Religious fundamentalism can often grow into something very unhealthy, but also extremely dangerous. There are many examples of this, let’s just remember one fresh one ISILbut other religions, primarily Christianity, have not been deprived of countless attempts to strictly and consistently interpret a certain religious dogma that can easily turn into violence. Practically since people appeared, one religious community has usually tried to impose its beliefs on another by force and the whole history of the world is actually the history of religious wars. Who knows, but if they weren’t the invention of religion, maybe throughout history we wouldn’t have had nearly as many wars, although the warlike and bloodthirsty chiefs would surely have found some other reason.
Even today, while practically all religions are in principle peaceful and with the exception of some extremes, there are no more, fortunately, violent impositions of faith on those who do not want to. But that does not mean that there is still no religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, and if various organizations were allowed to do so, I would not be surprised if the spread of faith by fire and sword starts again. This seven-part true-crime mini-series based on the 2003 novel of the same name by John Krakauer also deals with the issue of religious fundamentalism. America is full of various Christian and quasi-Christian religious organizations, cults and sects, and one of the most famous Christian religious communities there is the Mormons.
And although Mormons are generally considered peaceful, religious people, the Mormon community in the small town of Utah in 1984 will be shaken by the brutal murder of a young woman and her baby. Young Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) is also a Mormon and finds it all the more difficult to investigate a heinous crime, unremembered in his place. Of course, the first suspect is the husband of the murdered Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and the father of Erice’s baby, Allen Lafferty (Billy Doyle), who will end up at the police station that night. And in parallel as Jeb and his partner, the atheist and cynical Indian Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham) investigate the murder, Allen will introduce them to his family story since Brenda joined the Lafferty family.
We will see that it is a large family with a father who is almost an Old Testament family patriarch and six brothers, their wives and children who are fundamentalists and live by the rules of Mormonism dating back to the 19th century. We trace this and a brief history of Mormonism since it was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, their persecution to the time they finally settled in Utah. All indications are that the Lafferty brothers may indeed have something to do with Brenda’s murder, and we will slowly see how the two eldest brothers, Dan (Wyatt Russell) and Ron (Sam Worthington), began to fall into fundamentalism.
The story unfolds very slowly here and one of the biggest problems with “Under the Banner of Heaven” is that it’s terribly stretched. I have the impression that a film that would have worked better could have been made from this story, but we will see how the brothers began to dig deeper and deeper. It will start as a rebellion against the state after God tells one of them that they should not pay taxes and that the state as such is in opposition to God who is the only authority. Rebellion against the government and complete disregard for all laws is, by that logic, an act of God’s will, and this religious-libertarian madness will become more and more extreme. The story tried to deepen the inner struggle of a young detective, a sincere believer and Mormon who will begin to doubt and question their beliefs and wonder if one should stick to a book written by who knows when someone obviously questionable moral and intellectual characteristics.
This series tried to grab a lot and at the same time be a classic procedural police crime series, a deep story about religion, morality and its understanding in today’s modern world. “Under the Banner of Heaven” tried to be a family drama, as well as a marginal political drama about the conflict between the spiritual and the secular and the question of whether and how the two can coexist without respecting both sides. This ambitious mini-series tried to be all that, but it didn’t work out because a lot was lost in the over-explanation, especially about the history of Mormonism and the details around this mysterious and rather obscure Christian community.
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