September Dawn

September Dawn opens today. By all critical points, this seems to be a pretty bad movie. Which is too bad. I think it’s a story with enough drama and controversy to make a pretty good movie. I don’t think the historical inspiration is at fault, it just sounds like the execution (pardon the pun) of screenwriting, directing and acting all failed.

One review I read said that it made 1950’s Western TV shows look authentic. I don’t see movies in the theater unless they get at least a 75 on Rotten Tomatoes. “September Dawn” is getting a 12 right now. That’s Gigli-Land, so that means I’m probably out.

But I did find this interesting interview by Hugh Hewitt with the director Christopher Cain and star of the movie Jon Voight. They come off pretty well in regards to their intentions and motivations for making the movie.

21 thoughts on “September Dawn

  1. I have not see the move, but I have heard several reviews that basically say the same thing as you stated in your post. Presumably there are many errors in historical fact (I’m not talking about portraying BY as having given the orders). The writers appear to have only a superficial understanding of who Brigham Young was and What the Mormon Church did in Temples.

    I also think it would make a very good movie if done right. Now that its been done so poorly the remake won’t be coming out any time soon. Its really too bad they didn’t do it right. If it had been good there would have been a lot of discussion, but now very few will go see it☹

  2. You know, I watched the movie Unforgiven a few years back.

    Very good movie, complex characters. The good guys weren’t entirely good, and the bad guys weren’t entirely bad. Gene Hackman did a wonderful job playing the “villainous” sheriff who had a way of going to far in his quest for “law and order.” The movie made you think.

    I don’t mind Mormons being villains in this movie. Fact is, the Mormons committing the massacre really were villains. But there’s just more to it than that. Why did they do what they did? What was the historical context? What made killing the settlers seem like the correct course of action to them, however twisted their view?

    It’s not enough to simply say “they were religious fanatics – of COURSE they liked killing infidels!”

    This movie seems like it will disappoint on those grounds.

    As for myself, I’ll pass on this one. The prospect of watching pre-Civil War farmers gutting unarmed women doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

  3. I just got back from seeing this movie and thought it was EXCELLENT! I have read mixed reviews by critics… about a 50/50 average. I have to say that I loved this film and that Jon Voight was great! It seems like most people are attacking the subject matter and therefore, transferring that hatred to the film, but I thought it was beautifully done. This film is very similar to Will Bagley’s “Blood of the Prophets” and he is a gifted historian. It’s only a movie…lighten up.

  4. Hi guys, I just wanted to throw my point of view up in here….
    I am slightly irritated by this movie. Mostly because I’m mormon and it demonizes ALL mormons.

    This thing that happened was so horrible…but I really don’t think that these Mormons did it because they were “religious fanatics”.

    I think they were sick and tired of being run out of town, watching their people being killed, tarred and feathered, and so on. Critics of mormonism never really bring up what was happening to the Mormons at this time. I’m not saying it was ok that they did this because of course it was not. But some seem to forget that these mormons were also HUMAN

    This movie is sad in so many ways 😦

  5. Steffie, I was going to ask the same question. Did you see the movie? Are you sure it demonizes ALL Mormons? I haven’t seen it, but from my understanding it puts many Mormon characters in a very conflicted state.

  6. I did NOT see the movie, but I have seen the trailer, and I have read the reviews from both mormons and non mormons. I won’t be seeing the movie because it is rated R (most mormons don’t watch R movies)
    I base my opinion off the trailer and reviews like this:

    Ty Burr, Boston Globe:
    “Director Christopher Cain…paints a damning, one-sided portrait of Latter-day Saints in this irresponsible, ham-fisted morality tale that plays off our cultural ignorance of the Mormon religion…The events surrounding the killings are historically cloudy, but not according to this film…He stops short of calling Osama bin Laden a Mormon sympathizer, but maybe that’ll be on the DVD.”

  7. Correction: most Mormons are not supposed to watch R-rated movies. What the actual numbers are, I don’t know. But R-rated films seem to do well enough in my home town of Provo, Utah.

    My understanding Tim from the multiple reviews I’ve read is that the only “conflicted” character is the male love-interest who falls for a young lady in the doomed wagon train and begins to question his faith. Basically, the only person showing any humanity among the Mormon camp is a guy who’s starting to think it’s all a crock.


  8. Seth,
    i’m in tennessee, MOST mormons here are straight up, it’s a lot different then Utah 🙂

  9. Really?!? that’s sad, but all I know is what I know. And I know incredibly strong, humble, and faithful members. But like I said MOST ……not all

  10. I just saw the film (in Provo, btw). Seth is mostly correct that the only “conflicted” Mormon character is Jonathan Samuelson, the fictional son of the fictional Bishop, who falls for the daughter of the wagon train’s preacher. He is initially secure in his Mormon faith, but begins to question it when the preacher’s daughter begins quoting bible verses to him that he’s never heard before (all from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount).

    John D. Lee might be seen as a conflicted Mormon in the film, as well (though not nearly explicitly as the bishop’s son). Most Mormons in the film are portrayed as blindly-obedient zealots who worship Joseph Smith as Brigham Young as their god. Add this to the fact that the last scene before the credits is a brief statement that says the Mormon Church has been trying to cover up the facts presented in the movie for the past 150 years, and its not difficult to conclude that the movie does attack Mormonism.

    Tim, I’m with you that it is dissapointing that the film was done so poorly (and the acting, cinematography, and historical accuracy really are that bad). It certainly is an interesting and dramatic enough plot.

  11. Actually, I don’t have a ton of qualms with Aaron’s review.

    I too wouldn’t mind seeing the incident done well in film. But there needed to be more balance. There was a lot of argument and debate among the local Mormon populace over what to do with the wagon train. Many prominent members of local Mormon leadership opposed attacking the train. The attacks went forward in spite of their objections. This was not shown in the slightest if I am to believe the synopsis of the film. Neither was the fact that many of the perpetrators were deeply traumatized by the event shown. Nor was the larger fear of a federal invasion force really dealt with. Nor did the film treat the competition of Mormon and settler livestock for scarce water and foraging resources (remember livestock was a big deal back then – the bloody Wyoming range wars were fought over these kind of issues). Nor did the film talk much about the history of bloody atrocities committed against the Mormons (Haun’s Mill was every bit as much of an atrocity as Mountain Meadows).

    Again, I don’t want to vindicate the perpetrators. I don’t even care if the film wants to take the position that Brigham Young ordered the attack (a matter of debate among scholars). But I do want good history.

    This just isn’t good history. It’s lopsided, cariacatured and opportunistic. i’ve read enough about the film to reach this conclusion.

    I’m not going to see it. The violence, from what I’ve heard, is both graphic and gratuitous. I believe one review called it “massacre porn” referring to the recent “torture porn” pieces that have been in vogue such as Saw or Hostel.

    If I’m going to play witness to human atrocity, it had better be for a good movie. I did it for Saving Private Ryan, I did it for Schindler’s List. I’m not going to do it for September Dawn.

    I don’t need to shove a spoon up my nose personally to know it’s going to hurt.

  12. Neither was the fact that many of the perpetrators were deeply traumatized by the event shown.

    This was in effect shown, particularly by the young man who ended up being shot by his brother.

    Nor was the larger fear of a federal invasion force really dealt with.

    This isn’t entirely true. I remember mention of this.

    Nor did the film treat the competition of Mormon and settler livestock for scarce water and foraging resources (remember livestock was a big deal back then – the bloody Wyoming range wars were fought over these kind of issues).

    I’m not privy on this historical detail, but the movie depicts there being enough resources to go around. Do you have any historical sources on this (that the wagon train was depleting scarce resources)?

    Nor did the film talk much about the history of bloody atrocities committed against the Mormons (Haun’s Mill was every bit as much of an atrocity as Mountain Meadows).

    I think this is an overstatement as well. Seth… I really think you just need to see the movie first. I certainly didn’t get the impression that it was “massacre porn.” Ahem, CERTAINLY not comparable to Saw or Hotel! This is why we limited the most recent Mormon Coffee discussion thread to those who actually saw the movie… to prevent these kinds of ridiculous statements.

  13. Yeah, I grew up in Utah. It’s a desert climate and there really isn’t much grass or water to go around. I spent my entire freshman college biology course learning about the historical effects of overgrazing on the Utah landscape. Furthermore, the official LDS article on Mountain Meadows addresses all these points.

    Which is an overstatement?

    If you’re referring to the comparison to Saw, yeah, you might well be right. I’m just going off a review there, and I said as much.

    If you’re talking about Haun’s Mill. No Aaron, I don’t think it’s an overstatement. They were pretty-much equal atrocities. I’d like to think that while you oppose Mormonism, you are not one of those one-sided anti-Mormons who routinely trivialize or ridicule the legitimate historical grievances the Mormon people have against Protestant America, while at the same time glorifying and inflating Mormon crimes. That would be rather beneath you.

  14. Ah, thanks for the reference [1]

    The movie, as I remember it, made mention of violent, heinous persecution the Mormons suffered while in Missouri. And of course I’m not trivializing it. I do think though the film, however flawed, did make an attempt to provide some understanding of the edgy Mormon mindset toward outsiders. I think you need to see the film before you speak the way you have about it. Just my 2c.

    Grace and peace in Christ,


    [1] “Emigrants became frustrated when they were unable to resupply in the territory as they had expected to do. They had a difficult time purchasing grain and ammunition, and their herds, some of which included hundreds of cattle, had to compete with local settlers’ cattle for limited feed and water along the trail.” >>

  15. Whether the movie was accurate or not, we explore the past to make right the future. When will we learn not to kill for the sake of religion (the number one on the list for wars and conflicts) or, for instance manifest destinyas with The American Indian, or for what ever reason, then maybe we will survive.

    Only one got it right — Jesus —

  16. the number one on the list for wars and conflicts

    Can you back that up with something?

    Only one got it right — Jesus –

    Yeah, do some research. Jesus isn’t the first or last person to preach peace and nonviolence.

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