You know when you’ve heard people talk about something so many times that you assume you’ve experienced it yourself? Well, until I read this very funny blog post a few weeks ago, I assumed that at some point in my life, I must have watched the movie version of the popular Mormon play Saturday’s Warrior. But when I saw the GIFs in the blog post, I realized that none of the scenes looked familiar. I couldn’t believe I had lived in Utah for thirty-one years and had never actually watched Saturday’s Warrior. That’s like living in Anaheim and never visiting Disneyland. How could I consider myself a Utahn? A Mormon? Thank goodness for Youtube so I could finally watch it and see what I’ve been missing.
I had a deprived childhood because not only had I never seen Saturday’s Warrior, but I also didn’t watch Johnny Lingo, another sacred cow (see what I did there?), until last year. All we had at our house as far as Mormon films go were the movie equivalents of generic, non-sugar cereals (which was also all we had at our house): Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, The Phone Call, and Cipher in the Snow. Cipher in the Snow was my favorite because for some reason when I was a child I really enjoyed being sad. I also loved to sing “Maybe You Laughed” from Janeen Brady’s Songs for a Mormon Child because it made me cry to think about making fun of people who are “different looking” or who “act strange” and it was always a thrill when we got to hear Scott Strong, a member of our congregation, play his guitar and sing his popular “I’ll Build You a Rainbow” because it’s such a sad song. (Spoiler alert: THE MOM DIES!) Listening to it gave me another excuse to cry and I just loved to cry. If I had seen Saturday’s Warrior when I was young, it would have been right up my alley. Crying, singing and flowy interpretive dancing were pretty much my favorite things to do and that’s what Saturday’s Warrior is all about.
Well, actually that’s not what it’s about, but I don’t want to go into a whole synopsis. This article gives a pretty thorough summary and it turns out that Part II of the blog post that originally inspired me to watch the movie just came out this morning (there are no coincidences-we must have planned this in the pre-existence), so head over there for more specific details and a good laugh.
I also don’t want to delve too deeply into the doctrinal issues other than to say that I disagree with so much of the film’s premise that I hardly recognize it as coming from the same religion I believe in. The Wikipedia article explains: “Saturday’s Warrior is notable for being a popular source of unsanctioned doctrine not taught by the LDS Church – such as pre-existence-founded romantic relationships reaching fruition during mortality, and families being together before they come to the earth.” Many of these popular ideas stuck and were often preached in Sunday school classes as if they had scriptural origin. So while it’s easy to laugh at the cheesiness of Saturday’s Warrior, it’s also important to remember how widespread its influence was in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
That said, I’d like to report my initial impressions watching this as an adult for the very first time. I was prepared for it to be cheesy because it’s a low-budget Mormon movie of a stage production and everything made in the ‘80s is never as good to watch as we think it will be. (I don’t even want to try to watch Remington Steele again after experiencing how disappointing it was to revisit MacGyver, The Greatest American Hero and Quantum Leap.) But when I saw the big promises of “Hearts Softened. Priorities Reoriented. Children welcomed,” in the title sequence, I knew it would be so worth it. I had to give it my best effort.
So let’s start with SW’s version of heaven. According to the film, everyone in heaven waiting to come to earth either has perms with claw bangs or mullets, and they all wear brightly colored unitards or tunics. They pass their time by dancing, singing and scheming to find each other on the other side. And of course, there’s lots of good-natured joshing around. I’m not sure the significance of the gold wristband each person wears on one arm, though. At first I thought they were wearing watches, which didn’t make any sense. But then I figured out they were just wristbands, which didn’t make any sense.
Also, apparently in heaven, everyone has a very pronounced Utah accent. In fact, in the song “Sailing On” it seems that the writers planned for the Utah accent ahead of time with the line, “And children set sail without knowing too well.” Now you might read that and think, “Hey, sail and well don’t rhyme,” but in Utah they do rhyme, so it totally works!
I appreciate that the movie helps me to recognize Baddies. Because of SW, I’ve learned to avoid people who lounge around in vacant lots in revealing bare midriffs. Baddies wear biker shorts (and don’t even have the decency to cover up with a fanny pack), they swear, hang all over the nearest person and stroke each other’s hair, and they are extremely concerned with politics of the day, specifically overpopulation of the planet. Jimmy eventually saw the Baddies for the “Fair Weather” friends they were, but only after painful experience. I hope we can all learn from his cautionary tale so we don’t repeat his mistakes.
The music reminds me so much of my childhood – not because I recognize the songs, but because I was exposed to a heavy dose of the Carpenters and Anne Murray, whose influence is most noticeable in “The Circle of Our Love” and “Paper Dream”. Then there’s the song the missionaries sing, “Humble Way.” I wonder, when they wrote the lyrics, “We are not the ordinary, Fearlessly extraodinary, Workin’ righteous Hari Kari, In our Humble Way,” did they know what Hari Kari means?
The only song I recognized as I watched this was “Line Upon Line” because I heard so many people perform during worship services back in the day. I know some complain about the LDS church’s relative strictness with regards to music allowed for use in worship, but it’s songs like “Line Upon Line” that make me so grateful for that strictness.
There were some inconsistencies in the movie. Like, if Jimmy is supposed to be such a rebel, how would his parents ever be able to talk him into joining in the family musical act on television? No twenty-something guy I know would don a Jimmy Durante nose and spread his jazz hands to sing “Daddy’s Nose” in public unless he was either incredibly devoted to his family or being paid a lot of money. Also, how can there be entire families, promised soul mates and even mission companions organized in the spirit world if there are also lines like “Come along now, if you miss this slot, the next one’s in Siberia.” and “If you want to be preaching to something besides marsupials in Madagascar, you had better get over there”?
And when Jimmy finds out his parents are expecting another baby, he gets angry and moves out, breaking his pre-earth promise to baby sister Emily that he wouldn’t let his parents forget to have her. Then we see Emily in heaven crying, “Why didn’t he keep his promise?” I don’t understand. Did his outburst somehow reverse or halt the gestation process? Mrs. Flinders was already three months along, so how did his promise get broken? And then when Jimmy returns to his family, Emily says, “He kept his promise!” I don’t really get what he had to do with the whole process. I know he’s there at her birth, but I’m pretty sure that was the totality of his involvement.
Speaking of the birth scene – I’ve seen some pretty unrealistic on-screen births , but this one had to be the worst. She gave birth on the couch in a blackout in under 15 seconds! I know it’s her eighth child, but still. Another implausible scene was when Julie and Todd met for the “first time” at the airport and immediately held hands, kissed, and then he picked her up and twirled her around. It’s already been established that Julie tends to fall in love easily, but even for her this seems a little fast.
Watching this did make me grateful that my missionary didn’t make me sign a pledge of fidelity and that my soulmate didn’t tell me, “If you’re the strangest looking girl on earth, I’d still love you.” (At least, I don’t think he did.) It was also reassuring to watch because I always thought I had such bad hair in the ‘80s, even worse than anyone else’s, but watching this makes me feel so much better. Apparently everyone had hair as bad as mine, especially Shelly. Poor Shelly.
But most of all, watching Saturday’s Warrior made me grateful to have been sent to loving parents who were wise enough to know what was best for me. We must have made a sacred pact that when we came to earth they wouldn’t make me watch Saturday’s Warrior.