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Film / 17 Miracles

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17 Miracles is a 2011 independent film by T.C. Christiansen following the 1856 journey of the Willie Handcart Company of Mormon pioneers on their way to Zion. Specifically, the film documents several miracles as recorded in the journals of pioneers who made the journey.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Agony of the Feet:
    • The epilogue mentions that Jens Nielsen never truly recovered from the grueling handcart journey—for the rest of his life one of his feet was at a right angle to the other.
    • Mary Hurren arrived in Salt Lake City with her feet black from frostbite. Doctors wanted to amputate immediately, but her father insisted that she hadn’t walked all the way to Utah only to lose her feet. She didn’t lose her feet—from amputation or frostbite.
  • Anyone Can Die: The Martin and Willie companies are infamous for the heavy casualties they took on their trek, after all.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Levi keeps his journal so that his son knows what happened in case he doesn’t survive.
  • Artistic License – History: A disclaimer preceding the film itself admits that some liberties were taken with the order of some events depicted.
  • Based on a True Story: The film is based on not only recorded history but also on personal journal accounts from pioneers who made the trek. Your Mileage May Vary on some of the events presented as miracles.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. The film’s women are just as beaten and dirty and worn as the men.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • Just as Sister Mellor’s daughter prays for some way to help her despondent mother, she finds an entire skillet full of bread.
    • One woman, out gathering buffalo chips for firewood, was approached by a stranger who lead her to a cave with strips of dried meat. He identified himself only as a traveler and gave her all the meat she could carry. On her way back to camp, she realized she hadn’t thanked him and retraced her steps back to the cave, only to find it empty.
  • Death of a Child: Bodil Mortensen and Niels Nielson are notable examples.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Tamar Loader has a dream of her sweetheart she left behind, only for him to disappear and be replaced with a stranger. Months later, when help finally arrives from Utah, the stranger appears among the messengers.
  • Domestic Abuse: Elizabeth Panting takes her children and flees her abusive alcoholic husband after he threatens their lives for joining with the Mormons.
  • Dwindling Party: As Levi predicted, bones strewed the path to Utah.
  • Exact Words: After leaving Betsy Cunningham, supposedly frozen to death in her sleep, along the side of the trail (the ground was too hard to dig a grave), her mother remembers a promise made in a blessing that all of her children would live to see Zion, ran back with her husband. After applying water to her feet and neck, Betsy awakened.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Elizabeth’s husband looks directly at her and their children on the train but fails to recognize them.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Not only is it widely known that the Martin and Willie handcart companies suffered heavy casualties, but the film’s characters are almost all historical figures from said companies with known fates.
  • Heroic BSoD: One woman, distraught by the loss of her baby twins, simply sat down on a boulder and refused to go any further from despair.
  • Holier Than Thou: Captain Willie who calls Levi as standing against God for speaking against starting so late in the season after implicitly giving Levi his blessings to be an Honest Advisor at the meeting when Levi indicated Willie might not like what he said.
  • Honor Before Reason: The pioneers choose to make the trek despite the lateness of the season because they’ve been commanded to gather in Zion, and they believe that God will protect them.
  • Ignored Expert: Levi Savage objected vocally to the parties’ decision to leave so late in the season, warning of disastrous consequences. He’s dismissed and called him to repentance more than once for supposedly opposing God.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Two little girls, playing alone away from the camp, encounter a group of rattlesnakes. Fortunately, they both manage to avoid being bitten.
  • Morton's Fork: Willie confides in Levi that he doesn't distrust his judgment as much as he'd indicated but simply feels forced to go forward due to their not being enough money or food to keep all 500 of them fed where they are if they delay setting out.
  • Never Found the Body: George Padley's body was wrapped in a shawl and placed in a tree to keep the wolves away. After the winter thaw, another group of pioneers passed by the same tree, finding the shawl empty but intact. As a result, many speculated that he Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence, being taken straight into heaven.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The film opens on Savage’s battalion following a pack of wolves to the ill-fated Donner Party’s remains. Throughout the film he flashes back to the horror of the discovery.
  • Recurring Riff: Paul Cardall’s arrangement of “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul,” performed by Dallyn Vail Bayles, the melody of which can be heard at several points during the film.
  • Savage Wolves: Wolves are encountered at several points through the film: hanging around the Donner Party’s remains, sniffing at shallow freshly-dug graves, and going after stray children.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A few families turn back soon after the handcarts start out.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Two little girls encounter a whole group of rattlesnakes while playing away from the camp.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul” is sung over a montage of dead and dying pioneers. The hymn’s lyrics praise God for his goodness in saving and lifting up the singer. The point could be made that the lyrics represent God saving those individuals from further suffering.