Given that Money or Mission is a Church film, which do YOU think he is going to choose in the end?
Yes, admittedly there isn’t a lot of suspense in the question posed in the title. Still, Money or Mission — a 33 minute dramatization of an article of the same name from the October 2005 Ensign – is a decent short film, and a good resource for a Family Home Evening lesson or other such venue.
It’s 2001. 18-year-old Patrick Gill has just graduated from high school and is stretching his “adult” legs for the first time. He has a few months before he turns 19 and (presumably) starts his mission service, and mostly spends his time developing his skateboarding skills with friends. When an opportunity to become the manager of a local skate shop arises, Patrick jumps at the chance. As he explains to his parents, working for those few months before his birthday he can earn good money. Or perhaps he might delay his mission start time a little and earn even more money — he’s supposed to be paying his own way in the mission field anyway, right?
Worldly temptations get in the way, however. Now flush with extra cash, Patrick is encouraged by his friends to get a new skateboard…and then a new car. He tells his parents he wants to move out into his own apartment. He ends up working most Sundays at his new job, and starts skipping church meetings even on the Sundays he isn’t. His parents, his best friend Mike (and Mike’s attractive sister Kerri) ask him nervously about his “future plans” — meaning, of course, mission service — and Patrick’s responses prominently feature the phrase “I don’t know”. After all, he has a good job involving his favorite activity and that’s a lot to give up for two years, isn’t it?
Money or Mission is a straight-forward film that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Given the brevity of the source article, writer/director John Lyde made a good decision not to attempt to expand the material into a feature-length film, but stick with a short half-hour run time. Viewers will easily predict the arc of events in Patrick’s life and what he’ll decide at the end, of course, although since the key events of the film are based on a true story, it’s not really reasonable to criticize anything as “contrived”. It serves as a decent enough case study involving issues that many young men in the Church will face as they prepare for their missions.
One of the biggest questions I had going in is whether Money or Mission would end up oversimplifying a complex issue in order to teach a general gospel principle. Does it? Perhaps a little, but not enough to cause any serious eye-rolling from cynical viewers.
As a young man, Patrick seems to have looked at mission service purely in the abstract — an event that was going to happen “someday” in the future. Once “someday” actually arrives in the form of his 19th birthday, the sacrifices that missionary service entail become more obvious, and other elements of reality start to intrude into his original view of life after high school. Money becomes a focus in his life, ostensibly for a good purpose, but without considering the big picture — the Church doesn’t explicitly encourage any young man to delay mission plans for the purpose of earning money since mission funds and other supplemental funding are available. In the film, it’s fairly obvious once Patrick has started spending his “mission money” on cars and other toys that priorities have gotten displaced along the way.
If there’s a criticism of Money or Mission, it is that the film seems to disagree with Patrick’s original Ensign article as to what Patrick’s primary mistake really was.
There’s nothing wrong with Patrick’s original plan – take a good job for a few months and earn money for his mission. Committing to the job for six months – delaying his mission by about three months – is not a relevant concern: many young men (including myself) adjust their mission start dates after their 19th birthday for reasons of school, employment, or family events. (Missions are inherently inconvenient — there’s no need to go out of your way to make them even more inconvenient…)
In the original article, Patrick describes these events in his life as follows:
[T]he owner…mentioned to me that he needed a new manager. He said he would gladly give me the job if I were going to be around. I thanked him for the offer but told him I was planning to go on a mission. Later that night, I thought of all the things I could do with the money I’d make as a manager. I could get my own apartment and a new car — anything I wanted! I decided to take the job. My parents were confused by this move. I told them I was just going to work at the skate shop until I could turn in my mission papers. My parents noticed a change in me, though, and finally my mom asked, “Are you still going on a mission?” All I could say was, “I don’t know.”
The text indicates the decision to take the skate shop job was an extension of Patrick’s own (unspoken) doubts about serving a mission — coupled with a desire for independence expressed through having his own car and apartment. However, those internal doubts are not displayed or hinted at in the film’s opening scenes. Rather, the film’s primary thesis seems to be Patrick’s “problem” was that he took the skate shop job in the first place — that the job was the cause of his spiritual struggles rather than an end result.
As dramatized in the movie, Patrick’s parents and church friends start giving him the LDS-patented “stare of disapproval” the instant he starts considering taking the skate shop job, without the movie Patrick providing them (or us) any indication that he’s struggling with decisions about his future. (Those only come out later) His parents have conversations like: “I’m worried about Patrick”, “Yes his choices haven’t been the best lately…” when his ‘choices’ to that point in the film were simply taking the skate shop job, and skipping the last hour of church one (1) time to attend to work responsibilities. (If I had a dollar every time *I* was tempted to skip the last hour of church, I’d…never mind) At this point, buying a new car, moving out, and expressing doubts about serving a mission weren’t even on the radar.
That’s jumping the gun on the film’s part. Even though we eventually see the more tangible and serious results of Patrick’s spiritual struggles, they are not a given from the events of the beginning of the film. Patrick’s parents and LDS friends treat him in the first half of the film as if they’ve already seen what happens in the second half — as if what happened to Patrick in the end is inevitable (it’s not). That’s a cheat on the film’s part to jump ahead to conclusions without proper setup. Patrick’s poor decisions were spending his mission money on a car, and skipping church to hang with a new crowd of friends, not taking the job that gave him the money to not spend on his mission in the first place.
If there’s a way Church films (and Church lessons) tend to oversimplify complex issues, it is with this idea, that “you shouldn’t put yourself in situations that might lead to situations that might lead to temptations that might cause bad decisions.” Why not just emphasize making correct decisions regardless of situation?
(If we want to grossly oversimplify Patrick’s problems to some root cause, it was his interest in skateboarding that led to the skate shop job and his non-member friends in the first place. Should his parents have prevented him from taking up skateboarding at all? After all, many non-members who don’t live Church standards skate, and taking up skateboarding as a hobby could lead to situations that could lead to situations, that… Obviously, that’s not really the lesson to get from Money Or Mission — again, how about just emphasizing making correct decisions in the first place?)
Despite that minor complaint, Money or Mission is effective enough for a short film that can provide a valuable discussion opportunity with LDS young men, provided that parents and children are astute enough to divine the correct lesson from the events of the film, not the wrong lesson.
Final Grade: B
Other Random Comments:
(1) In the dream sequence (also the cover of the DVD) featuring Patrick visualizing himself on a mission with a companion, Patrick has a missionary name tag in Spanish while his companion has a name tag in Chinese. That could be a possibly awkward encounter (“WHAT language did they teach you in the MTC, Elder?”)
(2) Patrick must have some top connections at Apple, as he has a model of an iPod that’s several years too modern for the 2001 year the film is set in.