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Not the same but similar.
on 28 January 2013
Those who are interested in this film may already have seen the very successful `Latter Days' which covers in some ways the same ground - closeted gay Mormon missionaries challenged by the world outside their own family and faith community. This film does have serious differences however. It was surprisingly not written by a Mormon, as was Latter Days so most of the day-to-day life of a young Mormon missionary was captured from research and interviews. A few of the scenes which cause one of the men to begin to doubt the validity of what they were doing were based on the writer's own experiences in that he attended a Mormon Temple and became an `investigator' or someone interested in the religion who would be visited by the missionaries.
Another difference is that in `Latter Days' the relationship was between a Mormon and an outsider (quite a frivolous character ) but in this version we see the relationship blossom between two missionaries forced to live together while away from home on the mission. They are eager at first but grow a bit weary with it all and have to contend with the feelings they have for one another but cannot express. It's the adverse or indifferent reactions of some of the people they come across - in particular an Iraqi veteran - which softens them up a bit and makes them question themselves. Eventually of course they become overwhelmed by their own feelings and end up kissing in a wood on the way home from a day's work. They are only 20 years old and have very limited personal experience of relationships outside the family.
Whereas the family of the missionary in `Latter Days' feel intensely ashamed of their son and take steps they feel would 'help' him change, the family in this film, although not enthusiastic about the situation they find themselves in (they too will be ostracised by the community) they accept their son's realisation of his sexuality and keep him in the family unit. The veiled admission by his father that he `knew of a missionary' who had the same feelings but buried them and got married is done well as you can see the son getting embarrassed while it should be the other way round.
By the writer's admission, this is a slow film. It is intended to be. There is no Hollywood drama and it was done with a crew of 4. There isn't the overt sexuality that was clearly evident in `Latter Days' as the two young men know really nothing about that world or even what is involved in their own sexual relations. It is done in an almost documentary way in some parts with a hand held camera and a voice over breaking into the run of the film. It is however seamlessly done.
One scene towards the end of the film is particularly poignant. One of the missionaries who is telling his story before an equivalent of a Mormon bishop breaks down. He feels he has been let down by an institution he has loved. It has `left him nowhere else to go' and he feels he is being cast out into an uncaring world yet he does not reject the beliefs he has in his church. How the other Elder Merrill reacts we are not told. The end of the film is quite pleasant but not as one would expect. We are lead to guess what their futures will be.
Overall I would recommend this film if only to see the strange world the young men have to live in and the constraints put on them. Add a layer of gayness to this and you get some idea of how difficult it must be to come out the other side in any way sane. It is a hopeful movie though. Very hopeful and endearing. A fireside. A bottle of wine and a quiet Sunday evening and you're made!