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The Inheritance (1997)

We watched the version of this movie distributed by Feature Films for Families :   http://www.familytv.com/Product_Info.aspx?p=350
It later came to our attention that this was an edited version.  All other distributors and sellers carry the uncut version.  The edited parts included various slang phrases and mild crudeness.  While we generally discourage watching “edited” movies, as the morals of the producer can never be completely removed, in this case the Feature Films for Families version helps eliminate detraction and leaves a better spirit.

The Inheritance, based on a book by Louisa May Alcott, has become a family favorite.  The heroine, Edith, is a beautiful portrayal of a noble life.  It can lift your sight to refined living.  The film provides a setting and personalities ripe for family discussion.

Among the many lessons, we would like to illustrate four:

1. True refinement vs. politcal correctness and traditional manners.

The Inheritance is set among a family of wealth in Massachusetts in the 1870’s. It is a time of class distinction, when your “worth” is often based on your wealth and “breeding.”  Many today carry this same “traditional” way of thinking–that polished social skills, knowing your forks and the proper rules of tea equal refinement and good manners.This movie presents a higher ideal, that “greatness” is determined by character; that “good breeding” is the result of self-discipline and self-restraint.  Noah Webster felt that “refinement” is the result of a pure life, a separation from dross and the “effect of Christian principles”.   His 1828 Dictionary states:


  1. The act of purifying by separating from a substance all extraneous matter; a clearing from dross, dregs or recrement;
  2. The state of being pure
  3. Polish of language; elegance; purity.
  4. Polish of manners; elegance; nice observance of the civilities of social intercourse and of graceful decorum. Refinement of manners is often found in persons of corrupt morals.
  5. Purity of taste; nice perception of beauty and propriety in literature and the arts.
  6. Purity of mind and morals; nice perception and observance of rectitude in moral principles and practice.
  7. Purity of heart; the state of the heart purified from sensual and evil affections. This refinement is the effect of christian principles.
Edith is a poor orphan of “no consequence,” and is generally rejected by the social group of the wealthy Hamilton family.  At a ball, the Hamiltons are chastised for bringing their “help,” as a detriment to the beauty and refinement of the ball and those who are present.  It is easy to contrast the outstanding character of Edith, her superiority to the general public.  Her worth is genuine and far above any superficial measurements of wealth.  She brings beauty, wit, intelligence and kindness wherever she goes.Several of the supporting characters are wealthy, and therefore “well bred”, yet greatly lacking in this true definition of refinement–wisdom, charity and a pure life.  Their motives are purely self-preservation.  Polished social manners, and knowing “just the right thing to say,” is a quality found also in persons of corrupt morals, as a tool to deceive.   It is important to note, in training our youth, that true manners include what is on the inside, and not just the outside.

In this era of sloppiness, we call for a return to true social graces and manners coupled with correct understanding and refinement through the influence of the Spirit.  Almost lost is the example of those who speak quietly yet firmly and who are kind in their response.  Those who make others feel welcome and are generous in their hospitality.

Parley P. Pratt explained well the influence of the Spirit of God upon a person:

An intelligent being, in the image of God, possesses, every organ, attribute, sense, sympathy, affection, of will, wisdom, love, power and gift, which is possessed by God Himself.

But these are possessed by man, in his rudimental state, in a subordinate sense of the word. Or, in other words, these attributes are in embryo, and are to be gradually developed. They resemble a bud, a germ, which gradually develops into bloom, and then, by progress, produces the mature fruit after its own kind.The gift of the Holy Spirit adapts itself to all these organs or attributes. It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.

In the presence of such persons one feels to enjoy the light of their countenances, as the genial rays of a sunbeam. Their very atmosphere diffuse and thrill, a warm glow of pure gladness and sympathy, to the heart and nerves of others who have kindred feelings, or sympathy of spirit…”  –Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 101-102)

Living worthy of the Spirit of God will refine our natures into the image of God.

2.  Self-restraint, temperance and bridling of passions:
The heroine, Edith, demonstrates intense self-control throughout the movie.  What an example for our day, when “letting people know your mind” is paraded as a virtue.  Edith is persecuted by those jealous of her, returning hurtful deeds and words with kindness.   Ida, a cousin of the wealthy family Edith lives with, visits in hope of marrying a local eligible bachelor.  Ida is a woman of supposed “breeding” and above Edith’s “social status,” yet she is jealous of Edith for her goodness and superiority of character.  She publicly demeans Edith at every opportunity and even plots to have Edith removed from the family in disgrace.  Through it all, Edith remains composed under pressure, and acts, not reacts, according to her higher moral law.  “Circumstance does not make the man, it only reveals him to himself.”

Edith continually strives to remain cheerful and happy, despite the persecution from those around her.  In our confusing world, we are often told to “stick up for ourselves” while self is placed above principle.  This story demonstrates the fruit of a strong character, not in a fairy tale happy ending, but in recognition of character as its own reward.  I was a better person after watching this movie, and many times scenes have come to my mind and guided my actions.

3.  Correct picture of true manhood and womanhood:
In our confusing gender world, a clear depiction of a true man and a true woman has been lost.  This movie paints a portrait that restores true femininity and masculinity.  “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” (Proclamation on the Family).  Satan is distorting male and female gender.  Many are searching, but know not what they are searching for or where to find it.  We were born, nurtured and raised male and female spirit children of our Father in Heaven before our mortal birth.

The hero, James Percy, is a man of self-restraint, gentleman-like conduct, and one who desires pure and beautiful things.  These traits are nearly lost in our course world.  Strength, discernment and firmness are shown, combined with graciousness and ennobling kindness.  Modern movies generally depict men as foolish, effeminate, and helplessly relying on female counterparts for strength. In contrast true masculine character is continually revealed in scripture.  No one would consider Nephi, Mormon, Moroni or Joseph Smith as weak and helpless.

Edith is a beautiful depiction of a true woman–graceful, neat and comely, gentle, a peacemaker, and beautifully feminine.  Watching her example further inspired me in these virtues.  This movie inspired an image of a “woman of God,” as painted by Margaret Nadauld, General Young Women’s President, in her conference address:

Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.  (Margaret Nadauld, LDS General Conference, October 2000)  http://lds.org/ensign/2000/11/the-joy-of-womanhood?lang=eng

4.  The Joy of Beauty:
God created this world and filled it with beauty to gladden our hearts and bring us joy.  He wants us to seek elegance.  Not only does this movie contain a pleasing message, but also gladdens the heart with picturesque scenery, lighting and filming technique.  The cinematographer is skilled in superb aesthetics, capturing light and nature to create peaceful settings.  I came away with a desire to make the environment around me more attractive, and appreciate the divinely Created elements around us.  God-given creations, unreproducible by man: lighting, sunsets, flowers, bird calls, a smile!  Consider, the works of God are harmonious, peaceful and sublime.  Too often the works of man are loud, course, base and unrefined.  Sit at a park in the city and contrast the two.  God has called us to dress, keep and to be stewards in this world.  We can encourage beauty in all we do.

There are a few elements of the movie to which we give caution:

1. Feministic ideas;
The movie epilogue seems not to fit with the themes of the film.  Amy, the daughter of the Hamiltons does not aspire to marriage and family life, but rather to attend college and gain learning as the ultimate end.  This is shown as equal to any other choice for a woman, according to her taste.  In contrast our talents should be cultivated for use in serving, with priority given to duties of family as outlined by God in scripture and the words of latter-day prophets.  The seeds planted in youth yield the harvest in old age.

In the same vein, the Hamilton mother, after her husbands passing, is devoted to breeding a superior rose and naming it after her husband, a symbol of her love.  A perfect conversation starter for use in our families of the use of our short time on this earth, and what actions demonstrate real love.  In passing, will we leave a legacy of service and virtue or empty reminiscences of “fried froth”.

2.  Modesty:
As with many modern movies, the clothing styles on the women are at times revealing and do not encourage respect for motherhood or womanhood.

3.  Edited Version:
The edited version removes some slang and mild crudeness.

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