I’ve been meaning to finish this for a long time. So, let’s get it over with, so that I can finish a critique and feel productive.
The cold open is Bates reading the newspaper. There’s a Civil war, surprise! Except not because everybody kinda knew it was coming, not just because of Sister White’s visions, but because it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention. We already discussed this in episode 5, so we will not get into it now.
After the theme song, MAY 1863 flashes across the screen. The civil war started in 1861, so it’s been a minute. If you felt like that time change was abrupt, just you wait. This time change feels quite natural, and I can roll with it.
In any case, we open with Elder Bates talking to James White about how terrible the war is. If only people would read the Bible, laments Bates.
Do the people who did this movie not know that both sides of the Civil War did indeed read the Bible? Here’s an article for further reading on the subject: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/12/how-the-bible-was-used-to-justify-slavery-abolitionism/
Here’s another article on the subject. I quote here briefly:
Defenders of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. They point to the Ten Commandments, noting that “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, … nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.” In the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master, and, although slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it.
All of which is true. Reading the bible would not have ended the civil war. In fact, The Bible kinda fueled both sides of the conflict.
We get some talk about James White’s health. He’s not doing so well, but he’s heard something about forming a general conference, which causes him to feel better. Or so he says. They talk about how they follow the Lord’s leading, and we jump suddenly to December 8, 1863.
I get that they wanted to throw in that line about the General Conference…. but that scene could have been cut with nothing lost.
It’s December 8, 1863, and Ellen and James have just returned from…somewhere. Ellen is frantic. When she and James left a few days ago, their son was fine, Ellen tells us. She also says that the doctor has told them that it is pneumonia. Ellen rushes upstairs, where Henry lies sick in bed.
Henry: Promise me, mother, that if I should lie by the side of my little brother John Herbert that we may come up together and meet at the morning of the resurrection?
Ellen: Oh I can’t bear it! First our son, after only 3 months, it was as he was borrowed from God but this! This!
James was only 16 when he died. I can…sorta kinda see how it could be seen as a worse loss? But I mean, at least James got to live a life, even if it was tragically short.
Ellen cries, and we have a shot of her standing on a snowy hill, looking over the winter landscape. Then we fade to black, and open with some establishing shots of a farm–in the spring.
So, what’s today’s date? We don’t get told. That’s obnoxious. If you’re going to start time jumping, you need to tell me
where when I am.
We see Ellen scribbling away furiously. James comes in and watches her for a moment before saying something. Ellen tells James she understands things better when she writes them down.
Ellen tells James she’s had a vision on health, and that it is intimately connected with spiritual things.
James: So many of us are used up in our service for the Lord.
Instead of talking about how overworking your body is a terrible idea, Ellen says this:
Ellen: I saw that tobacco in any form is a slow and malignant poison.
Now, one of the reasons Adventists believe that Ellen White was a prophet was because she said this –in 1863, a time when doctors were prescribing it as medicine. Or so I was told.
However, imagine my shock one day when I was reading a book written in the 1860s or 1870s (1880s at the absolute latest) where the author, who I had no reason to believe had ever even heard of Adventism, talked about how awful tobacco was. Or rather, she wrote about characters talking about how awful tobacco was. And I was completely shocked. How could a non Adventist writer possibly have known?
Here’s an article on the subject of health reform: http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24100
Ellen White was not the only leader teaching against the use of tobacco. It may not have been mainstream, but there was a “tobacco abolition” movement.
James informs Ellen that tobacco is often used as a medicine, and Ellen giggles as she tells him she’s only telling him “what she has seen.”
Ellen: Alcohol, tea and coffee are to be avoided
Yeah, about my reaction too.
Also, Ellen wasn’t the only one who was against alcohol at the time. I’m not sure if health was a reason, but the temperance movement was in full swing at that point. Ellen didn’t live to see prohibition, but she advocated for it, along with a lot of other women. She didn’t live to see that prohibition didn’t work and was in general a bad idea, but we’re getting too far off the subject.
Next, Ellen says that they are to stop eating meat, and “return to the diet of Eden.”
James: Did the Lord really show you that?
James…. James has this…. this wtf look on his face.
The thing is, vegetarianism wasn’t extremely popular in 1860 something… but it did exist. In fact, according to this really long article on the history of vegetarianism, the American Vegetarian Society was established in 1850. So vegetarianism might have been a fringe health thing, but it did exist, Ellen White didn’t dream it up.
James: How are we supposed to live without meat?
The despairing cry of every SDA convert at some point.
Ellen: It gets worse
Fuck you Ellen. You already fucked up people’s childhoods for generations. What more do you want?
Ellen: Rich cakes and sweet pies are to be avoided
At which point she and James burst out laughing. Not sure why? I don’t really see any of this as funny? Maybe the actors are laughing because they’re having trouble getting through this scene? Maybe the directors are really that clueless that this should have been an outtake?
In any case, Ellen tells James that the Lord also told her our bodies require fresh water, clean air, and exercise. Ellen tells James that health issues aren’t just a matter of physical health, but of spiritual.
Adventists believe that when you are healthy you will have a clear mind, and when you have a clear mind, you’ll be able to understand the Bible better. By better they mean “in the same way we do.” They don’t know what to do with people like me who grew up Adventist eating a vegetarian diet, spending lots of time running around outside, never smoked, and at the time hadn’t had her first drink, who still rejected their biblical outlook at the ripe old age of 16.
Next we cut to an establishing shot of an outhouse. We move inside, where a teenage Edson White is eating something. In an outhouse? No way. He lives out in the country, there are better spots to eat a…what is he eating anyway? A candy bar? A stick of beef jerky? Whatever. There are better places to eat it than a smelly outhouse.
In any case, this is what happens when you are too strict with your kids’ food choices. They sneak away and eat what they really like, and then they don’t learn how to regulate as adults. Why not teach them that sweets–or beef jerky or whatever that is– can be eaten in moderation?
In any case, Edson gets called to supper, only he doesn’t eat. Ellen asks if he feels well, and his brother, Willie White, tattles on him, saying that Edson is already too full of things he shouldn’t be eating.
Speaking of whatever it is the White family is eating…what are they eating? It looks like oatmeal, but Willie asks James for the onions. As far as I know, no one puts onions in oatmeal.
James tries to pass the onions, but passes out instead.
We next cut to a shot of the doctor packing away his things.
Doctor: Your husband has had another stroke.
James tries to say something, but the doctor tells him to give up.
Doctor: You have facial paralysis. It’s common after this type of incident.
That must be super scary.
The doctor says that it’s important that James get a lot of rest, and oh yeah, blood letting.
Doctor: The barber on main street will receive my instructions. He has the proper instruments for the incisions.
I looked this part up, and surprisingly, it is correct. Apparently, while doctors were the ones that prescribed blood letting, the barbers were usually the ones to do the dirty work, because they were the ones with the tools.
Interesting historical tidbit.
The doctor continues:
Draining blood is known to be the most effective treatment following stroke.
It probably was, in 18….whatever year we’re in.
Ellen: We will consider that option when James is well enough for such a procedure
Doctor: You are not a physician, Mrs. White. Now I’ll be back in the morning. *speaking louder* Stroke is a powerful thing, you are lucky to be alive, Mr. White.
He’s not wrong. Over 100 years later, stroke is still a serious thing.
Ellen tells her sons to show the doctor the way out.
We’re not supposed to agree with the doctor here, because he’s wrong. He is wrong, however, I sympathize with the doctor because he has no way of knowing that. Mrs. White is not a physician, and even though in this instance she is right, she doesn’t really have a way of knowing she’s right any more than the doctor does. Ellen thinks she’s right because of visions from God, but to the doctor (and a lot of other people), that would sound crazy.
From the Doctor’s perspective, Ellen is standing in the way of James getting proper medical treatment. Not only was bloodletting a popular form of treatment in Ellen White’s day, it never actually went out of practice.
After everyone leaves, Ellen gets right in James’ paralyzed face and says
Ellen: I have put two sons in the grave Mr. White. You are going nowhere.
Which…go Ellen! Whatever else she was, she was a fighter.
We then get a montage of Ellen nursing a mostly unresponsive James back to health, even bringing him to church when he looks way too sick to be moved and I’m sure would rather stay home.
The next thing we know, it is September 5, 1866. The health reform institute is just being opened. Joseph Bates gives a speech about how Ellen nursed James back to health, and how in the future, health principles will be a huge part of their church.
Ellen then stands up to give a speech about how rest isn’t the only thing that will heal you. It must also be combined with diet, exercise, and faith in god.
Faith in God, the cure for everything.
We next cut to Bates and Ellen talking to someone who is tapping out a message in Morse code. At least, I think that’s why he’s clicking that key on the desk. I’m not 100% sure. Ellen talks about how it’s great that they have 2 missionaries in California, but laments about how they need more people. Ellen then talks about how important education is, and Bates says most SDA youth go straight to work after “grammar school.”
At first I thought that this was because SDAs were insisting on Adventist only education, and they only had elementary schools. But then we see the first SDA school being opened in 1972, sooooo I’m confused. Do they just not let their kids go to high school? Or college?
We cut to a scene of a man, Goodlow Bell (if I heard correctly) chopping wood. Edson White and his friend George walk by, just in time for the man to ask them to help stack the wood. The kids don’t look happy, but they oblige. They ask the man why he is chopping so much wood.
Bell: my wife died last year, and I stopped caring for my health….instead of using compounds, I’ve learned to use my limbs outdoors… a sharp mind’s as good a tool as a sharp ax.
In psychology class, we did learn that studies have shown that exercise can help depression. Exercise can do for some people exactly the same thing as an anti depressant. However, it does not work like this for everybody. Each person is different. What works for some might not work for others. For me personally, I found vigorous exercise to be enjoyable, but ultimately not helpful in treating my depression.
I hate stories like Bell’s because it totally ignores the fact that fresh air, exercise, and water don’t always help. It also ignores the fact that people with disabilities may be unable to do much exercise, and this may be a permanent thing for some people. Disabled people have enough nonsense from the type of people who insist that if they just exercise or eat right or whatever, they’ll be healed.
I will also say that this is possibly not a mainstream view. A lot of Mainstream Adventists are fine with anti depressants if necessary because God created doctors capable of doing medical science. But my state has its fair share of conservatives, so growing up I heard both sides of a sharp debate.
Mr. Bell tells the boys that before he came to the institute, he used to be a teacher, and then “an inspector of schools,” whatever that meant.
At lunch later that day, Willie White tells his mother about Mr. Bell, and Ellen is familiar with him.
Ellen: Yes, exercise and being outdoors is a wonder for good health.
She’s not wrong. I don’t disagree with this. You know what they say about broken clocks.
Edson: Anyway, after we talked to him, George and I got to thinking
Willie: About chopping wood?
Edson: No Willie. About going to school.
I like this. This exchange between the brothers felt very real to me.
Ellen gets a shocked look on her face, but changes it into a sort of smile. We then cut to a scene of her writing by candlelight about how important it is for youth to receive a godly education.
We then see the words FIRST SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST SCHOOL, JUNE 1872. We see a schoolhouse, then move inside and watch Mr. Bell take attendance.
The music is upbeat and happy, but I think sad and depressing would be more appropriate. The beginning of the brainwashing and educational neglect of millions of children through the ages…
We are shown John Harvey Kellogg and William K Kellogg in attendance, along with Edson and Willie White, the latter of which does not look too happy to be there.
I note that there are only boys. What, the girls don’t get to go?
We cut to a shot of Ellen reading her Bible. She looks up, and the lights go out. A single candle is lit, and the voice of God speaks. As he does, we see pictures of children from various times and places.
God: Your house is the world.
We see Planet Earth from space, then the stars shoot out like on Star Trek when they go to warp speed. Then a bright white light blinds us.
Then we see the Seventh Day Adventist church, and we move inside. Ellen is speaking. Apparently Joseph Bates has been dead for 2 years. Are we still in 1872?
Ellen: In my most recent vision, the heavenly messenger said, “you are entertaining ideas that are too limited for this time. Your house is the world.”
I think I’ve already talked about this. Not showing us the whole vision Ellen had makes it look like she’s seeing some things, but then kind of making up the rest. If the movie hadn’t already bitten off more than it could chew, they could show all of these visions, and the story would be added to.
One of the people Ellen is talking to says they’ve put a lot of resources into publications, not to mention having sent 2 missionaries to California. Some of the men argue that the church, at this time, does not have enough resources to send people overseas. One man asks where the money for this is going to come from.
And they’re making a fair point. If they don’t have the resources, they may need to make this a more long term plan.
One man says their resources are probably used better here at home, and he may not be entirely wrong? If the church at this time does not have the money nor the people, it might be best to concentrate, for a while, on converting the neighbors.
I get that they’ve probably been trying to do that for a while, but still.
Ellen is upset that this bit of instruction from the Lord isn’t being received as she might have hoped.
Ellen: The message we bear is a world wide message….to all nations tongues and peoples.
At this there is an outburst of noise.
One of the men asks how they can possibly question what Ellen is saying. There are people to be reached, dammit!
James says they should put it to a vote at their upcoming general conference. Which is our cue to cut to this:
I’m beginning to get whiplash.
The woman in the purple shawl says: In order to expand, everyone will feel the stretch.
I love how people keep bringing this up, but then the movie brushes it aside with YEAH WE ARE TELLING THE WORLD WAHOOO!
Like, how are you going to do that if you don’t have the money or the people?
Just then, a young Willie White comes out and announces: They’re sending brother Andrews to Switzerland!
Switzerland? I thought JN Andrews went to France. *goes and reads* ok, apparently Andrews did Go to Switzerland, but the magazine he started was in French. They spoke French in Switzerland?
Oh never mind.
Upon hearing the news, everyone in the audience claps, cheers, and hugs. Nobody ever says anything else about the lack of resources again.
James: To think JN Andrews will be our first foreign missionary
Ellen: he has just buried his wife and 2 children besides. We send the Swiss our ablest man.
This…. is an odd combination. Is JN Andrews the most able person because he has just lost his wife and children? Because that’s…. kind of what the juxtaposition of these 2 sentences is implying. I’m sure that whoever wrote the dialog didn’t mean to imply that. Nevertheless, there it is.
In case anyone cares, one of the big SDA colleges is named after this man: Andrews University. There’s a long story behind that, but that’s a story for another post.
James White says he can’t believe it took them 30 years to get to this point. Ellen says God is amazing. They have roughly 8,000 members and 300 churches.
This is meant by the movie to be inspiring.
We next cut to a shot of James talking to JN Andrews and his young daughter. Andrews says his boat leaves in September. The Whites say goodbye and drive off.
James: We will spread the good news to Europe. And beyond that we must tell the world.
Hasn’t this already been established? Nevermind. We’re close to the end, let’s move on.
As the Whites drive off, we see an aerial shot of…. some city.
Ellen speaks in voiceover: We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we forget the Lord and his teaching, and our past history.
We fade to black, and words appear on the screen:
In 1874, the Seventh Day Adventist church had about 7500 members, almost exclusively in the north eastern United States.
That historical tidbit is actually something I find interesting.
After James’ death in 1881, Ellen White traveled widely, helping establish the Adventist church in the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. As well as many magazine articles and letters, she had 24 books in print at the time of her death in 1915, and has become one of the world’s most published and translated female authors. (Emphasis mine).
Adventists cite this statistic a lot, and yet, SDA sources are the only place I’ve found this quote.
The sentence I’ve emphasized is very interesting. Out of all the Ellen White books we have today, only 24 of them could have been personally edited. But we don’t need to get into the issues the newer compilations have at the moment….
Today, the Seventh Day Adventist church has a presence in more than 200 countries. It has a world wide attendance in the tens of millions, with more than 1 million new members joining each year.
Those statistics do not take into account how many leave per year, nor how many who remain on the books are not active members, who have not been active members for a long time, and in some cases, members who are no longer living. (That last one was told to me by a pastor, but I hope he was mistaken. Because seriously?)
Is this intentionally misleading? I’m not sure. I honestly just think whoever looked at the numbers didn’t think to take it into account, and wanted the movie to end on a positive note anyway, so they wouldn’t have mentioned the people who leave. Or the people who have been gone for a long time who’s names are still on the books.
As the world’s 5th larges Christian community, it includes an international network of churches, schools, universities, houses, media outlets, publishers, health food companies, and a global humanitarian agency.
I thought the SDA church just combined all their publishing houses into one. But ok, sure. Maybe that was after they’d finished working on the movie. It was relatively recent, so who knows.
Its core mission, as captured in the prophetic message of Revelation 14:6-12, is to proclaim the good news of God’s love and forgiveness as revealed in Jesus Christ and to tell the world of His promised soon return.
Ah yes, the third angel’s message. Or is that the second angel? Never could keep them straight. I don’t want to get into this too much here, as that’s really a topic for another blog post.
We then get to see, in the credits, the actors next to their real life counterparts. I’m including some. For the most part, the casting was spot on. Especially in the case of William Miller. I mean, look at that resemblance:
Not sure I can say the same for Tommie Amber-Piri:
Brother Bates’ casting was also spot on:
But I’m not really sure about James White. This isn’t the clearest shot they could’ve gotten of the actor.
And, included because there’s only one more picture comparison credit I’m leaving out, here’s Joshua
There’s then a sign saying that the Australian Union Conference is the one who made this movie. So I guess they weren’t even using the NAD budget then, were they? Unless Adventists somehow count Australia as part of North America, which I doubt.
We get more historical pictures in the credits, which are cool, but I’m not posting them.
This movie… it was ok. Not great, but ok. The main problem I have with it is that it tried to do too much, and in the process, wound up doing too little. Instead of focusing on just one historical event, the movie decided to tackle a large chunk of Adventist history. It would have been a much stronger movie if they hadn’t tried to cram 1820 something to 1874 in one 2 hour film. All the time skips and jumping around are confusing. My advice, for future movies, would be to pick a certain part of Adventist history and focus on that. Focus on 1844 and the Millerite movement. Do 1820something to 1844. Have Ellen be there, but not a main character. Not yet.
Then, if you are able to in the future, you can go back and do a movie from 1844-1860something. Then another movie from 1860 something to 1880 something… just break it off into smaller chunks.
As a result of trying to cram in too much, the movie had to to do a lot of telling rather than showing. Frankly, I’m surprised at some of the parts that they did keep in. In some cases, the characters were irrelevant to the story, and we never really see them again. I am referring mainly to the man and woman walking through the snowy woods giving us exposition about Brother Bates. Surely there was a different way to work in those details?
Let’s talk about the acting. I am actually pleasantly surprised that the church went out and hired real actors and directors. I had expected the actors to be church members who volunteered, and the quality of the filming to be that of someone with a camcorder in their backyard. But we did not get that, and I am impressed.
I am, however, not that impressed with the actual skills of the actors. They were ok…passable in most cases…. And in some ways, that’s ok. You don’t need to spend “half the NAD budget” on actors to make a good film. What you do need is a compelling story, and in places, this film does have that.
Someone pointed out that Miller’s friends at the pub were great, because the movie allowed them to be themselves rather than force the men to convert. She has a good point. I’m kinda glad the Pub Friends are in there, but at the same time, I can’t help but thinking the exposition could have been better if it was shown, not told by them. Again, the movie needed to have a narrower focus….
Mrs. Oakes Preston was…well, I’m glad they included her, because too often women in history get overshadowed. However, she was a totally unlikeable character. I mean, the actress herself was a joy to watch…because of how goddarn awful her character is. Her facial expressions alone make this movie worth watching.
And I do have to say, this movie is worth watching. If you grew up Adventist, that is. Outsiders may be a little confused in places from all the jumping around.
Despite the issues this movie has, despite the fact that it is extremely pro Adventist…. I didn’t feel like I was watching a propaganda piece. I felt like I was watching a flawed and biased yet serious take on historical events.
With this movie, the Adventist church is trying. You could argue that it may be a bit late to enter the 21st century and start making real movies, but this is an honest effort, and it’s hard to hate on that.
And frankly, if the SDA church’s goal was to have current Adventists (or lapsed Adventists or former Adventists) go back and re read some Ellen White books, good job. You won. I definitely went back to fact check some of your information, and am currently reading a book on Adventist history.
I may no longer be an Adventist. Nevertheless, those are my family’s roots. Even though I will never be an Adventist again, disagree with everything they stand for, and hope their church falls apart in the next century, Adventism will still be a part of my history.
And so I’m glad movies like this exist, because it is good to be reminded.
For truly, I have nothing to fear for the future, except as I forget how batshit crazy my ancestors were.