This piece was originally published by The Beehive.
Last year I fell down an internet rabbit hole during a few months of research I did to produce a four-part podcast series on old Mormon films. I embarked on that quest naively believing the library of LDS church films from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s couldn’t have been very robust. But I discovered that there were so many I could honestly make a career out of just watching them.
Then last month I recapped two films from the 80s on the Word of Wisdom. Now that we’re all sober, I bring you Love is for the Byrds, from 1965. Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. It’s very very clever. Don’t worry—you’ll be severely beat over the head with the creative symbolism in a minute.
This video comes with a written warning, and it’s also narrated by a stern man’s voice. I have read this thing like 40 times and I still don’t understand what the hell it’s trying to say.
So, I guess it’s a warning that this video, although it’s about some things, is not about everything? What? Do we need this? Should I assume that all BYU videos that don’t come with this warning might be about everything?
The screen cuts to blackness for several seconds, and then we are welcomed to our story with big band 1960s intro music.
After several minutes of credits (we cared about the names behind the art back then), we are introduced to a bunch of people decorating a backyard for a wedding reception because I guess the church gym wasn’t available.
One of the original Mormon pioneers comes out onto the porch and barks “Hey Ellen! How about some breakfast! I’m STAAAARRRRVING!”
Yes, this is going to be that kind of movie.
“Find something yourself to eat, dear!” Ellen responds. “I’m too busy this morning to worry about anyone’s breakfast!”
The husband complains that the refrigerator is full of flowers and he can’t cook anyway. Ellen tells him that had he done his job fixing up the yard for their daughter’s wedding, she wouldn’t be so busy working. He stomps into the house, grunting.
My greatest working theory for this part of the film is we’ve ended up in the plot of Big and this dude is actually a small petulant child who accidentally wished himself into the body of a grown man.
Husband makes it into the kitchen, presumably to dance on a floor piano, but instead he’s greeted by his daughter. “I can’t even find an egg and it’s all your fault!” he shouts at her.
The daughter giggles at her incompetent father’s toxic masculinity that has never been questioned. “I’ll get your breakfast, daddy. I need the practice!” she explains robotically, casually acknowledging her pending nuptials and their implied expectations, the same arrangement that has turned men such as her father into angry toddlers who wander the house yelling at women because they’re hungry and incapable.
The bride then spends the morning of her wedding quickly retrieving eggs from the refrigerator—the eggs her dad couldn’t possibly find—and cooking for him while he sits at the kitchen table and does absolutely nothing.
Dad then starts bitching about his wife, you know, that senior citizen who is currently stressed out of her mind doing hard manual labor in the yard while her able-bodied husband sits in the kitchen waiting for his children to feed him. He complains the old battle-axe has never forgiven him for not being a master carpenter who can fix things. Meanwhile, dude literally can’t even pour his own glass of milk.
Dad says there’s always been a misunderstanding in their marriage. Suddenly the daughter has a contemplative voiceover.
“A few hours from now I’ll be Mrs. Thomas Lawrence Byrd,” she dreams.
“Oh, Tom. We’ll be so happy.” she thinks. “We’ll take long walks and you’ll tell me I’m beautiful.”
Suddenly, the dad from the original Parent Trap shows up.
“No! You’re not supposed to see me!” the embarrassed bride-to-be shouts.
“She’s probably afraid you’ll change your mind!” her father barks at the fiancé, implying his offspring, who is currently making his breakfast, is hideous.
The bride asks Tom to scramble the eggs while she gets dressed. “If dad doesn’t have his breakfast he gets ugly!”
THIS FAMILY NEEDS TO STAGE AN INTERVENTION.
Tom takes over the stove and gets his own voiceover.
“It will be a good marriage,” he imagines. “I can picture Donna just by the fire darning my socks.”
These people are about to have sex for the first time in their lives and this is honestly what they’re thinking about right now? How good they’ll be at household chores?
Tom imagines a handful of other fantasies, like how Donna will “make gravy without lumps” and “push the shopping cart through the supermarket without breaking the budget” which sound like euphemisms when written out, but not when spoken by Tom.
Later the couple rushes to their car that has been graffitied with repressive messages about how Tom’s life is going to suck now that he’s let a servant/woman into it.
Then we are transported to a few months later. Donna is setting the dinner table when Tom comes in to ask if there’s anything he can do to help.
Donna asks Tom to tidy the bathroom. Tom does so, retrieving some wet stockings from the bathtub. He asks Donna why they were hanging in there. Donna says she was going to move them before their guests, Tom’s parents, arrived for dinner. And that’s when it goes down.
Tom’s all like “I should HOPE SO.”
And Donna goes “WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY UNDERWEAR ANYWAY?”
And Tom’s like “MY MOTHER WOULDN’T BE CAUGHT DEAD WITH UNDERWEAR HANGING IN HER BATHROOM!” which is a very weird thing to think or know about your mother.
It’s a massive fight and the stakes. are. high.
To help demonstrate there is contention happening, the filmmaker zooms in on two lovebirds who are also bickering.
Get it?! Birds! Byrds! Everyone is fighting! Give this screenplay an Oscar!
Then Donna and Tom start having a violent tug-of-war over the underwear for unknown reasons, each of them shouting at one another. “You’re being ridiculous!” Donna yells.
Just then Tom’s parents, who do not value privacy, probably because they spent their childhoods crossing the plains in covered wagons where quarters were close, barge into the house.
Honestly, we need to have a conversation about the age of the parents in this film. I think Tom and Donna are supposed to be like 20 years old. If they had them in their 20s, all of these parents should be somewhere in their 40s. At the latest, maybe their 50s. The actors they cast to play the parents in this film are a hard 80. Or did we just not have moisturizer back then?
Anyway, the couple immediately stops fighting and runs to the door to greet Tom’s parents. Donna calls Tom’s dad “Father Byrd” which I just imagined myself calling my husband’s dad “Father Westerdahl” and the mere thought made me cringe so hard I immediately applied to enter the Witness Protection Program.
Just then Donna notices that the controversial stockings are hanging out of Tom’s back pocket. It seems he stuffed them in there when the parents showed up.
Tom and Donna go into the kitchen where she shows Tom the stockings. The two start laughing at the absurdity. “Our first quarrel,” Tom says.
“Let’s hope they always end like this!” Donna gushes.
Yes, Donna. Let’s hope your fights always end with you discovering women’s underwear in your husband’s back pocket.
Sometime later we revisit the Byrds’ home where it appears they now have four children of approximately the same age.
Tom and Donna tuck the kids in. “Thank heaven for bedtime,” Donna says in a tone of someone who is about to start drinking vociferously until passing out in the bathtub.
The couple retreats to the kitchen where Donna picks up a bird cage and exclaims “Have you ever seen such incompatible love birds?” in a very WINK WINK, NOD NOD sort of way.
“Maybe they’re both girls,” Tom offers.
You wish, Tom.
Next Donna enters the living room where her husband is lounging on a chair I would absolutely over-pay for in some pretentious furniture restoration shop today. The room is a complete mess.
Donna starts talking to Tom as she cleans up but he ignores her because he’s reading the paper. “Oh what’s the use!” she says. Then in voiceover, “Isn’t there any more to our marriage than this?”
That escalated quickly.
“The kids get more attention than I do,” the voiceover continues. “Maybe if I pretended I was four years old?”
Then Donna inexplicably starts throwing toys into the air and screaming. It takes a very concerning amount of time for Tom to notice this.
Tom asks “Hey! What’s the idea?”
“I’m just a whittle girl and I want my daaaadddy,” she sexy pouts and OH BOY is this turning out to be a different film than I expected.
But Tom doesn’t care for this role playing. He’s more into lesbian lovebirds.
Donna storms out of the room crying while Tom asks himself, “Now what have I done?”
There’s a whole back-and-forth between voiceovers of Tom and Donna sitting in different rooms. She’s upset that he doesn’t pay attention to her. He’s upset that she’s passive aggressive and won’t just tell him why she’s upset.
“I ought to get her out of the house every once in a while.” Tom thinks. “Let her talk to some people.” Yes, this is how he phrases it.
Well Tom delivers on his promise to uncage Mrs. Byrd temporarily because in the next scene we see Donna all dressed up at a party.
Partway through the party Donna goes over to sit with the men and she hears one of them say “...and that would put them six points up” so she immediately interjects “I saw [some stock I can’t tell what the hell she’s saying I’ve played this like 12 times] rose two points today. That was a surprise, wasn’t it?”
Ok. But seriously. If Donna is following the Dow closely enough to notice when one individual stock rises two points, maybe her talents are being wasted?
In any event, the men are not happy with this stupid woman who doesn’t understand they were talking about SPORTS. They look at Tom in disgust for not controlling this outrageously disobedient harlot.
Tom shuts Donna up and tells her she should go check with the women folk to see if they need help serving the food. Donna is not pleased with this, but not for the reasons you might guess. “Nothing like an evening away from the kids to bring two people together!” she shouts.
“I guess that’s supposed to be sarcastic. Why can’t she just come out and say what she means?” Tom’s voiceover says.
You know, for a guy who is constantly complaining that his wife refuses to just say what she means, he sure spends a lot of time shutting her up and then . . . understanding exactly what she means.
On the car ride home Donna tells Tom to put himself in her place and try to understand how she feels. Tom does just that, imagining a scenario where he’s up chatting with the fellas at that same party before slinking over to Donna and the gals.
“And just mix it in,” Tom hears one of the women saying as he sits down.
“It’s amazing what you can do with mixes,” Tom responds to some confused women. Tom goes on about cooking.
“Tom!” Donna interrupts. “We were talking about gardening!”
I mean, thank God they stayed within the appropriate wife topics, I guess.
The couple ends up going to church and apparently learn they need to try to understand one another better. The next day Tom tells Donna he’s going to come home from work early and as a treat for her, he’s going to allow her to get all of the housework done in half the time, pack lunches, and take the family on a picnic.
“Oh honey! I have a million things to do!” she shouts at him.
Tom ignores Donna and commands her to have the picnic ready by noon. She spends her day cleaning and ironing. And then the family finds themselves at a park eating lunch where Donna criticizes Tom for demanding she put on a picnic for him. Then she immediately apologizes. AS IF SHE IS THE PERSON WHO NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE IN THIS SITUATION GOD I COULD TEAR MY HAIR OUT HERE.
Tom and Donna then have a very long conversation/fight about how Donna is passive aggressive and never says what she means. Meanwhile their four toddlers are playing in a fast-moving river nearby.
Tom and Donna decide to each take turns explaining what they expected of one another when they got married. Donna says she hoped Tom wouldn’t be a piece of shit, like her father. Then she laughs: “I guess I married a man after all!”
Tom thought Donna would endlessly serve him without complaining. I’m not kidding you here. This is a direct quote from Tom: “It never occurred to me you’d ever have anything to do or ever want to do anything besides provide me with every comfort. I thought I’d be the center of your life. And of course that you’d stay as young and lovely as the day I married you,” he explains, disappointedly, as though he didn’t just say the worst things to ever come out of a human mouth.
The two agree that they both had equally unfair expectations of one another and that Donna needs to change. And then they go home.
To recap: Donna says she expected her husband to be attentive and thoughtful. Tom says he expected Donna to literally be his mindless eternally hot slave with absolutely no thought for herself for the rest of their lives. And then they agree that they both had unfair expectations. As if their expectations were equivalent in any way.
A reminder: this film was made at a time when large portions of the population thought women were being unreasonable for starting to suggest gender inequality was real.
Anyway, in the final scene Donna asks Tom to help with something but he gets distracted tying the shoes of one of the Children of Corn they’ve produced.
Donna then storms into the kitchen and snaps at Tom for not doing the task she requested of him. Tom stomps out of the room without saying another word. You guys, they literally just talked about this.
The two have another two hundred voiceovers and then finally embrace one another without any explanation or resolution, presumably because it was the end of the semester and BYU needed to wrap this shit up.
Then they do that really weird old movie kiss where you suck each other’s mouths and move your faces back and forth really quickly.
I just figured out how to make a gif for the first time just to show you what I’m talking about.
No wonder these people are so sexually frustrated.
I just showed this gif to my husband and made him try to reenact the kiss and it may have ruined our marriage and I might be straight now.
One of the children then interrupts his violently fornicating parents and says in the most Utah of all accents, which is confusing because the parents speak in Transatlantic, “Look mother and daddy. The birrrrds are lovin’ each otharrr!”
Then the family gleefully watches their pets have sex.
Sequel idea: Donna snaps and becomes the Zodiac Killer.
(Design: Joshua Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)