Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
I had been wanting to watch the 2006 documentary, Banking on Heaven for a long time and finally got my chance last night when my latest box from Amazon.com arrived. Banking on Heaven offers an inside look at the communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The two communities lie side by side and serve as the setting for the largest polygamous enclave in the United States. The people of Colorado City and Hildale are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sect (FLDS), a radical offshoot of the mainstream LDS church.
Banking on Heaven is produced and narrated by Laurie Allen, who managed to escape the LeBaron sect, another FLDS group, when she was sixteen years old. Allen is in an excellent position to understand the plight of the people who are trapped in polygamy. This film, which offers revealing shots of the polygamous landscape, explores how thousands of Americans have been enslaved by the polygamous lifestyle.
Allen tells the sad story of teenaged boys as young as fourteen years old who were run out of their homes by older male members of the FLDS because they were competing for the hands of the community's young women. According to the film, it takes three wives for a polygamous man to make it into the highest level of Heaven and the more wives a man has, the higher his prestige. There simply isn't room for the young men, so many of them are cast out with nothing and told by their fathers that they are no longer a part of the family. Teenaged females, by contrast, are treated like chattel. Young women are considered eligible for marriage at as young as fourteen years of age and are frequently married to men who are two or three times older than they are.
Allen also interviews adults who have either been kicked out of the community or escaped. In fact, Carolyn Jessop, author of the 2007 book Escape and a former sect member who left with her eight children, makes an appearance on this film. She provides excellent insight as to why members of the FLDS church are trapped. She says that a common misconception about people in the sect is that they chose their lifestyle. Jessop explains that she is the product of six generations of polygamy and it was all she knew. She further explains how someone like herself, a mother of eight children (one of whom is severely disabled), would be a significant challenge to an agency that might try to help her.
Allen points out that Americans have gone to war to liberate the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from what are considered oppressive regimes, yet nothing has been done about the thousands of people who are oppressed by polygamy in their own backyard. Allen explains how members of the FLDS use government welfare programs to bankroll their lifestyle. In one scene, a group of FLDS women and children are shown shopping in a grocery store. The women talk about how they must use food stamps to pay for the groceries they buy for their huge families.
Toward the end of the film, some of the former FLDS members talk about how similar mainstream LDS doctrine is to fundamentalist doctrine. They claim that even though the mainstream church denounces the polygamous lifestyle, they teach the same things that the FLDS church does. One outspoken woman, who was kicked out of the FLDS church for trying to take care of her handicapped children, looked directly into the camera as she said that Prophet Warren Jeffs taught the Book of Mormon, just like the modern day Mormon church does. This same woman said that she was chastised for loving her two handicapped children. Cast out of the community, the woman keeps going back, trying to see her kids. The local police, who are also members of the FLDS sect, keep harassing her.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Banking on Heaven is Allen's statement about how little politicians and the mainstream LDS church have done about the polygamy issue. Laurie Allen asks, "how much blood money has been siphoned from Hildale and Colorado City to the Mormon Church, who publicly denounces polygamy, but upholds the practice in their scripture?" Allen interviews an Arizona Senator and an Arizona whip, both of whom seem concerned about polygamy, but they both say their hands are tied. Author Jon Krakauer, who penned the controversial book, Under the Banner of Heaven speaks about his experiences as he researched his book about fundamentalist Mormons... and of course, Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped by a Mormon fundamentalist, also makes a statement. I wasn't too impressed by what Ed Smart had to say but then, generally speaking, I never am.
Banking on Heaven is certainly an eye opening documentary. It illuminates how the local, state, and federal governments, as well as government run agencies, have looked the other way on the issue of polygamy. Allen says, "In 1879, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects religious belief, but not religious conduct..." She asks how it is that the legislature enables fundamentalist polygamous sects and wonders how the polygamists would survive if they didn't have access to government programs like food stamps and welfare.
My husband Bill and I watched this documentary together and it definitely stirred up some emotions and sparked conversation. My husband was once a member of the mainstream LDS church. He had a strong reaction to this film. I'm guessing that members of the mainstream LDS church may feel uncomfortable watching this film because it does point a finger at the church as the main culprit and chief enabler of polygamy. Nevertheless, though Banking on Heaven appears to have been made on a low budget, I thought it was an excellent, thought provoking documentary. Moreover, Allen does include commentary from mainstream LDS members who disagree with her viewpoint.
The DVD runs for 80 minutes and includes deleted scenes with commentary from the film's director, Dot Reidelbach. I would definitely recommend Banking on Heaven for anyone who is interested in learning more about how polygamy affects America.
Banking on Heaven's Web site: www.bankingonheaven.com
Related: Carolyn Jessop's follow-up book to Escape, Triumph.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older