By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
WHAT’S 17 MIRACLES ABOUT?
Trailblazer Levi Savage leads a group of Mormon pioneers on a life-and-death trek across the United States, with tragedies and miracles along the way.
IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: A-)
17 Miracles not only stands among the best of the genre, it may be the best film yet from Mormon cinema. It is a moving, faith-inspiring account of the Lord’s tender mercies among the tragedies of the Willie-Martin handcart companies. I’ll be honest, the trailer didn’t sell me 100%, but the finished product is absolutely riveting. Pulling no punches in depicting suffering, danger, and human imperfection, the film displays with historical accuracy the great challenges (and changes) of flawed but exceedingly faithful people whose trials refined their characters.
In following the example of these historical characters, audiences are encouraged to better approximate the courage, compassion, and trust in God exemplified by the Savior Jesus Christ in their own lives. T.C. Christensen, after decades of helping craft some of the finest films in the LDS cinema genre (The Testaments, Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration), has brought the sacrifices of the pioneers to life in a raw and grounded fashion.
Christensen’s gritty style combines with genuine and touching performances by his actors, allowing for a realistic and believable portrayal of incredible miracles and the power of God. There is no Hollywood-style melodrama; rather, the miracles happen in a matter-of-fact fashion that is true to how they actually happened. The miracles are extraordinary and inexplicable outside of divine intervention, but the emotional honesty of each moment (found in Christensen’s direction and his actor’s portrayals) gives each moment the credibility of true history (which it is, according to journal accounts of those who were there).
A fascinating slice of LDS history as well as a film that inspires the best in all of us, 17 Miracles has artistry and polish to match its message: the music, cinematography, costume design, and attention to historical detail are all top-notch. Mormon cinema has a lot of sup-par offerings, but this is truly superb.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
17 Miracles is rated PG. There are implications of cannibalism as the remains of the Donner Party are found (nothing graphic is shown). There is plenty of suffering, starvation, frozen corpses, and other thematic elements inherent to the handcart story. It is intense, but historically accurate, and contains absolutely nothing offensive. Appropriate for older children and up.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES TO DISCUSS?
God blesses people according to their faith and His will. There can be comfort and solace in tragedy if people will love and sustain each other.
Looking for another tale of faith, hardship, and uplifting humanity? I highly recommend Fiddler on the Roof!