October 12, 2008


Fireproof is a new movie that has been put out by the creators of Facing the Giants. For a while now, I've been complaining about the lack of quality that has existed within Christian film. It seems that Sherwood Pictures is trying to change that.

The problem with Christian movies are plentiful, but none of it actually has to do with Christianity.

  1. The problem with film as an art is that it's a business: a common saying in the film industry. One of the issues that plague films is that it is the most expensive form of art to produce, as a general medium that is. You need writers, directors, cameramen, actors, and special effects people to make a movie passable. You need a lot of all of those to make a movie good, and people cost money. On top of that you need to pay for sets, distribution, costumes, and the personnel to make all of that stuff possible. Christian movies, though, aren't out to make money. Because they aren't out to make money, they generally don't. Because they don't, they don't have the resources to make more movies, decent ones anyway. This is beginning to change though, as clean movies are becoming harder and harder to come by.
  2. The problem with film as a business is that it is also an art: Another common saying in the film industry. Art is, basically, expression. You can express a great variety of things: emotions, humor, principals, attitudes, etc... However, fundamentally, you are expressing more so than teaching. Teaching is for documentaries.You see, people do not go to movies to learn. Could they learn? Sure. Can movies teach? Of course. But when all the movie is doing is teaching, people don't pay attention. When you are taking in art by viewing or listening, what you are doing is that you are listening to the hearts of the person or persons that made that art. But you are not listening to them as teacher, necessarily. You are listening to them either for your enjoyment, or inspiration, or, perhaps, to learn. If the movie does not succeed in at least getting the audience to listen, then it will not succeed in its other goals.Christian movies, for the most part, merely attempt to teach, and that's boring. Before a movie can teach, it must earn the audience's ears, and Christian movies have failed to do this, believing that the integrity of their message is sufficient.
  3. The gate is narrow: It takes a lot of talented people to put a good movie together. Music? It takes enough to form a band which is 3 to 5, depending on genre. Books? Three people: one to write it, one to edit, and one to publish. Movies? It takes at least enough to form a full cast, one to direct, another to write, another to operate the camera, lights, sound, and other technical work, one to produce, one to edit, one to distribute, one to design costumes, etc... That's a lot of people. People who are committed enough to the Christian cause to participate for the right motives are very few. Most want, or need, to make more money than Christian movies can offer, for the above reasons. Therefore, Christian movies are drawing from a much smaller pool of talent. Resulting? A peppering of decent acting within the cast, poor dialogue (in my opinion, the hardest thing to produce), awkward shots, below par visuals, and bad marketing, if it gets any real exposure at all. This, of course, means less money which merely exacerbates the problem.

Does Fireproof still has some of these issues? Yes. You are still dealing with less money, a small pool of talent, and a greater concern to teach than to make money or express one's self. However, it is a vast improvement over what I have seen in the past.

  1. I have no idea about this group.
  2. But, they really nail things hear. The recognize that in order to have their message listened to, they need to earn their audience's ears. They have produced real characters and situations, and produced a film that doesn't just teach, but also genuinely entertains. There are many comic relief elements, especially a running gag with Caleb's neighbors and some of the guys at the station. You see realistic growth in Caleb's character that happens in an interesting way.
  3. The actors are clearly unprofessional volunteers (except for Cameron, who was excellent). This was especially true of Caleb's father, though most of the rest were passable. The dialogue felt forced in many scenes as well. In fact, I was impressed with Cameron with certain scenes because he managed to sell the dialogue he had, like when he threatens this one guy in the middle of the movie. However, the technical work was very good, and the direction demonstrated some promising talent. It wasn't quite up to Hollywood's standard's yet, but it is marked with inexperience, which means it is only going to get better. Also, though the dialogue often felt forced, the plot was still drawing. The plot moved in a believable fashion.

I highly recommend this movie. If you are having issues with your marriage, it's principles can help. If you are not having issues with your marriage, it's principles can still help. Also, it is just plain entertaining, and insightful in the kinds of problems that marriages have in our culture.


The Love Dare

The basic concept of the movie is that Caleb and Catherine's marriage in on the rocks. Caleb has been verbally abusive towards Catherine (yet believes that it is Catherine that is the problem), and Catherine has had enough and wants a divorce, which Caleb seems fine with. Caleb's father, in an attempt to save his son, gives him a book called "the Love Dare". The concept is to hold back your divorce 40 days, and act out a different dare each day. After those 40 days, if you and your spouse still wants a divorce, then so be it. Mind you, your spouse isn't aware of this dare.

Each day a different marital concept is introduced, teaching the person what love is really about. By simply acting out the motions of love, the person begins to understand concepts like self-sacrifice, understanding your mate, and one's own destructive tendencies.

Cultural Love Lies

There are a lot of lies in our culture regarding the nature of love and marriage, and the movie interacts with a few of them. Being an American, I have heard these lies often. But being a Christian for 25 years (BTW, I'm 25) I've heard the corrections to these lies just as often.

First lie: the idea that love is an emotion. Because of this, many associate love in the same category as joy, happiness, and other such good feelings. The result is if these feelings are not present, they believe love is dead, or that just because something makes you happy, that you love it.

This isn't true. Love is an attitude that one possesses toward something else. According to Scripture: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) Do you believe that we made God happy or joyful or delighted while we were sinners? Of course not. Therefore, love is demonstrated exactly when those good feelings are absent. In the film, Micheal, Caleb's friend, says, "Don't be led by your heart. You heart can deceive you. Instead, lead your heart."

Second lie: the classic line "I want to marry her because she makes me happy." OK, that is a terrible reason to marry someone, and is directly tied to the first lie. This is also a worse lie. The result is someone enters a marriage for what they can get into it. It is selfish. Nothing kills a marriage faster than selfishness.

What one should say is "I want to marry her because I want to make her happy." Love is defined by self-sacrifice. To love something is to value it above one's self. Let me repeat that: to love something is to value it above one's own self. If you do not place your spouse's happiness above your own, then you do not love your spouse, and that's a problem. Again, this is seen in the movie, where Caleb sacrifices his addictions and dreams to make his wife happy. Indeed, the biggest sacrifice he makes, he does anonymously. It is self-sacrifice which is the standard for love, like the Word says:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. -1 John 4:10-11

Third lie: "We're just different people now" is a suitable reason for divorce. I'm sure you've heard the cliche before: marriage is work. Well, it is! Let me explain something: if you fell in love once, you can fall back in love. You are not incompatible now. No one changes that much. What you need is effort, from both of you. This is, of course, also a result of the first lie, because one believes the lack of positive feelings means a loss of love. The truth is, if you reprioritize your spouse, those feelings will return.

Esther and I have been married a year. Yes, that's not a lot of experience. However, in this time, we have put a lot of effort and work in our marriage. When we see each other's flaws, we don't tolerate them for now, or just vent to our friends. We talk them out with each other, and develop strategies for dealing with them. For instance, I have some slacker tendencies. Esther has noticed this. I know she noticed it, because she has pointed them out, not in a nagging manner, but in a way that encourages me to deal with it. She then has sought to understand why they are there, and helps me deal with them by coming up with strategies. It is not that I am lazy; I'm unobservant. Knowing this, she lets me know she understands, but still pushes me to do better. This also happens in the other direction (though I'm not going to mention my wife's vices publicly). And you know what? By solving these problems... we find more! It hasn't gotten easier, but our love is growing deeper, and we are becoming more motivated to get things right.

Lie four: That marriage is a contract that can be abandoned if either party is no considers the contract beneficial. In other words, I get married to achieve certain goals, such as happiness, security, a clean home, etc... and these goals are not being met. Therefore, I would prefer to take my business elsewhere where I believe I have a better opportunity to achieve these goals.

Truth: Marriage is an unconditional covenant overseen by God. Contract is a business idea, and businesses do what is best for business. Covenant is a relational idea, where one establishes a relationship which is defined by certain boundaries. The reason why adultery is considered a reason for divorce (Matt 5:32) is because by committing adultery, your spouse has already absolved the covenant. Indeed, marriage is primarily a sexual relationship; that is its defining feature. Because of the nature of sex, an official social union is necessary to provide emotional security for the participants, not to mention the product. The salt and pepper analogy in the movie demonstrates this fantastically.

This has many ramifications. First of all, the marriage has not failed because you're goals are not being met. That doesn't mean change your goals. It means fight for them, but within the marriage. Second of all, because it is overseen by God, we do not have a right to absolve it. Any absolution is considered sin (Matt 19:6). Adultery is an OK reason because the other person already absolved it, what that person did is still considered sin. Third of all, it is unconditional. If your spouse is not committed to the marriage, you stay committed anyway and fight for them. To do otherwise is to oppose God Himself. He will remain invested in your marriage. And finally, if you do get a divorce, you will be held accountable to it by God. Does God forgive? Yes, but one shouldn't use God's mercy as an excuse for licentiousness.

Fifth, and final lie considered here: "Its your fault this marriage is failing" or "Its all my fault the marriage failed". In my experience, and according to my research, when a relationship fails in the vast majority of cases, both parties are partly to blame (I happened to come upon a recent exception between a friend of mine and his co-worker). This doesn't mean that the responsibility is equal. Definitely not. It may be more your fault, or your spouse's fault, but usually both a partly to blame, which means that both are able to do something to fix the situation.

Let us take Caleb and Catherine. Caleb was mostly to blame: he was a sexist jerk that pushed his wife around, put his own wants before her needs, indulged in pornography, and eventually began to verbally abuse his wife when she wasn't falling in line. All of those things are flat out evil. However, Catherine also acted as an enabler. According to the movie, they've been married for 7 years, and only had been fighting for 1. Which meant for six years she put up with what he was doing. She was probably giving subtle hints and things, but then in the seventh year she stopped tolerating it, and began to blow up at him. So switched from being a gentle patient understanding wife to being a backbiting sarcastic nag. The result: shock on her husband's part, and emotional retaliation. What she should have done was the moment there was a problem, she should have brought it up in a loving and encouraging fashion (this would go for both genders BTW). By not bringing it up sooner, the activities became more ingrained, and by dealing with it they way she did finally, she came off as attacking rather than loving. Mind you, what she did was merely a mistake (bad method, but not a sinful motivation); what he did was sin. Huge difference.

Ironically, the issue is dealt with from Caleb's side more, who constantly blames his wife for all the problems, even though it is really more his fault. And often it is much easier to see our partner's issues than our own. Then, when we go to try and fix the marriage, we try and fix our partner. Here's a big hint: they are only going to change if they want to. You cannot fix your spouse, but you can do a lot more to fix yourself. It is ironic that we are see the problems we can't fix so easily, but ignore the ones that we can fix. In the movie, it is not fixing Catherine that Caleb must do, it is working on himself.

Social Issues

I'm going to mention two, apart from divorce which is really the main point. The first of pornography. In the film, Caleb has a major addiction to pornography. Indeed, Catherine's biggest issue is that pornography. Remember how I said the primary motivation of marriage should be to make the other person happy. Well, remember love is also jealous. Love doesn't just desires the other person's happiness, but it also desires that it is the source. I don't just want Esther happy, I want to be the one that makes her happy. If I'm not, I will be broken. This isn't selfishness; this is a need. If you allow something else to be the source of your happiness than your spouse, you will break your spouse's spirit. Nobody wants to compete for their spouse's affection (again, this is both genders). Catherine's biggest pain was believing that she wasn't enough for him anymore.

But do not confuse righteous jealousy for sinful jealousy. The difference is simple. Sinful jealousy is possessive. Let's say that I think of love Linda, but Linda love Paul. What is my response? If my response is to do all I can to keep her all to my self because I want her and she's mine, that's sin. If we are dealing with true love, the result is a broken heart, rooted in feelings of inadequacy. My response is to believe that I wasn't good enough, that I couldn't make her happy.

This is less so in the dating world than it is in marriage. If the person rejects your advances to date, then you are denied the opportunity to make the person happy. This is sad, but you can get over it. But when you get married, you commit yourself to making this person happy. To be rejected by your spouse means failure, and that is a much deeper sadness, that most never get over.

The other issue that I wanted to bring up was sexism. I read this one review that said that that the main character and the movie hated women. I didn't entirely trust this review since it contradicted all the others I read (all were secular), and was written as if it was half-written before the guy watched the film: as if he were looking to bash the film. After seeing it, I am convinced of it.

Now it is true that the main character didn't respect women. Hate maybe too strong of a word (only maybe), but the movie treats it as a problem. Saying that it made the movie sexist is reminds me of my one friend that thought that Blazing Saddles was racist.

Caleb clearly does not respect his wife, and yet demanded respect from her. His sexist attitude is extremely evident in the beginning of the film. In fact, he also shows disrespect toward his mother, refusing to listen to her for advice, and being extremely rude to her on many occasions (in fact he still is after his conversion to Christ). I am sure that his disrespect toward women comes from the resentment he shows towards his mother in the movie. But through the activities he is forced to do by the dare, he learns to respect his wife, and the last lesson he learns is to extend that respect towards his mother.

There's another argument that one may make though: by showing the man being the one to fix the relationship, doesn't that show that only the man is strong enough to fix a marriage, and the woman is merely the one that needs to be worked on? To that I have two things to say.

First they had to pick one of them. I think either selection could result in this accusation. You pick the man, and some say it says that only the man is strong enough. If you pick the woman, it says that everything is the woman's fault and thus her responsibility. People were going to look for a way to make the movie look sexist.

Second (SPOILER ALERT), actually, this is the only thing you could spoil, and please don't read this last paragraph if you are going to watch the movie: in the end, the father confesses that it wasn't him that used the love dare to save his marriage, it was the mother. This was also when the father dealt with the disrespect that Caleb was showing his mother. He only followed the advice because it was his father's wisdom, but by learning it was his mother's, he realized how much he disrespected her, and ran to her, crying. A very well done scene I might add.


I've only touched on a couple of the things one could reflect on after watching this movie. I strongly recommend you watch. Keep the criticisms in mind so you are not shocked when you see them. Look past the negatives, it is well worth. The movie manages to touch on a lot of issues, truly dealing with the issue of divorce realistically and thoroughly. Also, it'll make you cry and think, which I believe is a great combination. Besides, we need to show Hollywood that America wants these kinds of movies.


ridge765 said...

Wow, such a well-thought-out post. Thank you. I agree with your comment about Christian film drawing from a smaller pool of talent and resources. I think it's difficult to compare the quality of mainstream films with Christian films; it's a little like comparing the quality of a quilt made by your grandmother with one you bought at JCPenneys. You have to consider other factors that don't come into play in a secular film, factors that take precedence over skill. That being said, God does not require that a film be "good" (by worldly or Christian standards) to reach anyone; He only requires that the work be His. Check out the box-office stats on this movie if you don't believe it!

It was refreshing to see a movie that didn't insult covenant marriage and unconditional love, or encourage affairs or fantasy lifestyles, like most movies. It boldly showed love as work--and even when you do the right thing, it doesn't always end the struggle. Have you seen the Love Dare book or the other resources available for marriage from this movie? My husband and I have the Love Dare book and a Couple's Kit, which is a Bible-study based on the film with DVD clips from the movie. Say what you will about the film's quality; these springboard resources are the most important things we've done for our marriage this year. I found them online at www.fireproofresources.com, but I think you can get them everywhere now.

Jc_Freak: said...

I looked a little at the site while writing the post, and noticed the book. It looks interesting.

I do agree with you that it is not entirely fair to compare Christian movies to secular movies for the reasons you state, but there is also an issue of objective. Sometimes, you really do not need the same quality film in order to achieve your objectives. This is especially true of inspirational films that are often made for Christian audiences.

However, if you want to reach the lost, one needs to stretch beyond. That's one of the things that I like about Veggitales, because it has managed to remain on par with secular quality over the years. If we don't achieve this quality in Christian films that only Christians are going to be watching them.

The other thing you mentioned about the believability, I absolutely agree. It took real work, and the characters were real, complete with misconceptions. One thing that is important is that just because a character says something, it doesn't mean that the movie supports the idea. Often there is a sage character: one person whose opinions actually reflect those of the story's creator. In this movie, that would be the father, and it is important to find that character, so that you do not become confused about the message of the story.

Another thing about it was that things weren't fixed over night. For instance, on day 43, where it becomes clear to Catherine that Caleb did really mean everything that he was doing: that still wasn't enough for her. And in real life, it wouldn't have been. It takes something dramatic to allow someone in that situation to trust again. Something which she eventually got.