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)

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