Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 5: WALL•E (2008)


     Bet you weren’t expecting this movie to finish off the series. I said in my first article of the series that I arranged these movies from the more explicit (about Christianity) to the more subtle. At one end of the spectrum, you have films like “Fireproof” and “Jonah” that are either set in the church or based around an actual Bible story. As you get towards the middle of the spectrum, you find films like “To Save a Life” and “The Mission” that are set within ministries of the church but don’t preach—that is, they allow the audience to imply for themselves what to think about Christianity. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have films like this one. And I feel like the whole series has been leading up to this. So today, concluding the “Defining the Christian Movie” series, I am going to try to answer the question: Is “WALL•E” a Christian movie?

     “WALL•E” is set 700 years in the future, where Earth has become literally a trash heap. Skyscrapers, if still standing, are covered in dust. Garbage covers every single street. And every night, the winds blow a storm of dust, covering the land again. And there isn’t a human in sight. The movie’s first line of dialogue (and if you’ve seen the movie, you know that there is very little dialogue) is from a holographic billboard that speaks: “Too much garbage in your face? There’s plenty of space out in space!” The billboards advertise spaceships for BnL, a company that I can only describe as a futuristic Costco. BnL spaceships take people on a vacation in space while robots clean up trashy Earth. Somewhere along the line, humans stayed in space for so long that they left Earth all alone. But one robot is still there.

     This robot is WALL•E (voiced… sort of… by sound designer Ben Burtt). His name is an acronym for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class”. And he’s the only robot on Earth that’s still running, taking Earth’s trash and either disposing of it or keeping it for himself. Among hundreds of other objects, he’s collected a Rubik’s cube, a light bulb, a Chihuahua bobble head, a Spork, and a videotape of “Hello, Dolly!” And as we see WALL•E put on the tape and watch the characters falling in love, we see his lonely situation and how he longs for the same.

     Then one day, a spaceship lands, and out comes EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator; voiced by Elissa Knight, a Pixar employee), a white robot whose mission is to find plant life on Earth. WALL•E is immediately smitten. Eventually, EVE meets him, and their friendship begins. He shows her his trash collection, the Rubik’s cube, the light bulb, the video. But then he shows her a new item in his collection: a plant he found growing in a shoe full of soil. Unaware of EVE’s mission, he gives it to her, and EVE starts lighting up and making noises. A door opens in her stomach, she sucks the plant in, and she shuts off. WALL•E tries taking care of her, but she doesn’t seem to be waking up—not even when the spaceship comes back and picks her up. WALL•E follows her into space, holding on tight to the spaceship, and he finds the Axiom, the biggest of the BnL spaceships.

     The Axiom is captained by… well, the captain (Jeff Garlin) and his autopilot control (voiced literally by a MacInTalk), who have inherited the ship by the time of the seven-hundredth anniversary of the Axiom’s five-year cruise. The members of the cruise consist of hundreds—at least—of humans who, because of the conditions in space, turned into fat, baby-like people. WALL•E goes through them to find EVE and help get the plant to the captain. But when the autopilot finds out, it starts taking over the ship so that the humans can’t go back to Earth.

     But to make a long story short, the captain gets the plant, the Axiom heads towards Earth, and WALL•E and EVE fall in love. And the movie ends with a shot of Earth, looking just a little cleaner than it did at the beginning of the film, with a love song from “Hello, Dolly!” playing underneath. Now, some of you are probably thinking: where the heck did you get the idea that “WALL•E” is a Christian movie? What’s so Christian about it? Well, it’s in the subtle references. And there are a lot of them.

     One of them you probably already noticed. Doesn’t it seem a strange coincidence that the only robot on Earth, and a lonely one at that, would be visited by a female (I guess) robot named EVE? And doesn’t it seem a strange coincidence that EVE is white as a dove, coming to look for plant life to return to the ship as a sign that Earth is sustainable for human life again? Yes, I am implying the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood. Trust me, this isn’t a coincidence.

     When “WALL•E” was first released, writer/director Andrew Stanton, who had already been with Pixar Animation Studios since the beginning, did an interview with Christianity Today Magazine about the film and its Biblical themes. Interviewer Mark Moring told Stanton about how he saw them:

Moring: There seem to be some biblical themes in this film. WALL•E is sort of like Adam, the only "guy" on earth, lonely, longing for a companion…?

Stanton: Yes, and that's certainly why I picked EVE as an appropriate title for the female robot. But "Adam" just didn't have the underdog ring to it as the main character. WALL•E was a little bit more sad sack—and I could find an acronym that could work for that. But definitely it had that first man, first female theme.

Moring: There's also a bit of Noah's Ark story here, with the humans on the space station, waiting for a chance to repopulate the earth—but having to wait till EVE comes back with plant life to indicate it's okay?

Stanton: I wasn't using the Noah's Ark story as a guide, but through circumstances, I loved the parallels of EVE almost being like this dove, of going down for proof that it's time to come back. It just worked in that allegory, so I ran with it.

Moring: And that wasn't planned?

Stanton: No, it always works backward. It's more like, Wow, look what this sort of feels like. So you run with those things, because they're very primal. In my mind they're very much in the core of our storytelling. So much of the Old Testament is sort of built into our DNA.

Moring: I've read other stories where you've talked about your Christian faith a bit. Can you tell me how your faith informs your creativity and your work?

Stanton: They tell you that as a storyteller, it's vital to just stick with and be honest with your values system. The last thing I want to do is go to a movie and feel like I'm being preached to or being told how to be, and I think it's more honest—and you're going to have more effect—to be truthful with the values of your characters, working off of your own values. That was the case with WALL•E. The greatest commandment is to love one another, and to me, that's the ultimate purpose of living. So that was the perfect goal for the loneliest robot on earth, to learn the greatest commandment, to learn to love.

     Yeah. Andrew Stanton’s pretty cool. So in conclusion, yes, I say that “WALL•E” is a Christian movie. It’s a very subtly Christian movie, but Christian nonetheless. For one thing, some of the filmmakers (including the one in charge) were Christians. For another thing, the film is loaded with Biblical references: characters’ names, situations based off of Scripture, and so on. But my guess is, you probably won’t see this in many Christian bookstores, because the Christian element is so subtle.

     But that’s where Matthew 11:15 comes in. One of Jesus’ best ways of teaching was in parables. He told stories of everyday people and occurrences that related to the kingdom of God and how to get there. And because of this, he could easily separate believers from non-believers. Non-believers would take Jesus’ parables literally, not understanding them and forsaking the Way. But many believers would listen to Jesus more, in order to fully understand what his parables meant. They had the faith to learn more. And this is who Jesus refers to when he says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

     So, my prayer for you, the reader, is that you will have the faith—and the ears—to hear what Jesus is teaching you today, even when it takes time to think about. And I also pray that you will find Him in even the subtlest of ways—even in the movies.

     The interview with Andrew Stanton was posted June 24, 2008, to Christianity Today. It can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/interviews/2008/andrewstanton.html

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 4: The Mission (1986)

     So far in the “Defining the Christian Movie” series, I’ve only shared with you movies that are explicitly Christian-themed and made by Christian filmmakers. But to be honest, this series has been leading up to the last two weeks. To me, there are two sides to the types of “Christian movies”: the very explicit and the very subtle. Movies like “Fireproof” and “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” were very much on the explicit side. “To Save a Life” had strong Christian themes and references, but it didn’t exactly “preach”. But today’s movie and the movie I’ll be talking about next week are examples of why the term “Christian movie” is hard to define.

     “The Mission” is a film about Jesuit missionaries in South America reaching an Indian tribe in the eighteenth century, so there are many references to Christianity, the Bible, and God. Is this a Christian movie? I’m not sure. Why? Because to my knowledge, the cast and crew were primarily made up of non-Christians. This film was made by the director of “The Killing Fields”, was written by the screenwriter of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago”, features music by the composer for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, and stars actors who have played in “Raging Bull”, “Schindler’s List”, and “Die Hard With a Vengeance.” This film features talent from all over the spectrum, but as far as I know, none of these people are actually Christian. However, the message of the film is so based in faith that it’s hard for someone not to refer to this as a “Christian movie”.

     The movie’s prologue explains that there have been many missionaries that have ventured to these jungles in South America to convert and serve the natives, but have been killed in response. We even see a missionary being pushed down a river and down a waterfall, after the natives have tied him up to logs connected into the shape of a cross. But that doesn’t stop Jesuit Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) from climbing a mountain to get to the jungle. And once he gets up there, he speaks to the natives in a way that probably most missionaries never tried: through music. He takes out an oboe and starts playing music that attracts the natives (most of them, anyway) and starts his friendship with them. By the way, that music turns into one of the most powerful movie scores I’ve ever heard.

     But meanwhile, slave trader Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) is making a profit from the natives he captures (the ones that Gabriel is trying to reach) and selling them in Spain. But back at his home, his lover has fallen for his brother Felipe, and the two eventually get into a duel in the middle of a street. Rodrigo stabs Felipe, killing him, and Rodrigo is incredibly distraught—especially because he cannot be punished by law for killing him, since he killed Felipe in a duel. But Gabriel comes to him at a church and tells him:

GABRIEL: There is life. …There is a way out, Mendoza.

RODRIGO: For me, there is no redemption.

GABRIEL: God gave us the burden of freedom. You chose your crime. Do you have the courage to choose your penance? Do you dare do that?

RODRIGO: There is no penance hard enough for me.

GABRIEL: There is. But do you dare try it?

RODRIGO: Do I dare? Do you dare to see it fail?

     And in a very haunting several minutes, Rodrigo follows Gabriel and other Jesuits up the mountain to the jungle while he carries a net full of equipment he used to catch natives. The other priests try to convince Gabriel that it’s not worth it, but Gabriel still is determined to see Rodrigo climb the mountain. And when he gets to the top, the natives are there, waiting for him. One of them has a knife. He goes up to Rodrigo, yells at him in a foreign language, takes the knife, and…

     The native cuts the rope of the net and tosses it over the mountain, sending it down to the river. Rodrigo has literally had his burden lifted off of him through forgiveness. He weeps and is comforted by Gabriel, the priests, and the natives. This is a scene that moves me to tears many times—to me, this parallels what happens when we confess our sins to God. I’ve gone to him many times with burdens, and when I can trust in Someone bigger than myself, it’s a huge relief. And what’s even more fascinating about this scene is the fact that this was created by non-Christian filmmakers! Isn’t it powerful that non-believers (at least, I think they’re non-believers) can find Christian themes so moving that they portray them that way on the screen?

     Anyway, for the rest of the film, Rodrigo is learning more and more about being a Jesuit priest. He is finally… made one (I’m not sure what the right term is), but because of his history of slave trading, he often lets his anger get the better of him when debating with other slave traders, which gives the Jesuit priests a bad reputation. And at one point, the priests are told that they must leave the mission, because the land is being retaken by the Spanish government.

     And this is where the climax of the movie occurs. A tension arises between Rodrigo, who wants to fight against those who have come to relocate them, and Gabriel, who wants to lead an anti-violent protest with the natives. The natives are divided between the two, but in the end, many priests and natives on both sides are killed, including Rodrigo and Gabriel (who both die while the music plays in the background that Gabriel played when he first reached the jungle). When Spanish official Altamirano (Ray McAnally) learns of this and becomes distraught, he is told by slave traders:

HONTAR: We must work in the world, Your Eminence. The world is thus.

ALTAMIRANO: No, SeƱor Hontar—thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it.

     And with that ambiguous ending, the movie closes with child natives walking around the destroyed mission and sailing down the river in a canoe. Very rarely does a “Christian movie” have such an ambiguous ending. But I think because the film is so subtle in what it’s trying to say, that it gives the audience more freedom to think for themselves—something that the dialogue in “Fireproof” or similar movies does not always allow. To me, this is a film about the power of forgiveness, but also about the power of (and often the way we forsake) love. In one scene, Rodrigo reads 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter that says “Love is patient, love is kind.” Whether or not the Jesuit missionaries followed up on this command to love through their violent and non-violent actions is ultimately up to the viewer to decide. And for this sense of ambiguity, these non-Christian filmmakers may even have created an even more powerful “Christian movie”.

     Matthew 11:15: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 3: To Save a Life (2009)

     Today, continuing this month’s “Defining the Christian Movie” series, I’ve decided to talk about a movie that finds itself in the middle of the spectrum. What I mean by that is, it’s not completely a straightforwardly Christian film, but it’s not too subtle so that a broader audience might want to see it. Today’s movie might not even be called a movie. I don’t even see it as much a movie as it is a tool for ministry. And believe me, this movie is definitely a tool for ministry.

     “To Save a Life” is apparently another movie made by a church, this church being in California. I went to see it at the beginning of 2010 with my youth group in Ohio, and I know that my youth group was an audience that this movie was aimed at. “To Save a Life” is one of the only movies I’ve ever heard of—if not the only movie—that focuses on youth ministry. The main characters are high school students (even if they are played by actors who are slightly older… what can you do), and they are all struggling with issues that high school students face: relationship issues, family problems, cutting, teen pregnancy, suicide. Many people might say, as I’m tempted to say, that there are so many emotional situations in this movie, from a teen suicide at a high school to a girl getting drunk and pregnant at a party, that the movie is overdramatic. But to me, these are the kinds of issues that a “Christian movie” needs. But more on that later—now, I better talk about the movie.

     Randy Wayne, a real actor who I guess is actually a non-Christian, plays Jake Taylor, a senior in high school living in California ready to graduate and play basketball for the University of Louisville. (And once I started college in Kentucky, I realized very quickly that he pronounces “Louisville” wrong throughout the movie. Just saying.) Through a series of flashbacks, we see Jake as a boy and his friendship with Roger, who as a child pushed Jake out of the way of a car, saving his life but hurting his own leg, causing Roger to limp all the way through teenage years. But at the start of high school, Jake becomes busy with basketball and meets Amy (Deja Kreutzberg, who I am informed is also a probably non-Christian real actress… who was even on “As the World Turns”? Whatever), and the two of them start a relationship that breaks off Jake and Roger’s friendship. And years later, Roger has had enough of the loneliness. He brings a gun into school, and before Jake can convince him to drop the gun, Roger shoots himself. This event leads Jake to question himself and what he could have done differently to prevent his best friend’s death.

     Eventually, he meets up with a youth pastor named Chris (Joshua Weigel, who may or may not be a youth pastor in real life… I can’t remember), who welcomes Jake into his youth group. Jake meets some students there that are passionate about Jesus and about sharing their faith—but he meets more students there that are totally apathetic. Even the senior pastor’s son hates being at youth group and would rather be with his friends doing drugs (literally, there’s a scene where Jake sees him with his friends doing drugs). But Jake wants so badly to change and to find out what he’s missing, he stays. And he brings Amy—who, being the popular girlfriend of the jock basketball star, immediately is looked at differently by the others in the youth group, in a way that she doesn’t like. She ends up leaving in tears, and when Jake can’t stand it anymore while students are whispering to each other during Chris’ message, he stands up and tells them:

JAKE: My girlfriend came here today, and she left because she felt judged. And no one even noticed! Roger walked into school and started shooting. I knew him. He wasn’t crazy. And did anyone ever stop and ask why? I mean, how did it get to the point where his only option was to shoot himself? There are people killing themselves, and you’re chugging soda through a sock!

     That last line will only make sense if you watch the movie, by the way. But Jake goes on to ask them, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?” And this is something that I think every student in a church youth group should ask themselves. I’ve seen it, and so have many of my friends. Students will come to youth group, go to Sunday school, even attend a youth conference or a mission trip! But something goes wrong—that student becomes busy with school or relationships, distractions come up, or the fire dies down inside a student’s heart—and the student that was on fire for the Lord no longer even cares. It’s not rare that I go visit my youth group again after coming back from college, and there are still students that sit there and whisper among themselves, like they don’t even want to be there.

     Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Jake starts making a difference at school, reaching out to lonely students, having lunch with others from youth group at school, and even becoming a Christian himself and getting baptized (in the Pacific, no less, which I think is awesome). But throughout the movie, Satan attacks Jake: his parents’ marriage falls apart after it is revealed that Jake’s father had an affair; it turns out that Jake got Amy pregnant at a party; and all of Jake’s former friends are rejecting him now that he has started going to church. Jake starts questioning God, becoming angry, and building up hatred for his father. But it’s only by the grace of God that he is able to stop Amy, right before she walks into the abortion clinic, and sacrifice his future at college for her and the baby.

     As you can see, this movie gets pretty dark. And Jake’s not the only one with problems. Two of the characters are struggling or have struggled with self-abuse and cutting. There are a few scenes where Jake and his friends are getting drunk at parties to the point of vomiting. And at the end of the movie, the pastor’s kid accuses a student he dislikes of calling a bomb threat into school, which almost leads to that student overdosing on drugs. (It doesn’t. How? Watch the movie.) This is a very different “church movie” than “Fireproof”. It’s very dark, very edgy, and very emotional. But to me, this is the kind of “church movie” that the world needs to see. I know that some people assume that Christians are always putting on a happy face, ignorant of the world’s problems—and their own problems. But there’s something very unique that this film does, and it’s even something that “Fireproof” does as well. There is no single character in the film that has a picture-perfect life. Even Chris opens up to Jake and says he has regrets—he had a chance at his youth group to say hi to Roger before his suicide, but he didn’t. And I think if non-Christians see this in a “Christian movie”, they will realize that even though not all Christians are honest, none of us are perfect, and there’s only One who we can turn to.

     Matthew 11:15: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 2: Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (2002)


     Welcome back to the “Defining the Christian Movie” series! If you’re just reading for the first time, this month I’m taking movies that I’ve seen that could be considered “Christian movies” and analyzing how they portray spiritual elements, rather than analyzing what those are. Today’s movie is a little less explicit about Christianity, but its source comes straight from the Bible—and so does some of the dialogue. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s my childhood source of entertainment: VeggieTales.

     Around the time I was born, a few guys from Illinois created thirty-minute computer-animated cartoons of vegetables on a countertop telling kids about God. This was called “VeggieTales”, hosted by Bob the Tomato (voiced by Phil Vischer) and Larry the Cucumber (Mike Nawrocki). And in 2002, “VeggieTales” had enough money and popularity for Vischer and Nawrocki’s studio Big Idea Productions to make a movie. Thus came “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie”, a movie straight from the book of Jonah in the Old Testament.

     “Jonah” begins with Bob the Tomato, Junior Asparagus (Lisa Vischer) and his dad (Dan Anderson), Laura the Carrot (Kristin Blegen), and other signature VeggieTales characters on their way to a concert. Along the way, the characters get into an argument, their van goes rolling down a hill, and out of gas, they resort to a nearby restaurant. Next to them at the restaurant are the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, aliases Larry the Cucumber, Pa Grape (Phil Vischer), and Mr. Lunt (Phil Vischer… again). They overhear the arguments next to them and start telling the vegetables a story of mercy and compassion: the story of Jonah.

     Jonah, alias Archibald Asparagus (yes, Phil Vischer), is a renowned prophet called by God to go tell the people of Nineveh to repent, or their city will be destroyed. After singing a song (yeah, this is a musical), Jonah takes a ship to Tarshish (the opposite direction) and meets up with… the Pirates… How come it took me ten years to be confused by that? Anyway, the Pirates start taking Jonah to Tarshish, who is soon accompanied by a caterpillar/worm named Khalil (Tim Hodge). (Khalil turns out to be the worm from Jonah 4:7, but I’ll let you figure that one out.) Long story short, God brings a storm to threaten the ship and the vegetables in it, and Jonah realizes that he has brought this upon them for disobeying his God. What Jonah tells the Pirates and Khalil comes almost directly from Scripture:

JONAH: I’m a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven who made the sea and the land. And I’m running away from Him! He told me to go to Nineveh, but I didn’t listen! You know, I don’t like those people. …So I ran! I ran, and I ended up here. And now everyone’s in terrible danger, all because of me! I’m afraid the only thing left is to be thrown into the sea.

LARRY: Aw, you don’t have to do that! We got a plank! You can just walk off!

JONAH: Yes… thank you. You’re too kind.

     No, that last part wasn’t from Scripture. Anyway, Jonah jumps overboard, the storm subsides, and a huge whale eats Jonah. (Oh, and Khalil joins him.) Inside the whale, angels appear to Jonah and help him decide to go to Nineveh. After three days, the whale spits him out, and Jonah goes to Nineveh and tells them to repent. Yet in his last scene, Jonah goes up on a mountain so he can see all of Nineveh being destroyed. Khalil joins him and eventually tells him angrily:

KHALIL: Why are you here now instead of back in the belly of that whale? Because God is compassionate! He wanted to help you. And because He is merciful, He gave you a second chance.

JONAH: Oh, yes! And I’m very grateful—

KHALIL: Has it ever occurred to you that maybe God loves everybody, not just you? That maybe He wants to give everyone a second chance?

JONAH: Um… well…

KHALIL: He saw that those people needed help—that they didn’t know right from wrong. And He wanted to help them! And that is why He sent you! And when you told them what they were doing wrong, they said they were sorry. They put down their mackerels and their halibuts—

     Oh yeah, I should mention this. In this kids’ version of the story of Jonah, the way that Ninevites sin is by hitting each other with fish. But not anymore.

KHALIL: …And they asked God for a second chance. And by golly, He gave them one! Don’t you see? God wants to give everyone a second chance… and so should we.

     In the end, the vegetables hearing the story learn that their arguing was wrong, and they need to show mercy to those who have done them wrong.

     Big Idea Productions was run by Christians (I say “was” because I think they went bankrupt a few years back; now “VeggieTales” is owned by someone else), and their first movie is explicitly Christian. It takes a Christian moral from Scripture and makes it relevant, in this case specifically for children. However, very rarely do Christian filmmakers take a story straight from Scripture, like the story of Jonah, and present it not only straightforwardly, but also with a comic twist.

     But again, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie” may be a little too straightforward. Khalil’s monologue at the end of the film is another instance where the dialogue seems to come straight from a sermon. But after Jonah’s story is done, and the film focuses on the other vegetables again, the Pirates tell them: “The question, my friends, is not, What did Jonah learn? The question is, What did you learn?”

     Matthew 11:15: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Defining the Christian Movie Part 1: Fireproof (2008)


     This month, I’m doing something a little different with “Reel Christianity”. For the next five weeks, I’ll be doing a series about something God’s put on my heart recently called “Defining the Christian Movie”. As a Christian aspiring filmmaker, I’ve felt a conviction to put my faith into all my films in some way—and that can mean several different things. That could mean writing a film based on a theme or moral that I’ve taken from the Bible. That could mean the presence of a Christian character, such as a pastor, missionary, or anyone. That could even mean naming characters after people in the Bible to show parallels between those characters’ stories. There are so many ways to put Christianity into a film that “the Christian movie” can be very hard to define. So this month, I’m taking five movies that I’ve seen that could be considered “Christian movies” and analyzing them not so much for what the audience can learn from them, but rather how the audience can learn. Four of them have been made in the past ten years. The other was made in the late 1980’s and was (to my knowledge) made by non-Christian filmmakers. And I’ve decided to arrange these movies from the ones most explicit about Christianity to the more subtle ones. With that, let’s start today with 2008’s “Fireproof”.

     Kirk Cameron (who also starred in the three “Left Behind” movies) plays Caleb Holt, a fireman apparently in Georgia married to Catherine (Erin Bethea). Because of work-related stress, Catherine having to care for her sick mother, and Caleb’s addiction to pornography, their marriage is beginning to fall apart. Catherine is about to file for divorce, but Caleb goes to his father John (Harris Malcolm), who is a strong Christian who also almost went through divorce, and Caleb’s dad gives him a book called “The Love Dare”—a devotional book lasting forty days challenging the reader to find forty ways to care for his spouse.

     Caleb begins the journey on “The Love Dare” and finds it extremely difficult at first. He tries (almost against his will) to just find a nice thing to say to Catherine, but she seems to be completely ignoring him. And in between the acts of kindness, Caleb finds himself several times at work in the line of duty, rescuing youth from fires and car wrecks in the nick of time—and none of these things are getting Catherine’s attention! And in one scene, halfway through “The Love Dare”, Caleb and his father are walking down the path as Caleb relays his troubles to his dad. They soon come across an old site in the woods where a summer camp was held. Among tree stumps used for seating, there is a cross. Caleb and his dad continue talking.

JOHN: Caleb, if I were to ask you why you're so frustrated with Catherine, what would you say?

CALEB: She's stubborn. She makes everything difficult for me. She's ungrateful. She's constantly griping about something.

JOHN: Has she thanked you for anything you've done in the last 20 days?

CALEB: No! …Dad, for the last three weeks I have bent over backwards for her! I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship. I bought her flowers—which she threw away! I have taken her insults and her sarcasm, but last night was it. I made dinner for her. I did everything I could to demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face! She does not deserve this, Dad! I am not doing it anymore! How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over, who constantly rejects me?

     As Caleb has ranted, his dad has walked closer and closer to the cross. Caleb tries to deny that this faith is relevant, but his father says:

JOHN: Son, you just asked me: how can someone show love over and over again when they're constantly rejected? Caleb, the answer is: you can't love her, because you can't give her what you don't have. I couldn't truly love your mother until I understood what love really was. It's not because I get some reward out of it. I've now made a decision to love your mother whether she deserves it or not. Son, God loves you, even though you don't deserve it. Even though you've rejected Him. Spat in His face. God sent Jesus to die on the cross and take the punishment for your sin, because He loves you. The cross was offensive to me, until I came to it. But when I did, Jesus Christ changed my life. That's when I truly began to love your mom. Son, I can't settle this for you. This is between you and the Lord. But I love you too much not to tell you the truth. Can't you see that you need Him? Can't you see that you need His forgiveness?

     By this time, Caleb has his head buried in his hands, convicted. His dad has walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Caleb quietly answers:

CALEB: Yes.

JOHN: Will you trust Him with your life?

     And Caleb prays to receive Christ. Through the rest of the film, Caleb’s attitude towards Catherine changes significantly. Even when she ignores him, and even when she finally gets the divorce papers, he still tries his best to love her. And eventually, Catherine sees it. (How? I won’t tell you. See the movie.) She too becomes a Christian, and the two renew their marriage vows at the cross where Caleb met Christ.

     “Fireproof” was made by people at Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, and to my knowledge, it’s the most successful “church movie” ever made—on a budget of $500,000, it made over $30 million! It’s inspiring to know that even in this world, people will still pack theaters to see a straightforward Christian movie. But to me, even though “Fireproof” is a powerful film, and I praise the filmmakers for their intentions while making it, therein lies the problem: it’s straightforward. Read the dialogue that I’ve selected for this article, and you can see that the dialogue is very straightforward about who Jesus is and what He did. Even though the filmmakers show courage in being extremely open about their faith, I personally would not take this approach.

     Here’s why: I’ve heard people call this film “preachy”, and I think that is because this film is so straightforward and so explicit about Christianity. Sometimes, the dialogue sounds like something straight out of a Sunday sermon. I think that many Christians would understand this film, particularly the Christian “language”, but many non-Christians might even be offended by it. But I pray, along with the filmmakers, that films like these will continue to reach people where they are.

     I close only with this, which I’ve picked to be the theme verse for this series: as Jesus says after preaching, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 11:15)