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]he church has made all sorts of videos over the years. Videos historical and humorous, bleak and beautiful, preaching and practical. This week we look at one of the church’s early direct appeals for those not of our faith—1987’s Together Forever.
I admit I thought this film was a different one. As I started watching I was confused. I thought I was watching What is Real? You know the one where the dad has the daughter and has a flash forward that his daughter becomes a Madonna look-alike drug-addict hoodlum? Anyway I was wrong. We’ll put that in the slate for later on.
Together Forever, was directed by Michael McClean who also contributed several landmark songs to the film such as the eponymous “Together Forever” as well as “Stay with Me,” and “Be that Friend.” It is a series of four different vignettes of couples or individuals who discuss how they found meaning in life through their discovery of the plan of salvation. Unlike other videos we’ve seen it ends with an overt call to action and asks viewers to reach out to a church member to learn more. It also features a narrator, who “interviews” the lead character in each vignette to move the stories along.
Together Forever starts out with people remembering happy times. Some remember how terrific they felt on their wedding day, or when a child was born. They remember hoping that these special feelings could last forever. Then others remember how things got in the way of that happiness and that nothing can really last forever.
Scene one starts with a bow-tied business man at a drafting board who says “Nobody starts out thinking what can I do to ruin my family.” He discusses his efforts to provide for his family, and how focusing on getting ahead in business came at the expense of his family. He would come home after a long day with no energy for family and realized how his “getting ahead” was mostly for him and not for anyone else. He relates how increased dissatisfaction with family leads to finding understanding other places and could potentially lead to losing everything. He finds the plan of salvation and follows Heavenly Father’s pattern. “If god’s priorities are his family, which is all of us, it gives us [a clue as to where our happiness should come from]. It’s that simple.” His efforts to restore his family dynamic are underscored by the directly to the point named song “Are You Giving the Least to Those Who Matter Most.”
Scene two we see the church highlighting diversity by featuring an African American couple experiencing problems in their marriage. It tells the perspective from the wife who recounts how close she and her husband came to splitting up. She was not interested in divorce—the world’s answer for their problems. She was thrilled to learn that God has a plan for couples and through His plan, He has provided ways for couples to have meaningful relationships that last. “We had a lot going for us, that’s why we got married. We lost it. We weren’t there for each other.” She expressed her faith and belief that the Lord could help them learn to love each other again. We see scenes of the start of their marriage, their difficulties and reconciliation underscored by “Be that Friend.”
Scene 3 we focus on Jack—the only adult character to receive a name—who we assume is a single man seeking acceptance in all the wrong places. He comments that many people do drugs or drink to find acceptance with drug addicts or drinkers only to find they actually have nothing at all. We see him on a lonely road with a broken down car left in the dust by a passerby. Eventually a truck stops by and the driver and his son help him get his car to their garage. They invite him to dinner and he is both unprepared for the blessing on the food and surprised to be included in it. After this Norman Rockwell-style dinner he repairs his car and is offered a job. We then see various scenes of him studying and being included at church and with the family and finally see him offering a blessing on the food. He shares how his brother Jesus provided a plan and how “through loving and caring people I learned about this plan, and Jesus Christ makes it possible for me to change.” We see scenes of him working and studying. “I don’t know the answers, but I know where to look.”
Scene 4 features a married couple. The husband has a great mustache that may rival the one from this October’s General Conference. They talk of their happy life—married 7 years with two beautiful daughters. They loved their time together, but it was cut short as their 6-year-old daughter was hit by a car and died. Mom was angry and Dad was at a loss. As their younger daughter asked what happened to her sister they didn’t know what to say. The phrase “’til death do us part” from their wedding haunted the father, and we see scenes of the funeral, of him peering into an empty bedroom and of the mom weeping as she tries to prepare dinner. These somber images are accompanied by the pleading “Stay with Me” (the Michael McClean song, not the Sam Smith one). The husband comments that a friend who had supported him throughout the ordeal had “friends” who could help them understand what to tell his kids. Surprise! His friends are the missionaries. The mom and dad each discuss what they learned from the missionaries and how they had the opportunity to learn for themselves that what they were learning was true.
The film ends with a montage of different farewells and family events. Families gathering in the yard, a soldier going off to training, a daughter off to college. Parents saying good bye to children and grandchildren. We hear the strains of “Together Forever” interspersed with “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” along with dialogue from earlier in the film. The music is supported by key images. We see Del Parson’s “Christ in a Red Robe” and many other images of the Savior from the Gospel Art Picture Kit. It ends with the “classic” church logo and an appeal to find out more.
Together Forever seeks to tug on heart strings and spark interest in missionary discussions with a documentary-style approach. The characters portrayed may not be real people but the experiences they share are real and apply to the real challenges people face. Challenges that cause people to look for answers. It’s fine, but I feel it lacks some of the emotional punch that later films capture. As I mentioned earlier I had completely forgotten the details of the film and the songs are really what stick with you. “Be that Friend” may be a little cheesy, but “Stay with Me” and the “Together Forever”/Redeemer Lives medley are really effective. There’s my ringing endorsement. It’s fine, just not that memorable.
Thoughts, Musings & Trivia
- Although available on videocassette, the church also broadcast Together Forever. In the beginning of 1989 it aired it in every U.S. city with a mission headquarters.
- By May of 1989 the church estimated 60 million people were introduced to direct gospel messages through broadcast and print media.
- The film won the Catholic-sponsored Gabriel Award and received an 8 out of 10 on a Neilsen TV survey.