The Painful Truth of “The RM”

May 17, 2004 | 28 comments
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Seems like pretty much all my friends love to hate that glorious Halestorm movie, The RM (but Eric Snider liked it!). Reminds me of how a lot of people find their next-younger sibling annoying : ) Okay, I grant it was positively painful to watch! as often as not. But I was baffled enough by it (and prideful enough, since it was my idea to drag my friend to see it that day) that I suspended judgment until the end. And as I walked out, I realized it was absolutely brilliant, and the more I thought about it, the more brilliant I thought it was. So, despite the unappreciative masses, here is why I think The RM is not just a clever satire of Mormon culture but a stunningly insightful commentary on what it is to be a disciple of Christ . . .

1) When I was a kid, I too had a bed made out of food storage! Okay, I didn’t have peanut butter and jelly for a mattress, but my mattress was laid on top of buckets of hard red winter wheat!

2) My favoritest cousin used to give me a different lecture each year on why of all the marketing strategies there were, this particular multi-level marketing approach was the ultimate. And they had two or three Lamanite exchange students, and bunk beds. Okay, I never bought the multi-level marketing stuff.

3) Seems like the main place I saw Dad bust out his fingernail clippers was in church meetings, and it took me until some time in my twenties to register how tacky it is to clean/trim your nails in the middle of a meeting like that!

4) Kirby is the name of a vacuum cleaner! I didn’t figure out that howler until I saw the credits!

5) My sister’s beloved car got totaled just a few weeks before she came home from her mission to Bolivia.

6) The woman I was going to marry waited until after I got home from my mission to dump me.

7) There are about eight other vignettes that seemed to come straight out of my family, but I don’t remember them all right now. Suffice it to say, it was seriously eery when I realized them all.

8) Mormon life in most all its manifestations, on a regular basis is positively painful to watch (as acknowledged right here on T&S, e.g. here, here, and here). The crazy thing is, it wouldn’t be except that we have such high aspirations for it. But those aspirations are what it’s all about. We are building the kingdom of God on Earth, and this is what we’re building, and this is what it is. But it is the working of God’s hand in these latter days!

Kirby, er, Jared comes home to reap the blessings he has earned by serving the Lord, the blessings people keep telling him are waiting for him, all through the movie, and the movie is all about his blessings. Not what you would want to call blessings? But it’s only a slightly worse than usual assortment, and a lot better than what some RMs find waiting for them. The challenge is, to be grateful for them, and to praise God in all his works. Honey from the lion’s carcass! (Thanks, Mike D)

–”When Simon Peter saw [the multitude of fishes], he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord . . . And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” (Luke 5:8,10)
–”And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness . . . And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness” (Ether 12:23,26)
–”But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27; see also Alma 37:6)
–”The weak things of the world shall come forth . . . that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world”(D&C 1:19-20
–”I call upon the weak things of the world . . . and their arm shall be my arm” (D&C 35:13)
–”And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these.” (Mormon 8:12)

Et cetera . . .

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28 Responses to The Painful Truth of “The RM”

  1. Kim Siever on May 17, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Reflective of Mormon culture? A bit. Moreso if you live in Utah I am sure. The only thing that was parallel to my own life was being called as an Elders Quorum President at a very young age.

    Brilliant? Much harder pill to swallow.

  2. Kingsley on May 17, 2004 at 11:10 am

    It’s sort of nice, in a way, I guess, to see someone make gentle fun of the LDS equivalent of the Indian torture gauntlet (i.e. what an RM experiences during those first few–say 10, 12–months back); what would be really interesting, now that the Dave Barry approach has been tried, would be to put the concept in the hands of Stephen King …

  3. lyle on May 17, 2004 at 12:00 pm

    from my forays into Canada, it would seem that several “Utah Mo” vignettes actually come from Alberta. But then again, I’m sure the convoys of RVs with Alberta plates in Utah is just a myth. :)

  4. Bob Caswell on May 17, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    Ben, I’m glad the exaggerated stereotyping rang so true for you. I thought the movie was enjoyable enough. But the fact is, all your reasons for finding the film “painfully true” and/or “brilliant” amount to less than fifteen minutes of actual screen time. I suppose my biggest problem with the movie was the rushed ending that had the forced feeling of we-need-a-conflict-that-is-serious-and-should-be-resolved-in-order-for-this-to-be-a-real-movie-but-we-only-have-twenty-minutes-of-movie-left.

    I’m curious, have you seen Brigham City, Saints and Soldiers, or the Best Two Years? IMHO, they were all far superior Mormon movies.

  5. cooper on May 17, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    I really liked the RM. Mostly for the reasons Ben lists. It was funny and amazingly spot on for Utah Mormons. Being a California Mormon made it all the funnier. Strangely though my newly RM daughter and son-in-law didn’t find it amusing until after the third or fourth view.

    And Bob, I have to disagree with you on Brigham City. As I have stated before, I think it was awful. I know I am in a minority and will accept others opinions. I just wanted to throw it away after viewing it. I am looking forward to seeing The Best Two Years.

  6. Kim Siever on May 17, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    “from my forays into Canada, it would seem that several “Utah Mo” vignettes actually come from Alberta. But then again, I’m sure the convoys of RVs with Alberta plates in Utah is just a myth.”

    I didn’t understand what was being stated here. I’ve lived in southern Alberta for the last six years and have yet to see many of the idiosyncrasies I experienced in the two years I spent in Utah on my mission. That being said, there are more Mormon idiosyncrasies in southern Alberta than the rest of the province or the rest of Canada.

    “I suppose my biggest problem with the movie was the rushed ending that had the forced feeling of we-need-a-conflict-that-is-serious-and-should-be-resolved-in-order-for-this-to-be-a-real-movie-but-we-only-have-twenty-minutes-of-movie-left.”

    Sounds like Charly.

  7. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    “all your reasons for finding the film “painfully true” and/or “brilliant” amount to less than fifteen minutes of actual screen time.”

    Huh? A lot more of it was painful for me than that! And how does the theme of “these are your blessings so be grateful for them” cover less than the whole movie? I thought the last-minute home teaching was overstrained, and I’m still making up my mind about the Book of Mormon theme restaurant, but otherwise I thought it was only barely beyond what surely happens to some real RMs.

  8. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    Kim, only about half of what I’m thinking of went on in Utah. My cousin was in L.A.; my wheat bucket bed was in Virginia.

    As for Brigham City, I really, really liked that one, too. I think some people probably don’t like it because it doesn’t do what they expect a movie to do, but I don’t think it was supposed to. Part of what I like so much is that it seems to set its own standards for what a movie is supposed to do, and accomplishes a lot of great things other movies don’t even come near.

    Haven’t seen The Best Two Years, or Saints and Soldiers yet. I saw Charly tho : ) not as fond of it.

  9. Bob Caswell on May 17, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    “And how does the theme of “these are your blessings so be grateful for them” cover less than the whole movie?”

    Ben, that theme is nice and probably could (did?) cover most of the movie. Although that theme is a good one, I honestly didn’t even think about it until you brought it up with your post here. What I’m saying here is that it seems like you’re giving this movie the “benefit of the doubt” approach by drawing your own conclusions and finding an indirect message which may, in fact, not have necessarily been the point of the movie (although now that you bring up what the movie means to you, I must confess that I do see how one could give it more merit than I originally had).

  10. Bob Caswell on May 17, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    cooper, if Ben will allow some slight hijacking of hid thread, remind me again why you thought Brigham City was “awful”?

  11. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Bob, I really should watch the thing again to see how strong a case I can make that my theme was there in the movie, rather than my own creative addition. But the business about how Jared is going to be blessed for his missionary service does come up several times in the movie; I’d like to check on exactly how again.

    Eric Snider (link above) sees the same theme, tho he doesn’t draw it out much in his review.

  12. cooper on May 17, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    I knew you’d respond! ;-)

    It gave me the creeps. The scenes were edited so badly. Starting off witht he bishop’s interview. Not enough background info given to be anything but dangerous. Then the sacrament meeting scene was just too over the top. It isn’t easy to convey feelings of inadequacy, guilt or shame. The way Dutcher did it just left too many holes in doctrinal issues for me. I wouldn’t want to have to stop and start this movie for a non-member just to explain what was intended to be shown. I don’t think Dutcher’s bad, I just think too much was left on the editing room floor. I did enjoy God’s Army (albeit the “cure”).

    I think you told me before that having to explain it to a non-member was one of the reason’s you liked it. Maybe is wasn’t you???

  13. Ivan Wolfe on May 17, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    The RM – much better than Singles Ward was – much, much better.

    Singles Ward was very amateurish. The RM was on the level of a decent TV movie. And it was funnier as well. Not a great movie, but an okay one.

    The best LDS movie to date is Brigham City. Absolutely brillant, IMHO.

  14. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    cooper, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Brigham City based on whether it is done well for a *non-Mormon* audience. Who said it was aimed at a non-Mormon audience? Was that the main thing about the editing that bothered you?

    Bob, I don’t mind at all branching out to talk about these other movies. I am totally intrigued with the Mormon movie scene : )

    Ivan, I agree Brigham City was brilliant. What did you like about it?

  15. Jack on May 17, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    Theme alone does not an art piece make. If we are to judge a movie by its thematic merits alone – particularly an LDS movie – the creators need do no more than set up a microphone infront of the screen and bare their testimony on the subject. I must admit I had a pretty good laugh in a few spots. But, overall the movie feels very contrived in that the narrow thread of compelling story doesn’t bear the excessive load of vignettes very well. It is a comedy however, and therefore, if you can keep the audience laughing – well, then maybe it works.(though the more poignant moments run the risk of becoming to sentimental) Ben I’ve enjoyed your posts – sorry you’re leaving.

  16. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Jack, I’ve really enjoyed your comments too; looking forward to seeing you around here.

    Hello! Of course theme alone does not an art piece make! It lays unrelentingly before our eyes just how pathetically human we are, and dares us to accept the paradox that this is the Kingdom of God on Earth! There’s no substitute for showing it.

  17. cooper on May 17, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Ben, I would have to review the movie again to comment on the editing question.

    However on your point of non-mormon aidience: Why was it shown in theatres? Do they advertise it as not particularly appealing to non-mormons? It is silly to think this should be released to the public and not get wierd questions regarding content.

  18. Ivan Wolfe on May 17, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    What I liked about Brigham City:

    It was faith affirming, yet it didn’t go for the easy or simplistic answers. The FBI lady did not get converted, the villian showed the limitations of assuming the gospel can fix anything. Yet, overall, the value of community and the gospel was affirmed.

    The Sacrament meeting had me and my wife in tears by the end.

    It was filmed well, the directing and editing were the best I’d seen in any LDS movie to date, and the acting was overall good.

    It was a powerful story told in a powerful way. Theme was what did it here – but it did it in such a complicated and nuanced way that there are no easy answers. There were answers, but they weren’t all easy, and the audience wasn’t required to agree with all of them.

    What I didn’t like: As a murder mystery, it didn’t fare very well. But the murder mystery plot was a McGuffin, and hardly important when the movie was all said and done.

  19. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 8:41 pm

    “Why was it shown in theatres?”

    Where else do you show movies? I can see how it might be unfortunate if a lot of the viewers are confused because they don’t have the Mormon background. But I don’t think it’s fair to expect every movie about Mormon stuff to be a missionary video. Having to be didactic about every detail of Mormon practice etc. would seriously encumber the development of the thing. We don’t expect operas to be performed in English, and we just live with the fact that translations are going to miss a lot of the nuances.

    Did you think it led people to think Mormons are sinister or something, because of an incomplete understanding?

    I think it is a major achievement for Mormon culture to have literature (including film) that is not aimed at an outside audience! A willingness to leave outsiders “out” is essential to attaining certain kinds of depth in conversation among ourselves.

  20. cooper on May 17, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    Ben, first off many movies are made not to be shown in theatres. If, however Dutcher asks a movie to be shown in theatres nation-wide, make them a little easier for a mixed audience to enjoy.

    Take for instance the message received in the Inland Empire – “please, please tell all your friends and nieghbors to pre-purchase a ticket so this movie can be shown. We need to support up and coming LDS film makers so they con continue to offer this type of film to you and your neighbors.” Yes, this has been on a flyer for every LDS film released. We go, we support. We are disappointed at times.

    I agree that it is a major achievement for Mormons to have films produced for Mormons. A willingness to leave outsiders “out” is not essential for anything except wall building. We should be inclusive, not exclusive. As T&S has proved, there is depth all around us.

  21. Jack on May 17, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    My apologies Ben. My comments about theme were not pointed at you specifically. Also, the fact that I don’t care for a paticular movie doesn’t mean that I don’t think it has value, especially if others are benifiting from it. Regarding your comment: “There’s no substitute for showing it.” (the theme) Perhaps I misunderstand what you mean by showing the *theme* but, I like to think in terms of showing the *art* and allowing the theme to reach the observer in a more intuitive way. I think most LDS art fails in this regard and therefore, comes at the observer pushing the theme infront of the story elements.

  22. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    cooper, maybe i missed a lot of the hype for Brigham City. Who puts out that message? Was it Dutcher? What’s the Inland Empire? I didn’t encounter any advertising to speak of, except for maybe a trailer after “God’s Army”. I heard about the movie here and there and eventually saw it on DVD. Maybe the advertising was not well suited to the nature of the movie.

    I am not into building walls, but I don’t think we should underestimate the amount of work it takes to be inclusive, and there are real trade-offs involved. Here on T&S, I take for granted a pretty extensive familiarity with the Church, its teachings and culture when I post. I don’t explain every reference in terms someone who knows nothing about Mormons would understand. If I had to do that, I’d never get anywhere. If somebody asks me to explain, I generally will do so, or refer the person to someplace where they can find an explanation, but that’s different from explaining in advance, which is a lot more work. Movies don’t have the luxury of responding to Q&A.

    Jack, no worries; sorry if I seemed annoyed. By “showing it” I didn’t mean “showing the theme” exactly; more like “showing how pathetically human we are” and thus confronting us with the paradox. I agree that too much LDS art is too forward about its theme and so becomes didactic rather than artful. I don’t mean to encourage that sort of thing. I don’t think The RM has that problem! And as far as the theme I’m drawing, neither does Bob : )
    Do you?

  23. Bob Caswell on May 18, 2004 at 2:56 am

    Ben / cooper:

    To tell you the truth, I feel that Ben’s counter argument of “Mormons making movies only for non-Mormons is next to pointless” to cooper’s original argument of “Brigham City weirded out my non-Mormon friends” ironically proves the point that Richard Dutcher has made multiple times in different Q&As I’ve been in with him. Namely, Dutcher thinks movies like the RM and Singles Ward are cutsie and nice for Mormons to watch and have a good laugh, but they do next to nothing for attracting non-Mormons. That is, you’re probably going to get a non-Mormon being weirded out much more so by the superfluous-only-makes-sense-to-Mormons-for-a-good-laugh type of material found in these Halestorm comedies than by a Dutcher film, which Dutcher, in his humble opinion, has said that he tries to design in such a way that would prompt non-Members to be inquisitive on relevant topics. After all, weirdness being equal, would you rather explain why a Bishop had a hard time taking the sacrament (something potentially relevant to our religion)? Or why Mormons are drawn to multi-level marketing only to sleep on food storage beds?

    You obviously can tell which one I’d rather explain to a non-Member.

    I guess what I’m saying is that cooper’s reason for disliking Brigham City would almost imply that she would dislike the RM even more. But that’s not the case…which has me scratching my head…

  24. RabidWolfe on May 18, 2004 at 10:26 am

    ACcording to Richard Dutcher, Brigham City is the most watched (especially by non-members) LDS film produced so far.

    How does he know this? It’s the most bootlegged one, and IIRC he mentioned on the AML-list that he saw bootleg versions all over Mexico and various parts of South America.

  25. Adam Greenwood on May 18, 2004 at 10:41 am

    Brigham City: the acting was a little uneven in parts, but otherwise the movie brought together all sorts of things about life as a Saint that I couldn’t have expressed otherwise. I was really surprised to find that Mormon Cinema had so early on produced not just a good movie but a flawed-but-great one. I hope that in twenty years or so it can be remade with better actors.

  26. Pat on May 18, 2004 at 8:04 pm

    “Dutcher thinks movies like the RM and Singles Ward are cutsie and nice for Mormons to watch and have a good laugh, but they do next to nothing for attracting non-Mormons. That is, you’re probably going to get a non-Mormon being weirded out much more so by the superfluous-only-makes-sense-to-Mormons-for-a-good-laugh type of material found in these Halestorm comedies…”

    Don Ainge, Danny Ainge’s father personally told HaleStorm that a friend of his who he has been trying to get to take the missionary discussions for years to no avail, finally had her interest peaked enough after watching Singles Ward which lead her to take the discussions.

  27. Jack on May 21, 2004 at 12:02 am

    Ben, sorry for taking so long to respond. No I don’t think RM has that problem per se, but it has others (with regard to theme). I think we have a hard time buying into a character’s experience when he/she is placed in an implausible situation or “context”. The family/church life in RM is so cramed full of every concievable LDS cliche that the characters become little more than stereo-types. Thus we have a protagonist in a world that he really doesn’t belong in. We really don’t buy into the exchange between him and his enviroment. (at least not on the deepest level – in our bones) therefore, what we have are platitudes coming out over the top of the story rather than incarnate themes or, themes that live in the character.

  28. noel villamora on February 13, 2005 at 2:21 am

    i love the movies of the church pls help me to find more video from the church. i love you mhuaa…

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