I wrote this post for the original Overeducated Housewife blog in November 2017. I am reposting it as/is, so pretend it’s five years ago.
We got snow this morning and it’s been flurrying all day, so we decided to stay in and watch TV. I recently read Elizabeth Smart’s comments about the Lifetime movie that was made about her experiences in captivity after she was kidnapped from her bed on June 5, 2002. I still remember Bill telling me about the kidnapping. We were engaged at the time, living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His daughters are a few years younger than Smart, and they are also Mormon. They were in Arizona. I remember Bill was concerned.
Well, we all know what happened to Elizabeth. She was eventually found and reunited with her family. She went to college, went on a mission, and got married to a returned missionary from Scotland. They have two beautiful children and Elizabeth’s work is about helping victims. While I would never wish what happened to her on anyone, I think it’s laudable that she’s been able to turn her ordeal into something good.
As for the movie… I have to admit, it made me a bit emotional. I read Elizabeth’s book a few years ago, so I knew she was raped repeatedly, starved, forced to eat garbage and drink alcohol, and kept shackled to a tree out in the wilderness. The movie featured Smart narrating while an actress portrayed her.
I saw the first TV movie about Smart’s case; it aired in 2003, just nine months after she was rescued. I remember it was on TV the same night a movie about Jessica Lynch aired. I was interested in both movies, so I flipped back and forth. The first Smart movie was more from her parents’ perspective; it was based on the book Bringing Elizabeth Home.
In I Am Elizabeth Smart, there seemed to be much less emphasis on Smart’s family and the LDS church. In fact, I noticed when the actors portraying Barzee, Mitchell, and Smart didn’t even pray the way Mormons do, with their arms crossed. The church wasn’t even really mentioned, which is kind of a pity, since I think Mormon teachings are, in part, to blame for Smart’s trauma. The film is instead kept sort of blandly religious. Smart speaks of her faith in God and in how she saw God in everyday miracles, like when it would rain. Smart explains that she was always thirsty, because they never had enough water. It was very hard to get water. When they did get it, Mitchell would make her work for it. Basically, that meant submitting to his repeated sexual assaults.
Smart says in the film that when Mitchell raped her, she felt shattered into a million pieces. In speeches she’s given, she’s mentioned that she learned object lessons in the church about the importance of being “pure”. She learned that having sex before marriage made her akin to a chewed up piece of gum, worthy of being thrown away. Although she did mention feeling “shattered” in the film, she did not provide the context that made rape even more horrific for her.
The actors in the film were very good, although the part of the movie that I found most compelling was when Elizabeth spoke. It seemed almost like she wanted to set things straight with the public. She addressed the many cynical comments she must have read or heard from people over the years, including the claim that she had Stockholm Syndrome. Toward the end of the film, she has a glint in her eye and a victorious edge to her voice when she tells viewers that Mitchell had raped her for the last time. I also noticed that Elizabeth looked really pretty. I have seen her wear very heavy makeup, but whomever did her makeup for the film did a really good job. She looked natural and beautiful, not garish.
By the time the movie ended, I was feeling pretty verklempt. She was so incredibly lucky to survive and not endure years with those people. And, honest to God, while I’m not generally someone who enjoys violence, I do hope Mitchell gets the shit beaten out of him regularly for what he did to Elizabeth… and frankly, Wanda Barzee, who is also horrible, but was his victim for over fifteen years.
I think I Am Elizabeth Smart is pretty decent, especially for a Lifetime film. It is ultimately a triumphant film. I’m not sorry I watched it. I’m sure they deliberately downplayed Smart’s LDS beliefs for many reasons. Maybe it was to make it appeal to a larger audience or give more time to the story of Smart’s captivity. But personally, I think the church helped traumatize Smart when it taught her that sex outside of marriage makes someone worthless. As horrifying as rape is, it’s got to be much worse when the cornerstone of one’s spiritual beliefs teaches that a woman who has sex before marriage is akin to a licked cupcake or chewed up piece of gum.