image © The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints
Remember Johnny Lingo? I recall as a youth convincing our sunday school teacher to skip their lesson to let us watch it. I remember rooting for Mahana as she faced the villagers snarky remarks. I remember thinking how handsome Johnny Lingo looked in that toga. And who could forget when Mahana revealed herself at the end of the movie as the eight cow woman she truly was. On the surface, it appears to be the tender story of a wealthy polynesian trader who boost’s his wife’s confidence by purchasing her hand in marriage for eight cows, instead of the typical three or four. That’s nice and all, but it never seemed quite enough for me; why did the church produce this movie? It seems like the butt of every church film joke. Is the message really as shallow as a person’s worth being what other people enumerate it to be?
For years, I thought this was just a cute love story about self worth, but then I realized that this story is a great parable for Christ’s love. Let me set this up for you. Johnny arrives to Mahana’s door to discuss her dowery with her father, Moki. Moki doesn’t expect much from Johnny for his homely daughter but knows that he has great wealth. He asks Johnny for three cows for his daughter in the hopes he would settle for at least one. The interested villagers observing the negotiations burst into laughter, knowing it’s a ridiculously high price for such a skinny, ugly wife. Johnny silences the crowd and responds to Moki; “Three cows is many, but not enough for my Mahana! I will give eight cows for Mahana.” The villagers were stunned! Eight cows? No one had heard of such a high price for a wife! True to his word, Johnny brings the eight cows to Moki’s door and takes Mahana to wife. Later, the villagers are shocked to see the transformation of Mahana at the side of the great Johnny Lingo. She is beautiful, radiant, and always smiling. She is the perfect partner for the great trader. Johnny later remarks that he wanted a wife that knew she was worthwhile. He recognized the potential in Mahana but wanted her to recognize her own self worth.
Wait a second. So he bought his wife for a super high price and that is what made her feel good about herself? I wouldn’t call myself a feminist but that’s a little much for me. Thankfully, the message isn’t that the worth of a woman is dependent upon what a man is willing to give for her. I think the meaning goes deeper than even the filmmakers had intended. Let’s say that Mahana represents each of us on the Earth. The villagers represent the narrow perspective of the world. Moki represents the natural man who brings us down and is focused on selfish things. Johnny can represent the Savior, who bought us with a high price to help us realize our potential.
Our Savior loved us so much, that even in our ugly fallen state he was willing to purchase us for an unimaginable price. He did it so He could show us just how precious we are to Him. Johnny said, “I wanted Mahana to be more than happy; I wanted her to be an eight cow wife.” The Savior as well atoned for our sins so that we could obtain happiness in this life, but more than happiness, Jesus Christ wanted us to become heirs of the Kingdom of God. “Many things can happen to make a woman beautiful,” continues Johnny, “but the thing that matters most is what she thinks of herself.” In the same way many things can happen to help someone progress, but what matters most is that we each understand our own individual worth and divine potential. He wanted us to recognize our worth so we could realize that potential, and he did that by paying the highest price. Christ’s Atonement is the driving force of our progression, and if we didn’t have Him we would still be the “ugly”, obscure girl hiding out in that tree. It is Christ who can make us into the beautiful and happy spirits He wants us to be.
I am so grateful that the church produced this movie because it really has brought me a better understanding of Christ’s love for me. So the next time you watch this short little story or hear someone comment on Johnny Lingo, I hope you can feel the love your Savior has for you. I hope you can remember His great Atonement, and the incredibly high price He paid for you, and I hope you feel like an eight cow person.