Movie Review: Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure
Kirk Cameron In Association with Camfam Studios, a Pyro Pictures Production, 2012
The Miracle of the Pilgrims
If you've ever suspected that the "history" you learned in school left out a lot of important things, this new film by Kirk Cameron will turn your suspicions into certainties.
We know all about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower-right? Thanksgiving and all that: yeah, we know.
But as a matter of fact, we don't know much.
Monumental is intended as a cure for America's amnesia about her past. It tells the story of a miracle-how a handful of settlers in a leaky, crowded, slowly sinking ship came to an uncharted wilderness on the threshold of winter, with little more than the clothes on their backs; how half of them died of want and hardship before the first spring came; and how, within the space of a single lifetime, they founded a modern city (Boston), a university (Harvard), and some two hundred towns and churches, all of which are still here today, some 400 years later. There is nothing else in history to match it-so much achievement, in so little time, by so few people with so little in the way of resources. The only resource they possessed in abundance was their Christian faith: and upon that rock, they built a mighty nation.
These were the Pilgrims. America was their miracle; and Monumental is the story of all you thought you knew about this chapter of history, but didn't.
The Past as a Gateway to the Future
If the story is to have an impact, it must be well told. Monumental tells it very well indeed.
The camera-work is beautiful: what you see reinforces what you hear. As the story's narrator, Kirk Cameron is on screen much of the time. He brings just the right amount of passion to the narrative, with able assistance from Marshall Foster, David Barton, Herbert Titus, and others. You might not think a narrator would need much acting ability, but you'd be wrong. Cameron uses his gift to infuse a sense of immediacy, even urgency, to the material. And so the history he is describing comes out of the dust of ages and seems to live again. It's never dull.
"Something is seriously sick in the soul of our country," he says, introducing the past by way of the present and immediately and effectively connecting the two.
How are we to get out of the mess we're in today? To answer this, Cameron says, we have to discover what made America great in the first place.
And this is what we discover as we watch and listen. Learning from the past, says Cameron, "We see victory in the future." Our forefathers built a new nation; and we, empowered by the same Christian faith they had, can rebuild it, by the grace of God-a message well worth hearing.
How Hard Was It?
Cameron follows the Pilgrims by going to the pertinent locations in England and Holland, some of which have not changed much in 400 years.
Here he reminds us that in those days it was treason to possess an English Bible-a crime that could land the offender in a dark, damp, narrow prison or even be punishable by execution. The camera takes us inside some of those prison cells: you don't want to spend much time there. A fleeting image of a man being burned at the stake drives home the point.
We learned in school that the Pilgrims simply "fled to Holland to escape religious persecution." We did not learn how cruel and bitter was that persecution, and how hard and dangerous it was to escape. Monumental fills in that cavity of ignorance.
"Why didn't they just give up?" Cameron asks. Modern people, one strongly suspects, would have given up very quickly, under the circumstances. But Cameron answers his own question: "Because they know that God has commissioned them." Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). "Four hundred years later, the liberty that the world enjoys is because of these people who were willing to lay down their lives in the wilderness."
This is powerful stuff; but we will not re-tell the story here. Go see the movie! (A good companion piece to the film would be Dorothy Robbins' clever telling of the tale in her book, The Governor's Story, available from Nordskog Publishing.)
Making the Stones Speak
Why is this film called Monumental?
Because it leads up to a visit to the awesome "Pilgrim Monument" in Plymouth, Massachusetts-a site which most of us have never heard of. But it's the largest granite monument in America, dwarfing human visitors. Funded by Congress, it took seventy years to build-and yet it's virtually unknown today. I have a friend in Massachusetts who has never heard of it, let alone seen it.
Why is this monument important? Because it records, in stone, "the only successful strategy for liberty in the history of mankind."
Cameron and Marshall Foster examine the monument in detail, translating its symbolism. Amazingly, this monument is a message from our ancestors. "Here is what we accomplished, and here is how we did it." It's as if they anticipated the problems we would have today, and left us directions for solving them-an owner's manual for America.
So what must we do, to extricate ourselves from difficulty? What do we need? The monument tells us: faith in God, and belief in the Bible, leading us to God-given wisdom and morality; evangelism; law inspired by God's laws, justice and mercy; and education starting with God's Word, to provide the best training of our youth. "Liberty is the result of living out that strategy," Cameron explains. "Tyranny is defeated." And yet, he adds, the Pilgrims won their victory not by violence and force of arms, but by prayer, and love, and sacrifice.
How could we have forgotten all this? How, by imperceptible steps, did America lose her own vision of America? Why aren't troops of Americans visiting the Pilgrim Monument, studying it, teaching their children its lessons, and applying them to their own lives? We can look at the monument and see what America ought to be. Why aren't we looking? Why aren't we seeing?
To address such questions, Cameron visits David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, who has a vast collection of Bibles and other books from America's earliest days.
Here, for instance, is a Bible printed in 1782, the first Bible printed in America. Only twenty-two copies still exist. This Bible, Barton notes, was printed by order of Congress "for the use of our schools."
Whoa! Congress spent public funds to print the Bible, intending it for use in schools? "They wanted the Word of God to go out to every family," Barton says.
But how can this be? Haven't we all been told, haven't our children been taught in school and college, that our country's founders were at best a lot of deists and agnostics, whose great ambition was to protect America from Christianity?
Yes, we have-and such teaching, Barton says, is "deliberate fraud." But it's no wonder we know so little of our own country's true history.
Herbert Titus, a constitutional lawyer, then meets us at Harvard University-founded by the Pilgrims, by the way-to show us Harvard's original founding monument. Now hidden behind trees and other obstacles, the monument states the university's commitment to advancing the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ-proclaiming that this, in fact, was the purpose for which Harvard was created.
Why do we ignore these monuments? They are evidence of our ancestors' commitment to Christianity! "Without Christianity," says David Barton, "you have no basis for a free and just nation." Our ancestors knew that, and tried their best to transmit that knowledge to their posterity-to us. "We live in God's world," says Herbert Titus, "so we have to live by God's laws, which are built into God's creation."
"You don't break God's laws," adds Cameron. "God's laws break you."
"We need to be more sensitive to the movement of God in our history," Cameron says. "And that gives us grounds for optimism."
So how do we get back to being what we were?
Our ancestors have left us what we need to know. "We've got the strategy," says Cameron. "The seed that grew this nation was faith in God." And, "The answer doesn't begin at the White House. It begins at your house."
In an age of rock stars and a lying media, of "gay pride" parades and lying politicians, of crony capitalism, craven churches, disaster to the nation's finances, and lying "educators," it can be exceedingly hard not to be discouraged.
But consider: the Pilgrims came here in extreme poverty; but we are rich. There were only 142 of them, and half of them died before they saw their first spring in America; but we are numbered in the millions. The Pilgrims came out of the iron furnace of persecution; but we, by their efforts, are still free. With all our advantages, compared to their disadvantages, why can't we do what they did?
Consider more deeply. The same God who brought forth a great and mighty nation from this tiny group of Pilgrims is the God who is able to bless us today. We have changed, but He has not. The God the Pilgrims served is ready to receive our service. The God who heard their prayers is still there to hear ours.
Consider the Scripture: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).
In their papers, in their diaries and letters, in their actions, and in the monuments that afterward were raised to them, the Pilgrims left us the message that today we need to hear, and which is clearly stated in the Scriptures: "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). And this verse, too, the Pilgrims knew and lived by: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
God has not changed since those words were written down. He is still able to heal our land.
Visually gorgeous, beautifully executed, Monumental is an inspiring film, and one that is meant to teach. It may be the one last little push that some of us will need to change our lives.
But the teacher can only do so much. The audience has to be willing to receive the lesson.
The Pilgrims' hearts were wide open to their God.
Let us open ours, too, and see how God makes use of us.
[Editors Note: Monumental debuts in theaters around the country March 27, 2012. For a theater near you, go to http://www.fathomevents.com/theatrelist/leonardolive.pdf?eventid=1068. To request that the movie come to your area, go to http://www.demandthemovie.com/monumental/]
Topics: American History, Media / Arts