Some stories deserve to be told because they are so outrageous you wouldn’t believe they could really happen. This is one of those. When Joseph Smith, the ‘prophet’ of the Latter-day Saints, retracted his revelation requiring polygamy, ostensibly because of a new revelation from God, but coincidentally after societal and governmental censure and prosecution, groups of fundamentalists broke with the church to set up their own polygamous colonies. One, at least, of those remains today, led by the Jeffs family.
Rolan Jeffs had 90 wives and so many children they built a school just for them. One of his sons, Warren Steed Jeffs rose in prominence and, with his father’s failing health, took over as self-appointed prophet. So began years of Warren gaining more and more control of an isolated community who believed everything he said, years of him marrying younger and younger girls and molesting children of either gender. He would announce impending apocalypses so that the communities would break all their worldly ties, sell all their assets to give to Jeffs and flee to remote parts of the southern US.
This documentary follows the investigations of a private investigator and Jon Krakauer, he of almost dying on Everest fame, into Jeffs and the efforts to find and prosecute him. Eventually there were multiple warrants out for his arrest in Colorado, Utah and Texas and he was on the FBI’s most wanted list, right next to Bin Laden. He was a man, it seems, who truly believed, and still believes, his own delusions.
It’s a solid documentary but is padded out with engaging but repetitive imagery of conservatively dressed children and wives running for cover as they are filmed from passing vehicles and too much of Krakauer and Bower, the PI. I wanted to hear more from the women who were overwhelmingly the victims and the ones without a voice. Perhaps there were few who had escaped or were willing to talk. There was one, his wife #63, who was eloquent and gave heart to the story, speaking of being married to Warren at 16 and now being cut off from all of her family.
What the film showed me is that you can make people believe anything and that the wholesale subjugation and abuse of women is not the preserve of less developed nations.