In polite company, you’re supposed to avoid two topics: politics, religion, and that thing on your armpit that’s gotten so big you’re too scared at this point to have it looked at. Fortunately for both of my readers, this is not polite company. Even more fortunately, I’m not talking about the thing on my armpit. No, it’s time to talk about religion. Don’t blame me. This week’s Lifetime offering started it.
Religion occupies a unique place in the Lifetime network. As a product that is ostensibly for the flyover states (though I’ve discussed at length that the network has at least acknowledged its irony-fueled fandom), you’d think Jesus would be like sand after having sex on the beach: in everything. The US is supposed to be highly religious country, too, so shouldn’t our least offensive entertainment at least include some pro-Christian subtext, a few subtle moments of the power of prayer, or a rapture or two? Yet most Lifetime movies treat religion in exactly the same way as a David Fincher movie, in that it might as well not exist.
It could be that Lifetime has embraced our cultural taboo. Even in a religious country, you don’t talk about religion. There’s a certain amount of sense there, since the two biggest denominations (last I checked) were Evangelicals and Catholics. Despite the fact that these are both ostensibly christian faiths, they go together about as well as peanut butter and vehicular homicide. And since religion is an all-or-nothing gambit, you can’t even embrace the golden mean fallacy. Putting the “truth” as halfway between Evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism isn’t going to make anyone happy. Except maybe Pastafarians.
Yet there are at least partial exceptions to this “no talking about religion” thing. These are what most people call cults. I’ll admit, I have trouble telling the difference between a religion and a cult. If you ask me, it can be expressed in a simple equation, religion = cult + time. No one really wants to hear that, and if you say it, generally you’re the asshole. Not the person bullying a smaller faith, but the person pointing out that there’s no difference between the two except power. One belief is the same as any other, and it effects my life only to the extent that influential people allow it to guide their actions.
Now if you’re talking about something a religion/cult does, well, now I see a difference. So when this entry, 2007’s In God’s Country, takes aim at the systemic oppression of women and sexual trafficking of tween girls in polygamous Mormon splinter cults, well I am all about bringing those bastards down. Just as a side note, what is it with religions oppressing women? Like, that’s the second thing they do, right after deciding the sun is an all-powerful deity. I’d say it’s almost like religion was invented to fuck with women, but that’s the kind of thing people would find offensive. So I won’t say it.
The movie opens telling us that the Mormon church outlawed polygamy. I don’t understand this at all. Assuming you accept the holy books are divinely inspired, if something’s in those holy books, how can it be said to be wrong? Was that part not inspired? Was God taking a break and that kind of crept in? And if it was something inserted by Joseph Smith, doesn’t that kind of cast doubt on his character? Whenever religions decide to edit or change doctrine, they’re basically acknowledging that it’s all made up, and if you think that infuriates me to no end, well, you’ve been paying attention.
Our heroine is Judith Leavitt, one of the wives of Josiah, who is the head of one compound on what seems like a multi-compound Mormon cult. The compound is an idyllic section of Canadian woodland, and hilariously, in nearly every shot, there’s a pair of dirt bikers buzzing by in the background. I have no idea who they’re supposed to be, or why they’re obsessively driving laps.
Judith has five kids, four by Josiah, and the eldest, Charlotte, by another man. Late in the film she reveals that this was her first husband, who she actually loved, who was declared a nonbeliever, cast out, and later killed himself. The very next day she was forced to marry Josiah. Which is awful and gross. But she stuck around. You can’t blame her, she had five stamps on her Atrocity/Sub Club Card and she wanted that sixth one.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when another member of the community attempts to molest her daughter Alice. Judith fights the guy off, and when Child Protective Services shows up, Judith rightly wants to talk to them about maybe getting a dangerous predator out of the community. But as we’ve learned from heartbreaking reality, there’s nothing religions won’t close ranks around quicker than a pedophile. Judith is the one who gets demonized, exiled to a little farmhouse with her kids to think about what she’s done. Well, Judith says fuck all that, burns down the farmhouse (semi-accidentally) and flees with her kids.
The outside turns out to be a lot more welcoming than she initially thought. She makes a friend at the supermarket who donates some old clothes to her and gets her a job. There’s a helpful cop, who, to the movie’s credit, never becomes a love interest. Her kids have some difficulty adjusting, but for the most part like it. Alice, especially, finally gets to go to school and learns she’s crazy smart. Back on the compound, she would have been a baby-factory for a much older man. That’s a plot point, incidentally. Judith burned the place down when she learned Alice — 12 year old Alice — was going to be married off.
Charlotte can’t let go. She wanted to marry a kid from the community, Jamie. She was 16, he was 17. A little young, sure, but not gross. Well, when Josiah asks the Prophet if that’s cool, the Prophet points out how older husbands are really better for girls. Yeah, that’s your skin trying to crawl off your body and run away. It’s a normal feeling with this. Well, it gets grosser. When Charlotte runs away to be on the compound, she’s welcomed back with open arms and prepared to wed… Josiah.
Yep, they’re going to marry her off to her stepdad. You might need some time to stop dry-heaving.
Judith shows up with help from her outside friends and saves Charlotte in time. The movie just sort of ends when they leave the compound for, as the narration assures us, the last time. As Lifetime movies go, this one wasn’t bad. It moved pretty well, the stakes were solid, and Judith was a good heroine. You could do much worse than this one (and I have).
So what did we learn? Don’t wait to flee your cult; get out now. If you do flee your cult, don’t come back or you might wind up celebrating some seriously awkward Thanksgivings. And lastly, apparently some Mormon cults track sister-wife ovulation on special chalkboards. I wonder if they sell those things at Michael’s.