Latter-Day Saint Video Vault: “Families Are Forever” Contains a Great Message Packaged in Outdated Tropes
Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst a little business. In my last column I totally phoned it in on reading the credits of The Phone Call and misidentified the director of the film as Reed Smoot. It was produced and directed by Douglas G. Johnson, who directed numerous films for the church and BYU Motion Picture Studios. Reed Smoot was the director of photography. I shan’t make such an error again.
Today I start with one of the films you all suggested on This Week in Mormons’ Facebook Page—Families are Forever.
Families are Forever was originally released as a filmstrip and was later turned into a video in the early 1980s. Because of the signature song, many members remember the title of the film as I’ll Build You a Rainbow. No credits are listed nor is there even a quick drop of the Church’s logo.
The film begins with the birth of Jamie, the firstborn son of unnamed parents. For more than half of the film we are treated to a musical montage of Jamie playing, swimming, tying shoes, sitting in primary, and so on. It’s a long montage. Later, Jamie’s parents bring a younger sister into the world and you don’t doubt it because the montage feels at least nine months long. Did I mention it’s a long montage? Anyway, the family grows to include a third child and the montage builds to a photo of the family outside the Jordan River temple, indicating the film was made at least after 1981.
At the seven-minute mark we finally get some narration that reminds me of the rooster balladeer from Disney’s Robin Hood. It’s folksy and upbeat without watching the friar get imprisoned. We’re informed that Jamie and his mom were best friends, but not in a “sissy way” (this wouldn’t be made in 2019) and the mom was one who always played with the kids instead of going to “fashion shows and garden parties” (also: tupperware parties, essential oils parties, etc.) Let it be known you can still have a good relationship with your kids if you are a mom or dad who likes these things. And being friends with your mom doesn’t make you a sissy, or worse, a girly man.
Jamie is called home from school suddenly and arrives to find an ambulance outside his house. The doctor is there along with Jamie’s father and other siblings. Jamie finds his mom in her bedroom, where she euphemistically tells him that she is going away and won’t be coming back, which she is forced to clarify by saying outright, “I’m dying.” However, she also tells Jamie a secret, “…that families are forever.” Mom then dies immediately. As the father weeps, Jamie comforts him by saying remember the secret. Families are forever.
The famous song then swells: “I’ll build you a rainbow, way high up above / send down the sun beams, plums full of love / sprinkle down raindrops, teardrops of joy / I’ll be happy in spring time, watching over my boy.” Rainbows become a symbol of Mom watching over Jamie and his family. I thought Noah had already taken that one, but it can mean more than one thing, right?
Before writing this I had actually never seen this film or heard the music, so I came into it with a fairly open mind. If you are in the right frame of mind I guess you will get the emotional payoff the film is obviously looking for. But to go from happy to devastated in 12 minutes is asking a lot. especially when over half the film is montage setup. It doesn’t help that the narrator stays upbeat even when telling of the mom’s death. Perhaps she was poisoned by evil agents as her sickness was seriously rapid onset. That thought is preferable to the belief that Jamie’s parents, in an effort to spare him agony and stress, lied to him throughout his mom’s illness only to discover the truth abruptly and painfully.
Overall, I think this film has passed its useful life. If this movie has some nostalgic feelings for you feel free to fire up the old YouTube and watch it or listen to the many covers of the song. Otherwise, I think it’s fine if you move your associations with rainbows to something else. Plus, it contains seriously outdated council regarding son-mom relationships.
Thoughts, Musings and Trivia
- The phrase “Families Are Forever” is neither a secret nor doctrinally correct.
- “Families CAN BE Together Forever” takes up more space on a poster, but it does show that this blessing is conditional upon many things and is not an imperative.
- “I’ll Build You a Rainbow” was written by R. Scott Strong and appeared in a Seminary songbook called “Gates of Zion” published in 1979.
- Gates of Zion was a filmstrip series published by the Church Educational System in the 1970s and was designed to accompany the Old Testament course of study.
Next time we explore pig-like chewing, sibling regard, service, and sacrifice in Greater Love.