In the 18th century, colonial America was a land of bountiful promise. Thousands of Europeans, searching for freedom and riches, sailed dangerous Atlantic waters to reach this place of plenty. They were escaping poverty and oppression and all manner of other ills, and perhaps some believed that once they set foot on the fertile soil of North America, their troubles would be over.
That wasn't often the case.
The Leininger family landed in the British colony of Pennsylvania in 1755, and they couldn't have been happier about it. Here, the German-speaking clan would be able to buy a plot of land and worship as they chose. Sure, it was risky to sail across the ocean for an unknown future. And they knew hard work was ahead. But when their very first harvest provided a bounty they could never have dreamed of back in the Old World, it felt like it was all worth it. Papa and Mama and their kids—two sons and two daughters—had found a real home.
They couldn't have known that European troubles would follow them to this unspoiled Eden. That the native Allegheny people, spurned by the British, had taken France's side in the French and Indian War. That bands of warriors were swarming ever closer to their quiet settlement.
On a mid-October day, when Mama and one of the boys are away, a handful of American Indian warriors barge into the Leininger home. Papa tries to calm them, but to no avail: The Allegheny cut the men down and abduct the girls, spiriting them away into the thick American forests to become part of their tribe.
No one ever escapes from the Indians, we're told. Those who try are burned to death. And yet, even as Barbara and her sister, Regina, are taken farther and farther into the deep Pennsylvania woods, Barbara holds tight to the belief that she's not forsaken. She's not alone. God is with her.
The Leiningers seem to be exactly the sort of folk you'd like to populate a promising new land. They're nice people, these immigrants, with nary a cross word shared amongst the lot of 'em. Papa loves his kids and reads the Bible to them after dinner. Mama—not so sure that she'd like to remain in America permanently—nevertheless supports Papa and also loves her children dearly. The kids all seem to get along—a real rarity even back then, I'd imagine. But when this ideal family is torn apart, that's when its strength comes into play.
Alone Yet Not Alone focuses on the eldest daughter, Barbara, showing her great courage and, at times, great pragmatism in the midst of a really difficult situation. She cares for her sister as much as she can, risking her life to try to be with her. She takes another young captive, Marie, under her wing, too. She helps nurse a sick boy back to health. When it's clear there's not a lot of short-term opportunity for escape, she settles in and bides her time, much as it seems Daniel did in Babylon.
It's not the easiest thing to tell an Indian-vs.-Settler story these days, not when we know so much about how Native Americans were treated. And while the American Indians are indeed the obstacle standing between Barbara and her home, the movie does an adequate job of not turning them into two-dimensional villains. The Allegheny are shabbily treated by the British, bringing context to the attacks—without excusing them. We see how much members of these tribes can care about one another. And a warrior named Galasko saves Barbara's life when a peer wants to kill her for trying to escape. "Do not dishonor the courage within her," Galasko says.
Papa reads from the family Bible, it would seem, every night. And when they read Deuteronomy 31:6, he stresses the passage's message: "No matter how hard the trial, or how dark the wilderness, God will never leave you or forsake you. Never."
A nice, timely lesson, that. In fewer than five minutes of movie time, the Allegheny warriors barge in and tear the Leiningers apart. Imprisoned, we see Barbara pray to God, assuring herself and her sister that He hasn't forsaken them (and won't). She asks God for guidance, and she pleads with Him to protect her when she's tied to a tree and about to be burned. Another woman, facing the same fate, tells onlookers to not be distressed because she'll be with Jesus that very night. "I love you, Jesus," she says.
We hear family members sing the hymn "Alone Yet Not Alone," which includes the lines, "God's the light that will guide me home/With His love and tenderness/Leading through the wilderness." It's a critical song for the family, keeping Barbara's and Regina's spirits up during some of their darkest moments.
After several years, Galasko and Barbara talk about each other's concept of God. Galasko mentions his tribe's notion of a Good Spirit (responsible for the beauty of nature) and an Evil Spirit (creator of anger and war and nasty creatures), and how the good god eventually conquered the evil one. Barbara counters with a message about how God's son Jesus died on the cross and rose again to save us all. Galasko acknowledges that Barbara's God must be very strong (given that Europeans have such intimidating weapons), but that Barbara will have to set her God aside and start worshipping the tribe's gods now. She later insists, "No Indian can change what I believe in my heart."
Barbara is treated with chaste regard by Galasko throughout the movie and, indeed, none of the captives seem to be threatened in a sexual way. Galasko eventually makes it clear that he wants to marry Barbara, giving her his necklace and telling her to be ready for him soon.
Couples in love do little more than touch hands. Two women are given a bath while wearing undergarments. (We see them from the shoulders up.)
Papa is killed with a tomahawk blow. Galasko scalps him (offscreen) and hangs the "trophy" on his tent. One of the Leininger sons is shot in the chest (dying as his white shirt shows the red bloom of blood). Warriors burn the family's homestead.
Later, a makeshift militia attacks an Allegheny encampment, and we see people injured and/or killed. Another battle, between one warrior and a host of soldiers, leads to the death and wounding of many. Men are dispatched through bullet, rifle butt, knife and tomahawk in a frenetic whirlwind of activity. An Indian takes a bag of scalps to the French-held Fort Du Quesne (where the French pay for each one brought in). We see scores of scalps hanging on the fort's walls. People recount their bloody tales of woe.
A woman, escaping from the Allegheny with young twin boys, gives herself up to save the kids. She's carried off, tied to a tree and burned. (She's quite calm through the whole ordeal, never once expressing anything but resignation.) She's finally shot in the face by the French (to put her out of her misery).
A wounded bear tears up a guy's leg with a swipe of its paw. (We see the resulting blood.) We hear about wolves eating the weak. Animals are shot and killed and skinned (with knife cuts obscured). People are nearly swept away in river rapids. Captives are manhandled and hit.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
A Native American woman eats some sort of worm and tells a captive they're great for soup—forcing her to eat some of it. An English officer calls American Indians "savages" and tells them that they (the English) have no need for their help. He thunders, "No savage shall ever inherit this land!"
In Matthew 10 we read, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father."
Alone Yet Not Alone is committed to illustrating that passage. Through Barbara (whose onscreen life and adventures are based on both a true story and a book by Tracy Leininger Craven), we see that death is not to be feared as much as separation from God. That God will be with you even through the darkest of times—even if He doesn't rescue you from every trouble and trial.
It's a great message, which makes me wish the movie was a notch or two better. Though Joni Eareckson Tada's joyful title song, "Alone Yet Not Alone," is beautiful and maybe even award-worthy, the movie itself requires a certain amount of grace to enjoy, with the pacing, scripting and acting sometimes failing to hit their targets. Also, some moviegoers will be taken aback by the level of violence the film embraces.
But it's hard to argue with results, and as I've already said, the result of Alone Yet Not Alone is to remind us of how mightily God can work in dark, dismal circumstances.