Alone Yet Not Alone Only Works for Those Tired of Everything Else
- Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2014 13 Jun
Release Date: June 13, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (forviolence)
Genre: Historical Drama
Run Time: 103 min
Directors: Ray Bengston, George D. Escobar
Cast: Kelly Greyson, Natalie Racoosin, Clay Walker, Jenn Gotzon, Joanie Stewart, Ozzie Torres, Tony Wade, Robert Pierce
Alone Yet Not Alone, a little-seen and briefly-released Christian movie from 2013, made a rather infamous blip on the pop culture radar by no fault of its own when, at the beginning of 2014, it became one of the few examples in Academy Awards history to actually have its Oscar-nomination (for Best Original Song) rescinded prior to the awards ceremony.
One of the songwriters, Bruce Broughton (a former executive of the Academy's music branch, i.e. a man with influence over members), was deemed to have improperly solicited members' support via e-mail. Despite the apparent validity to that ruling (it's hard to imagine enough branch voters actually saw the movie to which they granted a nomination), it remained controversial in light of the fact that fuzzy ethical lines are seemingly broached every year during Oscar campaign season, but free of penalty or even accusation. So to some, it was as if this film was targeted and ultimately penalized for no other reason than its worldview was blatantly Christian.
The above is important to note here, since if it were not for that publicized hullabaloo it's unlikely that very many people – even Christians – would've ever heard of Alone Yet Not Alone, let alone that it would end up being released in theaters this summer. This is a movie that, by contemporary standards, is rather square to be quite honest, playing like a kindred companion piece to Little House On The Prairie (though not engendering the same level of affection as that classic series). Indeed, its only controversial attribute is its villainous and politically incorrect portrayal of 18th-century Native Americans (a point that will be addressed shortly), but first a synopsis.
Based on a true story, Alone Yet Not Alone examines a little-known issue of conflict between Native Americans and European settlers: the kidnapping of European children by native tribes, and raising those kids as their own (this was perhaps most famously depicted in the John Wayne classic The Searchers). This story follows two real-life sisters – Barbara and Regina Leininger – who were among those kidnapped.
Daughters of devout Lutheran German settlers, the sisters were taken following a raid on their cabin and the murder of their father and older brother. The whole matter of these kidnappings was more complicated than it sounds, and the movie's setup (to its credit) helps provide the context from which this tragic epidemic grew. In short, as Colonists continued to invade and annex tribal territories, Native Americans understandably began to retaliate. Any and all European setters – not just British settlers – became targets, as the White Man and its society was an all-encompassing territorial threat. Consequently, tribal warrior attacks would include homesteads (of which the Leiningers' was one). Adults would be killed, and children taken. Alone Yet Not Alone is primarily a story of survival, but of also staying steadfast to the Christian faith and relying on it for strength.
The filmmakers go to intentional lengths to create sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans, showing their peaceful gestures to English troops as being arrogantly turned away, with a clear threat that the British Empire would take and subdue whatever it chose. So by the time the Leiningers are attacked, we know that it's not indiscriminant savagery.
Nevertheless, once the sisters enter tribal life (joining other kidnapped children), the depiction of the Native Americans towards these kids is, well, savage. The children are treated poorly, roughly, and controlled through fear and threat of violence, from knife-point to burning at the stake. To whatever extent that depiction may be historically accurate, it still comes off in the antiquated tone of over-simplified stereotypes common to the "Cowboys and Indians" tales from sixty years ago and older. Suffice it to say, this largely one-dimensional prism – which is only nuanced by one young warrior who treats the kids with care, patience, and compassion – could create a negative, fearful impression of Native Americans in the minds of younger, impressionable viewers, particularly as it makes up the bulk of the narrative.
As far as Christian movies go, Alone Yet Not Alone lands as an effort with generally good production values (the scope and detail of costumes, sets, and props reflects positively on the producers' budget and resourcefulness) that nevertheless falls dramatically flat. The plot develops in formulaic, broad strokes, and Christian beliefs are expressed in rather didactic fashion.
The acting ranges from stilted to melodramatic. The leads aren't particularly compelling, and it doesn't help that the young protagonists look like they just came off the set of a tween television series rather than the American frontier. Further still, smaller speaking roles and background extras seem as if they've been pulled right out of the pews. Unfortunately, despite earnest efforts, this barely works as adequate historical re-enactment.
Then there are the requisite moments of witnessing (including a full-on "God sent Jesus, His only Son…" monologue) and taking stands for Christ. Each is portrayed more as an example for modern Evangelicals to follow than as authentic to each actual moment. They also, even if unintentionally, assist the portrayal of Native Americans as barbaric killers of Christians (who peacefully and forgivingly pray for their persecutors' salvation, even unto martyrdom).
Despite all of that, I doubt anyone would walk away thinking these filmmakers have any ill-will toward Native Americans. Alone Yet Not Alone is simply a well-intentioned effort to depict Christian virtue and courage in the face of persecution (which actually occurred) that, regrettably, happens to lack the nuance and depth to convey its complexities to a 21st-century audience. Alone Yet Not Alone doesn't work for a modern sensibility; rather, it only works for those who are completely tired of everything modern.
The same can be said for the title song that made this theatrical release possible. It's a good traditional hymn, as hymns go, but it's unlikely to find its way even onto most Christians' iPods.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: One brief moment of comically-raucous beer drinkers around a campfire.
- Language/Profanity: None. Native Americans are referred to as "savages" a few times.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Very chaste. Two women are given a bath while wearing undergarments (seen from the shoulders up). A few different love stories develop but all portrayed innocently with knowing looks, hugs, hand-holding, and honorably-expressed intentions.
- Violence/Other: While avoiding graphic depiction in virtually every way (save a few instances of blood on clothes), there are scenes of violence – from small-scale attacks to full-scale village battles – that are intense and scary. People are killed by gun and rifle fire, by axes, knives, and hand-to-hand struggles. Two men are individually murdered by ax attacks. Scalps are seen, and hung up as trophies. A man is attacked by a bear, breaking his leg. A woman is burned at the stake (although it fades away from the image before she begins to actually burn), and a little girl is nearly burned at the stake before it being stopped. In general, kids are treated roughly and threatened with violence by Native Americans. A homestead is burned by tribal warriors after its residents have been killed.
Publication date: June 13, 2014
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at icantunseethatmovie.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."