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September Dawn
4 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Christopher Cain

Written By:
Christopher Cain, Carole Whang Schutter

Jon Voight, Trent Ford, Tamara Hope, Jon Gries, Taylor Handley, Huntley Ritter, Shaun Johnston, Lolita Davidovich, Dean Cain, Terence Stamp, Tom Carey, Peter Skagen, Sean Anthony Olsen, Stacey Zurburg, Daniel Libman, Pete Seadon, Barbara Gates Wilson, Krisinda Cain, Carter Burns, Geoff Erwin, Chad Nobert, Barbara Gates Wilson, Hal Kerbes

September Dawn (2007)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
August 26th, 2007

When I finally got a chance to see 'September Dawn', controversial because of its account of an atrocity carried out by the Mormons, at a time when a member of the Mormon church is running for president, I had no idea that it would be so terribly and painfully bad. I had not expected greatness, but I had also not expected utter worthless crap, and that is precisely what this movie is; Roger Ebert gave it zero stars, and now I know why. 'September Dawn' is comically melodramatic and over-the-top, hopelessly silly, sadly exploitative of the very event it documents, which was indeed an atrocity carried out by religious zealots, with or without the approval of their leaders. History is replete with countless examples of people who have murdered other people for religious reasons, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Aztecs and Mayans sacrificing other humans to their gods, there is little reason to belabor the point as tiresomely as this film does.

Being the wrong kind of Christian or Muslim can get you killed, either in Ireland or Iraq. Here, the Mormons slaughter a wagon train with 120 settlers traveling to California, through Utah. These folks are presumably Christians, so the obvious implication is that Mormons are not Christians, though they believe in many of the same things, and Mormons may even be hostile to Christians, willing to kill them without compunction. There is never any good reason offered as to why this massacre (called the Mountain Meadows Massacre) even occurs in the first place. Maybe there was no good reason why it happened. However, one must certainly think it has to do with something other than Mormons are evil and are driven by an irrational hatred of non-Mormons. Jon Voight is John Samuelson, the mastermind behind the atrocity.

He has a ridiculous beard, and spends most of his time ranting and raving, which is what religious zealots do, even when no one is listening to them. The real problem involves Brigham Young (Terence Stamp), the leader of the Mormon church, and whether he actually ordered the massacre. The movie suggests that he did, or certainly knew something about it, the Mormons themselves believe he is completely innocent, but then Tom Cruise may believe that L Ron Hubbard was completely sane. That is the essence of the film's controversy; its handling of Brigham Young's guilt. Did Young try to cover it up? This was a guy who said that race-mixing should be punishable by death, and promoted the idea that black people were a distinctly inferior and separate race, so these things are more than enough to cast doubt on his status as a great man, with or without his responsibility for this crime.

He was also a polygamist, with dozens of wives, nearly 50 I believe by the end of his life, with several married to him at once. Mitt Romney doesn't practice polygamy, the fugitive Warren Jeffs headed a polygamy cult that included the marrying of young girls to much older men for sexual purposes. I maintain there was nothing "great" about Brigham Young, but he has a university named after him, so who am I to judge? Maybe the movie seeks to sabotage Romney's chances of becoming president, to bash and indict the Mormons, or maybe it just seeks to draw a flimsy and cheap comparison of the Mountain Meadows Massacre of September 11th, 1857 to another religiously-inspired event that happened nearly 150 years later, in New York, also on September 11th. It is anything but subtle.

It looks and feels like a made-for-TV production. Voight stinks in an embarrassing role. And one thing that really intrigued me, with the Christian victims of this massacre; their ability to travel westwards, to California, from the Midwest or the East Coast was made possible by a thorough genocide of Native Americans, by white Christians like themselves, with the survivors forcibly relocated to areas where they would no longer be in the way of manifest destiny, the God-given right of the white man to expand and claim land that did not belong to him, by virtue of his own self-imposed superiority. A tragic cycle of violence and bigotry.

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