Sundance 2022- “The Mission” Lifts the Veil on Your Friendly Neighborhood Mormon Missionary: Film Review

If you’ve lived anywhere long enough, you have likely seen two respectable and well-dressed young adults walking the streets, literally going door to door with their gospel. Multitudes of people ignore these individuals without so much as a second thought. Tania Anderson’s The Mission however is such an intimate portrait of LDS missionaries that after watching, you’ll struggle to pass by them without giving these adolescents a smile or a kind word.

Covering four 18-20 year olds two year journey through the Church of the Latter-day Saints’ missionary program, Anderson’s feature documentary debut is unparalleled in its level of access to its subjects. The audience travels right along side these Elders and Sisters (the male and female terms for LDS missionaries) as they go from seemingly normal teenage lives immediately into depressive hardships.

Through this in-depth cinematic experience, Anderson is able to capture the inherent solitude associated with missionary work. While every missionary is given a companion that quite literally doesn’t leave their side, the two never learn each other’s full names and are reassigned every nine weeks, possibly never to see one another again. It’s this unfamiliarity, along with only being able to contact their families once every week, that breeds a perpetual state of loneliness. As Anderson exposes this isolation, it makes the viewer immediately sympathetic to the missionaries’ struggle to stay upbeat and positive in a pessimistic environment.

However, while The Mission never out right attempts to proselytizes viewers to the Mormon faith, the film does shy away from fully examining the LDS missionary ministry’s impact on its youth in the third act. When the missionaries finally arrive home from their placement in Finland, Anderson wraps up their return and re- assimilation back into their environment too quickly, leaving viewers wondering just how great a mark their service left on them.

For a subject that rarely sees the light of day on the silver screen, The Mission is an enlightening gateway into the world of missionaries that demands to be seen, no matter one’s religious affiliation.

The Silver Lining

While all four of the missionaries journeys are illuminating and personal, it’s Elder Tyler Davis’ experience that leaves an gargantuan impact on the overall message of The Mission. While in the field, Davis grapples with mental health issues relating to the overall isolation of being in a foreign environment. Davis’ experiences strengthen the film’s commentary about the solitude missionary work contains and makes you think about him long after the credits roll.

Sister McKenna Field admires her new name tag before embarking on her missionary
work in Finland, as seen in THE MISSION directed by Tania Anderson. Courtesy of
Danish Bear Productions.

The Mission is a part of Sundance Film Festival’s 2022 World Cinema Official Competition lineup. Tickets are still available for its second screening on January 26th here.

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