Follow The Prophet (Drew Ann Rosenburg, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Darryl Walden. Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival 2009.

Follow The Prophet Polygamy, child molestation and incest are all legally prohibited in this country. Yet, protected by the First Amendment under the cloak of free religious practices, all three flourish in Downey, Utah through the precepts of Mormonism;  at least, according to the film, Follow The Prophet, directed by Drew Ann  Rosenburg.  The film was written by Robert Chimento, who also stars in the protagonist role of Army Colonel Jude Marks, who loses a daughter serving in Iraq at a crucial time of reconciliation, then encounters Avery Colden (Annie Burgstede), who escapes from incestuous and predatory practices enacted by her own father (David Conrad), who professes to do so in the name of the Mormon religion.

Avery’s father, Roger Colden is arrested and faces criminal prosecution for business fraud.  He beseeches the Prophet (Tom Noonan) to intervene on his behalf with the judge hearing the case.  The Prophet agrees to do so for a percentage of the business in question.  He also insists that Roger bequeath his daughter Avery, who will soon be fifteen, as a wife.  This requires that Roger deflower Avery before handing her over to the Prophet.  So begins the plot on this immoral note.

On her fifteenth birthday, Avery rejects her father’s advances, gets beaten for the effort, but manages to flee, stowing herself into Jude’s truck, who’s en route to a remote ski resort.  When Jude discovers her and the true circumstances of her plight, he forms a pyschological nexus between the loss of his daughter and Avery.  This, in combination with Jude’s empirical observation of a secreted encampment of runaway Mormon kids compels his effort to expose the Prophet.

However noble the effort, the film like the reality it is based  is unpleasant, difficult and controversial.  To his credit, Chimento at least exposes some serious challenges that are faced in approaching this matter.  Over the years, the Mormons have erected a corporate infrastructure that generates billions of dollars for the State of Utah. They are Utah’s economy, and one of the reasons this narrative did not fly for me.  

Also, to prosecute the Prophet is to set up a serious First Amendment violation. We can morally disagree with its practices, but Mormonism is recognized as a religion and not a cult in this country.  Brigham Young is an accredited University established on precepts retraced to the founder of the religion.  

Polygamy is one thing.   Incest and child molestation, however, is totally despicable. Yet, reality still demands greater numbers to come forth for moral change from within their own ranks.  Insightful as it was, the film left me more disgusted than hopeful.

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