Theatrical Review: 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
June 18th, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Directors: Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet (co-director)
Writer: Reed Cowan
Narrated by: Dustin Lance Black

Having been involved with the No on 8 campaign, I found myself almost immediately attached to 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION in a highly personal manner. It’s hard to speak to my level of objectivity when I cried at least five times while watching the film. Reed Cowan’s documentary on the passing of the titular proposition in the state of California aims to reveal the true nature of the Mormon church’s involvement with the coalition created specifically to pass the proposition (which defines marriage as existing only between a man and a woman), both financially and morally. It is frequently horrifying.

For those intrigued by the Mormon church, one whose traditions and methodology are almost entirely closed to outsiders, 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION does offer some interesting insights. The film is populated by various sections that aim to shed light on just why the Mormon church is so ruthlessly against same-sex marriage and just how they used their existing structure to get Proposition 8 passed. On a purely intellectual level, there is a bevy of information in the film about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that should interest anyone who has ever wondered about the religion. Of course, the vast majority of it eventually comes off as incredibly negative, but that’s to be expected when one considers the motivations behind the crafting of the doc.

8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION does feature numerous interviews with former and current members of the Mormon church, it is predominantly one-sided affair. The primary interview with a dedicated Proposition 8-supporting Mormon, Senator Chris Buttars, is predictably offensive and somewhat insane, but it is this interview’s aftermath that is most shocking. Cowan makes note to show his attempts to procure more interviews with other members of the Mormon church, but they are (unsurprisingly) denied.

But despite obvious care and hard work in the creation of the film, it has too many threads to tie it all together in a one cohesive and focused argument. The first half of 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION clearly traces how, why, and when the Mormon church got involved with Proposition 8 (including an interesting peek back at a similar campaign they waged in Hawaii). Cowan includes interviews with some of the participants we will get to know throughout the film, including Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones (both former Mormons who were some of the first to be married in the state of California), along with Tyler’s mother Linda Stay, and former and current Mormons opposed to the actions taken by their church. Cowan weaves in the “follow the money” portion of the doc, which then pushes the film into its more messy and technical territory.

The film loses its momentum in the second half as it gives way to covering the various ways in which the Mormon church has alienated and harmed members of the gay community, with a particular eye to those who are both homosexual and Mormon. While emotionally stirring (and by that I mean that I was both deeply saddened and unstoppably angry, often within moments of each other), it is this new direction that drops what had seemed to be the singular aim of the documentary. From there, the film turns snowball-y, piling up offense after offense by the Mormon church against the gay community. It becomes simply too much to handle or process, and the focus of the film crumbles.

Taken as a whole, 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION is not a complete document on its subject, but it does serve as an important starting point. It unearths various important elements of the Proposition 8 campaign deserving of investigation, while simultaneously covering the emotional and tonal aspects of a deeply personal issue. The scenes that cover the immediate aftermath of Election Day are just as affecting as the earlier scenes of joy, a quick and dirty juxtaposition of the emotions present in the lives the proposition so deeply changed. 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION is more emotion than investigation, more personal than propaganda, and deserves to be watched and discussed.


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