out:

    When the credits rolled everyone remained in the theater. NO one moved for a few moments, then they silently exited. There was a spirit there.

    The implication is that the spirit there was the Holy Spirit. I’d like to ask for evidence beyond people’s reactions. I mean, this is the same reaction people in the theater where i saw Schindler’s List (yeah, yeah, i know, R rating, doomed to outer darkness, &c.) had to that movie—it’s what theater-goers often do after their emotions are tugged.

    And if you’re going to say that that was the result of the Holy Spirit, i’d like you to explain the similar reactions to Rent.

    Comment by David B — June 23, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

  40. My wife invited me to go see Jane Eyre with her, so I, being an agreeable sort, went with her. When the movie ended, I didn’t move for more that a few moments. But then she who must be obeyed nudged me in the ribs with her elbow, and I awoke and silently followed her up the aisle and out.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 23, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  41. Ardis,

    I’m sure that you are ready to move on but I’m hoping you or someone who saw the movie will answer a question. Does the movie depict/perpetuate the “3 heroic young men who carry everyone across the river and die” myth thatwas so thoroughlly debunked in BYU Studies a few yers ago or did they wisely leave it out?

    Comment by andrew h — June 23, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  42. That’s the spirit, Mark B. Er …

    andrew h, the movie ends just as the rescuers arrive on the scene (I don’t recall that we even saw them get off their horses). So no, the movie doesn’t perpetuate the inaccuracies of the “3 heroic young men” story (I think it’s fairer to say that a very real story was exaggerated in several directions, not that it was entirely a myth to be debunked).

    However, the story *is* present in an altered form. I’ve mentioned a pair of young lovers in the movie (Sarah and George). We do see George carrying weaker pioneers through the icy waist-deep waters of a river, over and over and over, and he dies in part from the effects of that heroic effort (at least, Sarah’s voiceover says something about his never recovering from that effort, and he does soon die). So this movie does invoke all of the iconic elements of the “3 heroic young men” story and undoubtedly does call out the traditional Mormon emotional response to the rescue, but transfers it all to George.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 23, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  43. Ardis –

    I looked at the Deseret News link on the jerky story.

    I am flabbergasted that a story not supported by any of the contemporaneous accounts was included because some distant family member thought it was real. Ugh.

    If that is the standard for this movie, particularly given the dramatic point of this individual incident, I don’t have much faith in the rest.

    By that same standard, my great great great great grandfather single-handedly liberated San Diego from Mexico control when he when ahead of the Mormon Battalion one morning when everyone else was sleeping. I think I overhead someone at a reunion saying something like that once (my g-g-g-g grandfather was actually in the Battalion and left a very good truthful account).

    Comment by Steve — June 23, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

  44. [...] Ardis E. Parshall at Keepapitchinin evaluates both the historical accuracy and the aesthetics of 17 Miracles, and finds the film is mediocre in both cases. “The movie didn’t live up to the potential of its story, despite its dramatic material, despite its reliance on Mormon emotional responses to the suggestion that God and his angels were blessing the handcart pioneers every step of their journey. 17 Miracles just didn’t live up to its premise . . . 17 Miracles is not a bad movie; you might justifiably enjoy it as much as the senior missionaries sharing the theater with us did last night (their laughter was obviously from delight, in stark contrast to our laughter).  But neither is 17 Miracles a great movie.” [...]

    Pingback by This Week in Mormon Literature, June 24, 2010 | Dawning of a Brighter Day — June 24, 2011 @ 1:16 am

  45. I have a wide and varied family in Utah, made up of believers, semi-believers, non-believers, positive and negative personalities, some faithful, educated and uneducated, etc. Over 15 of them have seen this movie. I have heard their reviews.

    Let’s just say that Ardis’ is the most *positive* I’ve heard.

    I LOL’d at the Dunn reference because as one of my relatives said, “This movie belongs in the Paul H. Dunn ™ Dustbin of History”.

    It will end up like David Archuleta and Jimmer Fredette — because it’s got Mormon ties, it will be held up as a model of superior quality for time and all eternity, even if the actual quality is dubious.

    Comment by queuno — June 24, 2011 @ 2:01 am

  46. How about renaming the movie: “4-5 Miracles plus 12-13 Historically-questionable Incidents”?

    Comment by Steve — June 24, 2011 @ 8:17 am

  47. Ardis: I guess LDS Living didn’t contact you for your thoughts.
    http://www.ldsliving.com/story/64992-independent-lds-film-goes-national

    :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — June 24, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  48. The movie, Titanic, was only based on an actual event, Lonesome Dove was based on an actual time period of US history, Boogie Nights was even based on an actual individual.
    This movie depicts an actual event with liberty taken by the director to make it a more fulfilling story. The handcart companies DID move from Ill to UT, the people did suffer, people did die and others recorded the miracles that happened along the way.
    If you are a Christian you believe in miracles and if you are not..you don’t. You do not have to LDS to believe.

    Comment by Kevin — June 24, 2011 @ 8:33 am

  49. Hmmm. That article sure looks familiar, Steve C. Oh, yeah, it’s the same press release that was sent to me, right down to the same quotation from the same Facebook fan!

    Dang. Blogging would be easier if I didn’t feel compelled to write my own stuff.

    :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2011 @ 8:46 am

  50. Until I followed the link above, I didn’t realize that the movie was tied to Deseret Book which is owned by the Church.

    That tie makes the movie even more disturbing.

    Kevin –

    You are correct that many movies have an historical setting. What is wrong with this one is it tries to claim that it is based on historically-based events. Yet, the movie is at best misleading and at worst (and, in my opinion) downright deceptive.

    Comment by Steve — June 24, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  51. Steve, I’ve expressed agreement with many of your points, and I appreciate your probing of facets of historical reliability and sourcing and so on. I think both of us have ragged on the movie enough, though, so unless a new issue comes up (not only a new commenter who may repeat some earlier ideas), we’ve both had our say.

    The issue of Excel’s ties to Deseret Book, and Deseret Book’s ties to the Church, is a matter that hadn’t been previously mentioned. Despite the corporate chain, though, the Church did not make the movie and is not responsible for its content — which is as it should be! If the Church puts out a movie with its own name stamped on it, that’s one thing; when there’s a chain of corporate relationships, that’s another — I wouldn’t want the Church micromanaging a private enterprise project, and I don’t think you would want them to, either. Not really.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  52. Actually, Kevin, it sounds as if the movie suffers from the same problems with historical accuracy as your comment. The handcart companies (in 1856, at least) started in Iowa City, Iowa, not Illinois.

    Of course, it might be a more “fulfilling” story if we started them in Illinois, but why stop there? Why not have them pull their handcarts across the ocean?–just think of the miracles they could pile up to explain that!!

    Comment by Mark B. — June 24, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  53. Ardis —

    This illustrates how difficult it is for the Church to have business ties. Some will see the movie and perceive that the First Presidency approved the script. Very tricky.

    Comment by Steve — June 24, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  54. “the heroic part was not the decision to go. ”

    I just want to reply to this one comment and the tone that seems to go with it in other comments.

    If Peter walked on water and sank and died, he’s a fool. If he walks on water and fails he has little faith. So apparently it’s only success that we value.

    I for one will not diminish the heroic efforts of those who put their faith first and stepped into the dark. What they found, was that the lights did not turn on in a temporal sense (ie, things did not “work out” physically), but spiritually I think a greater light entered their lives as a result of their heroic sacrifice, which is now deemed misguided by others.

    To such reasoning, it could be said, Christ’s actions were not heroic, he was strung up and murdered and abadoned his followers in their time of need when all he needed to do was make a passioned plea at the time of his conviction.

    Such reasoning suggests that the suffering endured on the cross was not both for Christ’s ultimate good, but our own. Such reasoning belittles the sacrifice.

    They were indeed heros. That we can look back under the guise of history and claim “they should have waited the winter out” to me belittles their sacrifice.

    If those saints went forward with faith, trusting in God and doing their best to follow Christ and keep the commandments then what they went through was indeed for not only their ultimate (eternal) good, but that of their posterity. That’s a definition of scriptural heroism to me. And I don’t think Brigham Young would disagree, despite him being upset at someone giving them poor advice.

    Comment by chris — June 24, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  55. In other words, I can condemn Christ’s murders, I can condemn Jospeh’s muderers, I can question the wisdom of the advice in asking someone to trek across the country, but I wouldn’t tell Christ his decision was not heroic to suffer and die, what seemed a needless death to the world. I wouldn’t tell Joseph and Hyrum they were not heroic for returning across the river. I wouldn’t tell these pioneers they were not heroic for decidine to put their faith first and trust in God whatever the consequences.

    Comment by chris — June 24, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  56. I think everyone is getting sidetracked from the crucial issue here: is this film going to be popular enough that my in-laws give me the DVD for Christmas? If they do, what should I buy at Deseret Book using the store credit I get for returning it? I still have $10 left on my return card from taking back a dvd of a certain political commentator’s conversion story. I used the rest of the card for cinnamon rolls, but they were only so-so. Does Lion House have baked goods that anyone would recommend more highly?

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — June 24, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  57. Moniker, I’m sure there’s a McNaughton print in that price range.

    Comment by kevinf — June 24, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  58. I’m really trying to control my fingers, and I’ll probably regret later that I didn’t, but so be it –

    Yeah, chris, you’re reading us exactly right here. We’re condemning Christ, we’re diminishing the heroic step of pioneer faith, we’re sneering at Peter, we’re mocking Joseph. You got it. We tried to hide it, but you’re just too clever for us. Now what, oh, what shall we do now that we’ve been exposed for the black-hearted vipers we are?

    Really, chris, I applaud your faithfulness, but do not express it in a way that paints everybody else as faithless — not on Keepa. That doesn’t fly here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  59. P.S. — chris, you should apply for work as a writer on T.C. Christensen’s next script. Your melodramatic style can be put to good use there.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  60. @chris (#54,55): This may sound like snark depending on how you take it, but it’s not, it’s actually a serious question: In your view, is it possible to view the decision to send the handcart companies under discussion across the continent as late in the season as they were counseled to go as utterly stupid and worthy of condemnation (i.e., condemning those who gave the counsel to go), while not condemning the people in the companies themselves?

    @Ardis (#51): Well, it looks like you were successful in triggering a few posters with new issues. :-D

    Comment by David B — June 24, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  61. #57 GAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — June 24, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

  62. Chris –

    What you are missing is that this decision was seen as misguided by none other than Brigham Young. He was furious that Elder Richards told these folks to make the crossing — and that God would protect them. He didn’t and many died.

    I don’t see having the same opinion as the then-leader of the Church as heretical.

    Comment by Steve — June 24, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  63. Of course, the other response to Chris is that neither Ardis in the original post nor any of the commenters were criticizing the handcart pioneers. The criticism was directed, instead, at the movie, which devalues the handcart pioneers by sexing up [can I use that term if there aren't any Brits around?] the story with a lot of apparently invented miracles and melodramatic dialogue and music.

    One reason I honor those men and women is that they pressed forward in the terrible circumstances into which they were led. I suspect that their faith wavered and they probably questioned the wisdom of Elder Richards and may have wondered as has been wondered by others before them why God had forsaken them. And when they finally made it to the valley of the Great Salt Lake they probably said “This is the place??”

    But it’s highly unlikely that in those dark moments they all witnessed some miracle or another that bolstered their courage and determination to move on. Life isn’t that way now, and there’s no reason to suspect that it was that way back then.

    In those times of despair, they likely moved on because there wasn’t any alternative. There was no way to reverse course and return to the last settlement and seek shelter–they simply had to press on. That they did, and that they didn’t simply fold up and die then, or take the first train out of Zion when that became possible, is enough reason for me to honor them.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 24, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  64. In Gospel Doctrine, our instructor encouraged folks to see the movie, citing one of the questionable events (that trekkers saw those who died helping them push).

    I think the confusion betweem the real and the not-so-real has already started.

    Comment by Steve — June 26, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

  65. Steve, this is not good news to hear as I leave home for my own ward meetings … but thanks for your report.

    Oh, dear, oh, dear …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  66. Part of my posting didn’t post. .

    The actual stories were that they felt invisible help, not a visible version.

    Comment by Steve — June 26, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  67. I’ve been thinking about your reported use of a 17 Miracles bit in your ward, Steve.

    This illustrates a kind of double bind that any filmmaker would face with stories like this. I suppose Christensen adapted the comment of Francis Webster who later said, “I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.” (Chad Orton states that “No other members of the Martin Company make specific mention of angelic assistance during the later storm and cold” — I don’t know about the Willie Company; 17 Miracles’ conflation of the two companies makes sorting our historical sources difficult).

    What’s a filmmaker supposed to do? He can’t use voiceovers with authentic pioneer quotations for everything — he has to actually show something on screen. How will he show angelic assistance? By vague, fiery, “angelic” forms? By the actors who portrayed handcart pioneers who had died by this point? How do you show the “angels of God” on screen?

    Whatever choice the director makes, it’s a representation, an interpretation. It has to be — it can’t be anything more than that. But along comes the Mormon audience with its tendency toward strict literalism and its resistance to anything “merely” poetic, and it turns the director’s representational model into a supposedly literal rendering of history.

    On this point, I fault the literal-mindedness of the audience, not the director. No matter what choice the director made, some segment of the audience was bound to mistake it as historical truth.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2011 @ 6:58 am

  68. I was in bishopric meeting last Sunday where the bishop read a letter he had received from Deseret Book that invited our ward to sign up to receive a special screening of this movie. The bishop handed the letter to one of his counselors and asked him to look into it. I hadn’t heard of the movie until I read this post today, but I found this strange and felt that a line had been crossed.

    Comment by Barefoot Mike — June 28, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  69. I saw the movie yesterday with two friends. Afterwards, one wondered if Levi Savage really helped participate with the disposal of the Donner Party remains. I didn’t know but thought, ‘well, if they used that in the film they must have something that indicates that’… So I appreciate reading different thoughts on it here. I think historians have a much harder time letting go and just enjoying a movie like this. They just know too much. While I love history and do appreciate accuracy, I also can let go and realize that there might be some inaccuracies and treasured family stories that would be here…but I can appreciate this film as a whole and do not regret one bit having seen it. I did need a tissue at the end. However, it caused me to reflect on why God allows such things and also about the leaders who sent them on such a path when ‘maybe’ it could have been avoided. Yes, it says a lot about leadership too. It just left me feeling very thoughtful, very grateful for those who gave their all and a little nervous too…. I was thinking how important it is that leaders make the best decisions possible. One thing that keeps in my mind is the statement made from one of the pioneers…that nobody could know what we went through except those who experienced it. That is so true and I keep that formost in my mind. Nobody but them and God. Thanks for posting these comments…makes me think further and makes me want to be very careful as well.
    Ruth

    Comment by Ruth — June 30, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  70. Ruth, I think in many ways your comment is a better review of the movie than mine was. Yours is a very thoughtful view, recognizing the value of history, acknowledging the occasional compromises that are called for in adapting history to a different art form, and an appreciation of the religious and human values that movies like this intend to inspire. Thanks for taking the time to share that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 30, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  71. Saw it! (under odd circumstances I will not go in to at present). But I can now give first-hand observations as neither a professional historian nor film critic.

    It was better than I was expecting not particularly being a fan of emotionally manipulative “spiritual” movies. I thought the tone and the comments/contexts/caveats about the historical melding and accounts of the “miracles” were better than most of those in this genre. And maybe it seemed so good because by coincidence we streamed 1940′s “Brigham Young” off of netflix last Sunday (Pioneer Day – I won’t further distract here for the hilarity that ensued on that one – not all, just mostly bad.) and the modern film seemed quite a bit easier to take.

    The miracle most commented on by others in my viewing without even any prompting from me was the old-man-of-the-mountain-cave “angel” with the dried meat. Certain women were saying how they would never follow a creepy guy off like that. My boy commented that that “miracle” was pretty “weird.” And the actor bore a striking resemblance to an angelic visitor in some other movie I’ve seen. And that seemed a little manipulative.

    But still, in general, the scenery, production quality, and story-line worked well for me. Some in my group were counting miracles as I was, but I lost count. Another of my boys was noting the musical swells to I.D. the miracles. Maybe they should have just named it “Miracles” or “Handcart Miracles” without a set number. And I will admit that although I was expecting it [SPOILER] I did find it emotionally satisfying, if not a complete emotional swoon, to see and recognize those “perceived” angels helping to push.

    And I could have done without the Donner Party flashbacks. (Although it was fun to see General Kearney looking all scruffy.)

    Bottom line. I’m going to put a note in my personal journal and maybe modify my will to ask my Great-Great Grandchildren not to make a 22nd Century holographic extravaganza (or whatever) of my personal “miracles.”

    Comment by Grant — July 27, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  72. OK. It’s been a while now since this thread was active but I recently saw a billboard for the DVD release and I realized what my problem was. It’s the name. The movie is about 17 miracles. Besides the fact that my boys were a little unclear on the number counting them up when we saw it, the emphasis is on miracles rather than the point or purpose of those miracles. Miracles for miracles sake don’t do much for me.

    I tread very carefully here but I served a mission in a country dominated by another religious tradition. We heard a lot of stories about miracles of priests hovering above the pulpit, spontaneous bleedings, and images of holy ones or God Himself appearing in all sorts of places. My mental response always was, “for what purpose?” I think there is a basic purpose in that religious tradition to build faith in the divine. And that’s a fine religious tradition. It’s just not the way I see things.

    I’ve had miracles in my life. And they always came for some specific purpose even if it was a bit of humbling surprise. Usually, these were in the most extreme and urgent need in circumstances that are difficult to talk about because they are so personal and spiritually intimate. Sometimes they even relate to getting me or someone else out of sin which is not at all easy to relate. I can testify that miracles happen and my very existence and spiritual health and standing are the result.

    I believe the same about the handcart pioneers. Their miracles were for a purpose. Some of that was evident in the movie. But I am more comfortable when the emphasis is on those purposes rather than the miracles for counting sake.

    My Great-Great Grandfather, Daniel Roman, and his widower father came with the Milo Andrus Wagon Company (PEF 1855). Daniel was a 3-yr-old little boy among the Piedmont Saints converted in Italy in response to Lorenzo Snow’s mission. His mother, who died in Italy before the missionaries came, was a Malan – the family name is on Malan Peak above Ogden. They didn’t get stuck in the snow but I’m sure miracles still occurred even if I only have brief reports of that journey that do not count them up. The very fact they made it is a miracle. I mean, they left in August and it was snowing by South Pass. It just wasn’t as bad a winter or they didn’t have as many problems as the next year.

    http://lds.org/churchhistory/library/narrative/1,18046,4981-1-52,00.html

    Comment by Grant — September 6, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  73. I absolutely loved the movie! Yes, some things were left out, but a movie isn’t supposed to have every detail. The director has to make some choices and what movie doesn’t leave stuff out? And the accusation that it is emotionally manipulative – what movie isn’t? That is the art of creating a film. I thought it was very well done and have no complaints, even after researching some of the historical accuracy.

    Comment by Teressa — September 17, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  74. Teressa, your comment would be far more helpful if you gave an example or two of what was “very well done” and what your “research” has turned up. A review that says the movie is no worse than any other movie is damning with faint praise, and complaining that I complained about things that were left out is a strawman (what I faulted was not what was left out, but what falsified history by being wrongly inserted). You’re welcome to comment again and this time to identify something about the movie that was positively good. “I absolutely loved the movie!” tells us something about you, but nothing about the movie.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2011 @ 10:14 am

  75. Several of the stories in this Movie come from the personal diaries of members of my family who were members of the Willie Handcart Co. The movie did a very good job of showing what I read in their own, personal words.
    I found it to be a very good movie but I went there to hear their story and not to tear it apart.

    Comment by DAsh Croft — December 6, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  76. Thanks for stopping by, DAshCroft. It would be of interest — and of greater use to us than unsupported claims — if you had identified which stories appear in the diaries of which family members, especially if those stories and diaries are not generally known to history (e.g., don’t appear in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trails database). As it is, we have a claim by a pseudonymous stranger to proof of unidentified miracles in unidentified sources created by unidentified people located in unconsultable repositories — not very useful.

    But then, I come to a history blog to read *history* and not to leave snide comments about the motives of a reviewer who just may have gone to see the same movie with the same purpose … but was sorely disappointed by the experience.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 6, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  77. It seems that I have touched the very nerve in you that you touched in me. Keep that smile!

    Comment by DAsh Croft — December 7, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  78. But still no willingness to offer details, eh? Take a hike.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 7, 2011 @ 8:59 am

  79. Well, someone in my family gave us the DVD for Christmas, and we watched it last night with two of my children and their families. I tried to not say anything in advance about the historically questionable items, and afterward discussed with them some of the things I knew to be accurate. I will say that some of my fears were realized; the movie, music, and story seemed to me to be meant to stir up the emotions. I was distressed, but kept mostly quiet about the caveat at the beginning, “based on actual events”. I will admit 17 Miracles was entertaining, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. But several of the questionable miracles mentioned here rang false during the viewing, particularly the pie or pan of bread found after a prayer, and I was also surprised that the focus was on the Willie company, and no mention of the Martin company, even though events were tangled together.

    We did have a discussion about Levi Savage and both his opposition to starting so late in the season, and his willingness to go anyway, when he found himself in the minority. I also brought up that claiming that they couldn’t stay in or near Florence as there were no communities within three hundred miles where they could get food or support was completely misleading.

    Entertaining, yes, but without being a Scrooge, I’m sure a couple of family members will take away a number of things that are ultimately questionable. I’m sure TC Christensen meant to make a movie, but it has a high probability of taking on a patina of historical truth that is not accurate.

    Comment by kevinf — January 2, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  80. Thanks for leaving that report here, kevinf, noting a few particular points that justify your response to the movie. As you can tell from the last few previous comments, this post is still being found by people who feel compelled to comment, but who don’t seem able to give any reasons for their reaction to the movie.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 2, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

  81. Our Stake is Showing of “17 Miracles” as a Youth activity at the end of the month of June 2012. I am trying to find a productive way to object to this.

    Comment by andrew h — June 3, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

  82. Oh, it’s probably not worthy of a real objection, is it? Maybe you could draft a short paragraph about dramatic license, or about the difference between history and fictionalized history, that whoever is in charge of the program would read?

    (Most of your stake youth will probably see the movie sooner or later. Being able to caution them about the problems might be of more value than having them watch the DVD at home where there’s less chance of anybody being able to teach them what they ought to know.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 3, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

  83. You’re probably right. I mostly object because I do not want my daughters seeing it and because I have been asked to help set up the equipment to make it happen. I will of course do my calling but it is making me feel like such a tool.

    Comment by andrew h — June 3, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  84. The movie is great. It is totally true. I don’t get why everyone is so skeptical about the movie. Why couldn’t all those things happen? Just because people don’t have faith in those things doesn’t mean they can’t happen.

    Comment by Somebuddy — May 18, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

  85. “Faith” does not require anyone to believe in what is not true — and contrary to your assertion, ‘Buddy, many elements of this movie are not true in any universe where truth includes approximate fidelity to historical accuracy.

    A “faith” that is constructed around things that could have happened but did not is something other than a faith that comes from God.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 19, 2014 @ 7:50 am

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