It can't be wrong when it feels so right. (Debby Boone, You Light up My Life)
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 14:12, King James Version)
Charly, by far, plays the emotion card more than any other LDS film. It is strikingly reminiscent of the classic Love Story with Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw. This LDS love story is based on the popular Mormon book by Jack Weyland that is also named Charly. Now this isn't a typical love story in that it deals with some very poignant issues of sexual purity and having faith in the midst of pain. The acting is believable, and it is fairly well done for a religious movie.
The movie begins with Sam (Jeremy Elliott) being set-up on a blind date by his dad. His dad wants him to pick up his dad's manager's daughter, Charly (Heather Beers), from the airport. Sam is reluctant, but after his dad bribes him with some money and the keys to his dad's car, he goes to pick Charly up and to show her a good time on the town (well, as much of a good time as one can have in Salt Lake City). Charly is an artist and a typical pagan, who is almost engaged and living with her boyfriend Mark in New York City. She is out in Utah to visit her family, particularly her grandmother who is setting up an art exhibit. Sam on the other hand is a very straight-laced Mormon, who is looking for someone to go to the celestial kingdom with and "live happily ever after."
Charly is intrigued by this concept of "living happily ever after," so Sam arranges for her to have a discussion with the LDS missionaries. She finds the whole Mormon story ridiculous, but Sam tells her to pray about it. They pray together, and she still thinks Sam is crazy. Nonetheless, they enjoy spending time together, and she even goes to the ward with him. She eventually reads the Book of Mormon, and begins to believe it. She feels something when she reads it; she feels that Someone is listening when she prays. Below the Christus statue in the North Visitors' Center of Temple Square, she asks Sam if he really believes all this stuff, and he responds, "No, I don't believe; I know it!" Later her grandma tells her to check her motives, and then just follow how she feels. Charly tells Grandma, "It just feels right!" She ends up getting baptized and claims that she's never felt like this before.
Now her folks, who are also pagans, feel that they need to take some action to curb their daughter from becoming a religious kook. So even though they are not particularly fond of Mark, they solicit his help to free their daughter. Mark surreptitiously happens to show up at Grandma's art exhibit opening. Sam finds out that this is Charly's live-in boyfriend, and he tells her that he doesn't want "used merchandise." Ouch!
Well to make a long story short, they end up getting married. But surprisingly, they end up not "living happily ever after" because Charly develops cancer. Since they have lived good lives and been faithful, Sam thinks God will heal her by Sam giving her a blessing. So Sam performs the blessing, and says, "I did what I felt was right." Because of this, he knows God will keep His promises and heal her. Charly gives Sam a reality check, and tells him that God never promised this; He instead promised eternal marriage. Now Sam really starts to think, "What if this is all a lie?" Unfortunately, Charly brings Sam back to the seductive LDS world of feelings when she states, "It doesn't feel like a lie." So it becomes a test of faith. Will they remain faithful to what they feel is true?
Of course there are all sorts of intellectual problems here. Charly, forgive me for spoiling it, dies. So how does this fit with Sam claiming that he knew by his feelings that God would heal her? Sam also knew by his feelings that the LDS Church is true. Couldn't he also be wrong here? And how did Charly know that God promised eternal marriage? It certainly is not found in the Book of Mormon. Other than knowing that the LDS Church teaches this doctrine, the only scripture that clearly teaches it is in the Doctrine and Covenants 132. But how would Charly know that these sources are true? Evidently, she would know it by the same feelings.
Now since Sam proved that those feelings could be wrong, how would we know if the Doctrine and Covenants is in fact wrong? One of the ways would be to see if it is consistent with the first revelation of God, the Bible. Galatians 1:6-9 says,
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed (King James Version).
And on this topic of eternal marriage, Jesus flatly denies it (for a further explanation, see my review of A&E's Investigative Reports: Inside Polygamy). Wouldn't it be a firmer foundation to go by what Jesus actually taught rather than by what anyone may feel?
A final problem I will consider is based on the plurality of divergent beliefs. There are all sorts of religious and non-religious kooks out there that feel what they believe in is true. Do we adjudicate among these beliefs simply on the way we feel after reading their material and praying about it? Why is Charly's experience valid and the experience of the suicide bomber who expects to be eternally married to seventy two virgins not valid? Both feel that what they are doing is right.
At this point LDS construct an arbitrary value of no harm. Charly isn't hurting anyone, but the suicide bomber clearly is. Besides the problem that Charly may be hurting herself in going to hell, there is an additional problem as to why this no harm principle should matter. The assumption is that God would never harm another individual. But there are all sorts of examples in which God does harm others for whatever good purpose He has. God harming His Son on the cross is one example that comes to mind. So how can Charly's experience as well as the suicide bomber's experience be affirmed or ruled out?
There is also the problem of other peaceful cults. These cults are diametrically opposed to Charly's belief system. The Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Science, to name a few, all claim to feel right about what they believe too. Certainly they can't all be right.
Now the Christian has a solid answer to this conundrum that is not merely subjective. It's Jesus. It is what He taught. He has proven Himself worthy to be listened to since He fulfilled all sorts of prophecy written about Him long before He arrived on the scene, and more importantly, because He rose from the dead. And an inference to the best explanation from history testifies to this fact (see, for example, Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ [Zondervan, 1998]).
Finally, for more reviews of Charly, see here and here (another Christian review).
R. M. Sivulka
Salt Lake City, UT
February 14, 2004