November 2016

Fireproof: The Movie Loved By Christians Who Don’t Have High Standards

At the behest of a reader and stemming from an in person discussion, I present to you my rant.

For back story, Fireproof is a 2008 movie from the Christian movie production studio Sherwood Pictures. It is intended to show God’s grace and providence as a couple headed for divorce makes a last ditch effort to avoid the fate. I think the premise is noble, and I’m certainly not opposed to what it’s ultimately trying to say. “It means well”, though I’m certain anyone who read the title of this blog post knows what’s coming. I’m certainly not entirely on board with Jim Sterling’s critique in its entirety, though you’re going to see some overlap…

Let’s get past the terrible visual effects of the houses on fire (not once did I ever believe anything was aflame), and the awkward dialog that isn’t rivaled by half the Writing Prompts on Reddit, Kirk Cameron’s inability to actually act like someone who’s upset with their wife, and focus on the massive plot point problems.

First off, in the initial “I want out” scene, Cameron very clearly avoids using the word “bitch”. Why was this? Because it was a Christian movie…and we can’t have swearing in a Christian movie! Nevermind that they were both unsaved at that point, they were talking about divorce and an allusion was made to causing her physical harm, and Cameron expresses a litany of derogatory remarks toward her…but the use of an expletive is where they apparently drew the line. This sort of double standard illustrates a chronic problem I see amidst Christian culture that while the Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth”, unwholesome words did proceed from his mouth, but somehow what was actually said was acceptable, while the word “bitch” was not. While we’re focusing on this scene, we’ll keep in mind a very important thing that happened: SHE was the one who said “I want out”. Not him. This will become important later.

So Cameron, still an unsaved person at this point in the movie, goes to his dad who says to do ‘The Love Dare’. Now, that scene right there so heavily wreaked of product placement it seemed like it was a scene right out of The Truman Show…but whatever. To be fair, my bias might have something to do with the fact that most displays at Christian bookstores at the time had the movie and the book displayed right next to each other. So, unsaved man agrees to follow a book firmly rooted in scripture and Christian principles for…reasons, I guess. “But he really loved her inside!” Yes, yes, I know…but the kind of things The Love Dare encouraged him to do were massive steps of faith for someone who doesn’t already have some level of faith in God, and it wasn’t until far later in the movie that his wife expresses any form of positive response. Remember: she said “I want out” and he has no faith in Christ at this point, so there’s basically no reason for him to agree to it…but we’ll assume that God was working in his heart anyway, because plot.

Meanwhile, she’s found this doctor guy who treats her like a valuable person, a heavy contrast to her husband. And, to the shock of no one, she’s drawn to him. And…they kiss. Why does she do this? Because she feels no love from her husband – literally every woman I’ve spoken to, saved or not, has resonated with the appeal of a wealthy doctor taking an interest in them when their husband is busy giving her mostly-dead flowers. As a side note, literally no guy I have ever known who is making even a halfhearted attempt to express appreciation for their significant other is dumb enough to give below-gas-station-quality flowers. It is perfectly possible to take the same $20 and go to a supermarket and get something far more presentable. While the scene was intended to illustrate laziness, it came across as the opposite, because finding flowers that dead takes effort.

So, through some heavy-handed parallels with his firefighting career, and dialog about this with his firefighting buddies – y’know…because avoiding a looming divorce is exactly the kind of thing that people talk about at a fire station. Again, we’re dealing with unsaved people…save the one-dimensional guy who is only there to illustrate the perfect marriage and say “it’s hard work sometimes” when showing zero struggles and a wife who responds positively to him.

Now, as the wife and the doctor are getting closer, our unsaved husband continues on The Love Dare with no feedback (I lied: he gets feedback in the form of a longer to-do list). Then, he has his ‘Come to Jesus’ moment. Incredible a gift as Christ’s salvation is, Christian movies have distilled it into this highly cliché moment that is the second most predictable scene in a Christian movie – the first being the “I don’t need God” guy dying in a car accident toward the end but before the ultimately-happy ending for the saved people. In fairness, film does have limits to how exactly one can visualize a change in heart. That brings us to the third most cliché scene in the Christian movie genre…

The post-salvation cleansing montage! Yes, he got rid of his computer because of his porn addiction – y’know, the porn addition his wife called him out on before, (sarcasm warning) because she totally wasn’t having sexual fantasies about her doctor friend up until this point, and as we all know, lustful fantasies are only sinful if they involve the internet. Glad he took a baseball bat to the screen, his Quicken files or wedding photos or any other pieces of helpful, useful, important data might have survived! (/sarcasm) Or did he only have a computer for porn and do nothing of value on it at all, even in 2008? If he was using Turbotax and didn’t have a backup of his tax records, he’s just committed a crime and he’ll probably need those tax records in divorce court, but that’s not a big deal, I guess. Anyway, he doubled down on cutting out all the things that were getting in the way of his focus on his marriage, even though it’s several weeks into “The Love Dare” and she still hasn’t given him any indication that his efforts were anything but futile. Again, this is bothersome because of its underlying implication: either Cameron has attained massive amounts of faith two weeks into his salvation, or we have lazy script writers who treated reconciliation as inevitable. Look, I’m all about faith that can move mountains, and it’s incredible to see. I’ve witnessed it in my own life, in the life of friends, and growing up in church means that hearing such testimonies are wonderfully common. I just don’t expect it in two weeks’ time from someone facing a divorce with no indication that the divorce isn’t inevitable. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with the building materials in one hand, and a weapon in the other (Neh 4:17), and it would not be any less an expression of faith for Cameron to continue The Love Dare while simultaneously preparing for the divorce.

Now, we get to the dying father-in-law whose surgery, conveniently, cost the exact amount he just so happened to have had in savings for his boat. Anyone who didn’t predict exactly what happened as soon as the numbers were revealed to be so elegantly aligned gets to go sit in the corner and think about that. Anyway, our friend the wife believes her doctor friend just gave $24,000 to save her dad, and that a “thank you lunch” was going to settle the books. Sorry, I’ve yet to meet a saved person who would do something like that with a tenth of that amount, and she just assumes a “thank you so much” is going to cover that, in that context? No, it doesn’t. Her almost comical inability to express even the slightest skepticism in the doctor’s motives is the only reason why we have the big reveal at the end. That level of egregious naiveté went beyond lazy writing to outright insulting. 

We then come to find out that he gave up his boat to save her dad, and we’re all floored by the level of sacrifice shown here, as well we should be…because this is either the most incredible demonstration of faith in God ever scripted into a film, or he is so royally incompetent and thoroughly lacking wisdom or common sense that he should probably run for public office. I know I keep harping on this, but it’s very important: she said “I want out”. Anyone here been through divorce court and have the husband win? Especially the kind of husband acting the way he was up until the past week? No. No you have not. She has not said anything indicating that the divorce papers he found on the counter were negotiable. As far as he knew, he was going to end up in divorce court despite all of his efforts to make things right. If he had half a brain cell, he’d know he was going to need that money for his legal fees. If not the fees directly, that savings account is guaranteed to be a prime target for the settlement because “she paid all the bills”.  If she can prove that, the judge isn’t stopping at simply giving her half. Spent or not, that pile of money has got a big red bullseye on it once the court proceedings start. Divorce court doesn’t look at money you presently have available to you, or how you spent it, the judge looks at gross earnings over the course of the marriage.

Moreover, it was rather miraculous that the father-in-law recovered, and did so as readily as he did. Really, it was more likely that the father-in-law would have had complications which would have left them in massive medical debt, divorce court would have been how Cameron spent his accumulated vacation time, and if his $24,000 nest egg wasn’t spent either writing checks to her or his lawyer, it would have been quite helpful to cover rent for his studio apartment while he gets his pay garnished through alimony checks. He’ll likely end up living at the firehouse for quite some time. Is it any less faith to have a conversation to check to see if his wife’s mind has changed at all? Isn’t is simply wisdom to ask if she’s willing to give him a bit more time to prove that he’s truly making changes that we, the audience, know he is? The audience knows that she has been softening and reconsidering, but he doesn’t. While some might say “well duh! of course it’s not faith if you know things are going to go more smoothly!” I’ll retort, “at what point in the movie do we see God giving him a clear sign that it was His will to do what he did?” It’s true faith if it’s clear God called him to clean out his bank account and help someone in need. It is a gamble if he’s “doing the right thing because of convenient circumstances” with no clarity one way or the other. If he’s helping his father-in-law with the express intent of his wife ultimately finding out as she does in the film, then it’s not faith, and it’s not altruism, it’s very expensive manipulation with a coincidentally positive outcome. No matter how this act is pitched, it’s got massive problems in direct conflict with biblical principles, but since the marriage is restored and the father-in-law survives, this is overlooked.

What does his wife do upon hearing that the surgery got paid for by her husband? Well *then* she tells her man candy that she’s going to remain faithful to her husband – the kind of thing that any unsaved, secular humanist woman would do. Her husband not treating her well established a vacuum for doctor friend to fill, and his change in behavior removed the emotional need for her to have a guy on the side. There was ZERO sacrifice on her end – the doctor was used while he was needed and then let go. She refused to acknowledge effort and intermediate steps, she did nothing but point out her husband’s failures and shortcomings, she didn’t show any sign of reciprocity toward him (instead putting that effort into her man on the side), and this is all a result of her not only saying that she wanted out, but going to a lawyer without him to get the paperwork for it while actively pursuing an emotional bond with her doctor friend? Let’s call it what it was: she cheated on her husband until it was convenient for her not to. No, she didn’t have sex…but I’ll debate anyone who says that a physical sexual act is cheating, but actively pursuing another person as an emotional replacement while intentionally and consistently giving your husband the cold shoulder isn’t. She asked for the divorce, got the paperwork, didn’t show her husband any level of appreciation for his attempts to change before he bet the farm, cheated on him, and somehow she’s the victim in all this because he yells and wants a boat? Sorry, I’m fresh out of sympathy.

…And, once his sacrifice comes to light and she finds the book, she completely reconsiders, takes the divorce off the table, puts her wedding ring back on, they have their slow motion silhouette kiss in the firehouse, she has her come-to-Jesus moment, and they live happily ever after. Of course the filmmakers wanted to express some form of equality, so they had Cameron’s father character indicate that the roles were reversed when they did the love dare. I’ll simply take them on faith at this point, because there’s about a thousand questions I have regarding this arrangement…but really, it again felt more like a sales pitch to ensure that it was clear that women could try the things in the book, too.

Now, all of that being said, I really, really am glad for all the positivity the movie has expressed. I am grateful for all the hearts and lives it touched. I am grateful that there is even a forum where people go to help each other get through the more difficult dares in place. I believe The Love Dare is ultimately a good thing for Christian culture, I believe it’s a good thing for our society, and I absolutely believe it’s scripture-inspired…I truly and sincerely believe that God can use anything to advance His kingdom and reveal His glory. However, Fireproof is incredibly one-sided, tenuous in its adherence to scriptural principles, sets unreasonable expectations for both sides, is imbalanced in how it assigns responsibility, and wraps everything in a neat little bow in order to ensure that everyone who saw it got the warm and fuzzies when it was over – because if there’s anything that is more cliché in a Christian movie than a come-to-Jesus montage, it’s a perfectly neat and thoroughly predictable ending. After all, if the movie ended with Cameron’s wife following through with the divorce anyway, Cameron declaring bankruptcy, the father-in-law dying, and Cameron having to rebuild his life from the ground up being a missionary in a third world country that lacked running water, The Love Dare wouldn’t have hit the New York Times’ bestseller list and churches wouldn’t be showing it at their annual Married Couples Weekend Getaways.

 

Edit: Made some grammatical changes and rewordings for clarity.
Second Edit: Some more clarity changes.

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