Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “For Time or Eternity” Takes a Stark Approach to Forever Families

For Time or Eternity

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]T[/dropcap]his week we have yet another “terrific” film on marriage. We’ve learned about the perils of teen marriage and the importance of being the right person instead of searching for the right person. This week we explore the importance of marrying in the temple through the other-worldly lens of For Time or Eternity.

For Time or Eternity was produced by Brigham Young University in 1969 under the direction of the First Presidency and Council of the 12. Unlike the other 2 wedding films I reviewed for this series there is no disclaimer/viewer beware message. So it’s sure to be great, right?

The film begins in the vastness of space with a disembodied narrator that reminds us of the purpose of life and how we began in the preexistence. It zooms through stars onto a waiting room in the premortal life. It’s the premortal life so one would think the décor would be timeless. But no, we are clearly moving from mid-century modern to celestial 70s. We join a conversation between 3 spirits who wonder about staying faithful during their upcoming sojourn on Earth.

The male spirit is clear that the only reason really to go and get a body is to find an eternal partner. The questioning spirit agrees and says “yes so we can be joined inseparably to another soul.” The male spirit cautions that it is only inseparable if it is done in the way the Father commanded and by his authority. They comment there are so many ways to fail, but the male spirit reminds them they will be given commandments to guide their lives. He has all the answers.

The questioning spirit then says “I feel unprepared. I wish I could see into mortality for a moment”: cue heavenly music and artsy dissolve. The rest of the story is one imagined by the spirits contemplating their earthly existence

The film cuts to the shore with the questioning spirit gathering items. She is now called Jan and talks to her boyfriend about getting married in the temple. She knows he could get a recommend “with some effort,” and she wants eternity. She is committed to this path and her boyfriend, Max, is not. He has doubts and questions about the gospel and says to Jan “You are really naïve, and I love it. Marry me!” What a charmer.

The other spirits are in the narrative as well in the roles of Jan’s sister and brother-in-law. Jan talks with her sister about Max and the proposal. Jan’s sister urges caution. If he can’t take her to the temple it’s not worth it. Jan is not convinced. She thinks if she studies with him she can help him to believe. Jan’s sister is not convinced. What if studying with Max teaches Jan to NOT believe? Jan’s sister implores “There are enough little problems in marriage. Don’t start with the big ones. Think about you going to sacrament meeting while he wants to ride his motor bike, your sons going to priesthood by themselves if they go at all.” She goes on and continues to paint a bleak picture of a non-temple marriage. Jan’s brother-in-law arrives home and wags his finger in her general direction as Jan admits that her desire to hold on to the temple is weakening.

Later we meet Jan’s roommate, Debbie. She’s waiting for her military husband to return home from a deployment. She’s also waiting to go through the temple with him and is convinced in three months they will be ready. Then maybe Max, Jan, Debbie and Darryl to go through the temple together! Debbie urges her to marry Max soon as he won’t wait forever.

Jan is with her sister and brother-in-law again and they remind her that every marriage needs help so why not be married in the temple so you can get help from the Lord? Jan speaks with them about some of Max’s specific concerns regarding science, evolution and religion.

Jan sees Max for who he is but wants him to be more so…a deeper and truer version of himself. She said they could get married next week but she would be miserable because “we didn’t do it right.” Max is not made of stone, however. He wants to move on.

During the film we also spend several scenes with Max’s philosophy professor. Both in class and in office he raises questions about truth and the purpose of belief. They debate the need for proof vs the need for faith. The professor even proposes a new system in which marriages are more contractual that are easy to enter and easy to exit with any children from these marriages becoming wards of the state. The discussions are respectful and rational, but basically they sum it up for Jan with everyone’s favorite “you do you girlfriend!”

The divide comes to a head at a seedy pool hall. They are there studying in the middle of carousing, drinking and some pretty groovy mood music. Jan wants Max to go meet the Bishop but he doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t see that Jan should be the “reward” bestowed upon him for paying tithing and living he word of wisdom. Jan just wants to be like the image of other temple-married people at church: “Happy people who want to live good lives and love each other. Max you don’t know what love is!”

They break up, but not for long. Jan sees Max living life with another woman. She returns home at the end of the day to see the joyous reunion between Debbie and her husband. The happy scene proves to be too much and she weeps in her darkened room. She reaches for the phone, hesitates and then calls Max. She decides if she won’t take Max on his terms She won’t get him at all and they plan to get married.

Prior to leaving for their wedding in Vegas, Debbie and Jan talk about Darryl preparing to go to the temple. He then comes in to propose a toast with a bottle of champagne. Debbie is crushed as she realizes she is not as close to the temple as she thought. She cries on Darryl’s shoulder as they drive through the desert night. The foursome arrives in Vegas and pass numerous dens of iniquity, wedding chapels and—the horror—a PALM READER!

They select the classy Cupid Wedding Chapel, ring the bell and are ushered in by an officiant who also probably has a used car lot in the back. As they peruse the wedding chapel Jan is not impressed. Perhaps it’s the basic décor of the chapel, or the image of the “Til Death Do us Part” banner over a trash can of wilting roses. She is overwhelmed by the glitz and trappings of a “worldly” wedding and calls it off. “Max I wanted to marry you. It wouldn’t be me. It’s much too important. I know what I want now.” Debbie nods her head in agreement—a tacit acknowledgement that she may have also made the wrong choice.

But wait…this wasn’t real. We are reminded that it ‘twas but a glimpse of mortality as we cut back to the premortal waiting room for a rapid closure. Jan wonders “Does it have to be this way?” All knowing man spirit says “No it is up to us. We are free to act for ourselves to choose our own eternity.” And with those parting words of wisdom man spirit walks out to meet his earth life and our vision of what could be comes to a close.

For Time or Eternity can’t decide if it is promoting temple marriage or dealing with someone questioning the gospel. Are the two related? Yes, but in attempting to address both neither is served very well. Max is portrayed as being unreasonable because he doesn’t believe and doesn’t want to “put in the work.” In discussing gospel doubting perhaps the film was a bit ahead of its time, but questioning the gospel is definitely portrayed as a more robust part of discipleship in conference talks today than it is in this film.

Jan is portrayed as an unyielding stick-in-the-mud who doesn’t want to live or enjoy life because she believes. She only thinks that joy or happiness can be found in one way. The film reinforces that any sort of non-temple, mixed-faith marriage will be a disaster and that only in a temple marriage is God involved. Don’t you think that God will bless any two people who are striving to honor family, faith and parenthood? Not according to Jan. Newsflash. There are temple marriages that end in divorce.

Also, what’s the point of premortal beings getting a glimpse of earth life when all will be forgotten as they pass through a veil of forgetfulness?

Commitment to one you love can transcend a lot of differences. Does that mean there won’t be issues if two people have vast differences regarding belief? Of course not. If you want to hear a great discussion about the realities of a believer and non-believer marriage listen to podcast episode 414. It definitely approaches the realities and nuance of this issue better than the film.

For Time or Eternity strives to positively promote the ideal that temple marriage is the path to happiness. The unlikable characters on both sides and the strange premise definitely left me at the altar.  I hope you enjoyed our summer wedding sojourn. On to different topics next time.

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