One of the most interesting and quirky aspects of “Under the Banner of Heaven” is how it weaves in recreations of Mormon history alongside flashbacks to the events leading up to the murders. Pyre is considered the head of his family and therefore a “priesthood holder” in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But as he questions Brenda’s husband, Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle), he begins to realize how little he knows or how neglected he is about the roots of his own religion.
This leaves the lay viewer, who knows perhaps even less about this American faith called Mormonism, ready to go down a rabbit hole online reading the likes of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the Laffertys. It’s something I found myself doing quite a bit here and on the recent AMC series, “Dark Winds,” which also hinted at the troubled history between Native Americans and early Mormons.
“Under the Banner of Heaven” draws a parallel between the selfish desires of historical and modern patriarchs and how these can too often be misinterpreted as divine purpose. The characters talk about listening to the “small, still voice” of God, but the danger arises when a person begins to privilege their own inner voice and the literal interpretation of religious texts – or documents like the US Constitution – to the detriment the well-being of others.
When Dan Lafferty, played by Wyatt Russell, becomes obsessed with undoing constitutional amendments and other societal advancements in favor of originalism, it’s something that has direct applications to what’s happening in the country here and now. Polygamy is a placeholder; it could also replace more pressing contemporary issues like abortion, gay rights, and gun control.