Sherwood films: Fireproof Excoriated

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To continue my reviews of Sherwood Baptist’s Christian films, I’m moving on to the third film, and the only one of the movies that I actively hate, Fireproof.

In the sake of fairness, there are some nice things about this movie.  Once again Sherwood pictures gives the indie film industry a good example of financial responsibility and networking.  I’m glad that there are churches and organizations out there that are willing to make their own films rather than conform to Hollywood’s morally bankrupt standards.  The acting in this film continues to improve from film to film.  Now when a supporting cast member gives a flat delivery, it draws attention because it is unusual.  Production values for Fireproof are better than either Flywheel or Facing the Giants.

The acting is solid.  Dialogue is relatively well written, definitely up to par with the independent film market, so it’s safe to say that with Fireproof Sherwood Pictures has fully achieved mainstream status.  The topic matter is a refreshing step back to the depth of real-life problems from the trivial dilemmas of Giants, and writers Alex and Stephen Kendrick do an excellent job of peppering an otherwise serious drama with moments of interpersonal humor, usually presented with the stoic neighbor or the fraternal ribbing at the firehouse.  Uniforms, set, and production are all done at a professional level.  This no longer looks like a Hallmark movie of the week, but a genuine feature film.  Particular mention is due to Ken Bevel’s portrayal of Michael Simmons, Caleb’s (Kirk Cameron) best friend.  He has an interesting challenge as an actor to play a dedicated friend who does not necessarily approve of Caleb’s actions without ever taking a step away from Caleb’s side.  There are A-list Hollywood actors who couldn’t pull that off.  The soundtrack is a nice blend of orchestral work and contemporary Christian music, though Sherwood Pictures will never be accused of subtlety in musical direction.

I have watched the film four times now, and every time it becomes harder to get through.  Preparing for the review I had to remind myself that I was working, so I couldn’t turn it off five minutes in.

How, with good acting, good production, nice music, and a strong supporting cast, can I dislike the movie so much?  Fireproof is to be commended for tackling serious marital problems, and condemned for choosing American culture over scripture every single time that there’s a conflict between the two.

Once again all happiness depends on the hero subverting his own desires to try harder and do what is right.  That works much better in a sports movie than in a film about marriage, because problems in marriages are almost never, ever one-sided.  But to maintain the narrative, or out of craven submission to the spirit of the age, Fireproof places all of the weight, blame, and responsibility on Kurt Cameron’s Caleb Holt.

His wife Catherine, who is in her own ways just as selfish, harmful, and disloyal to the marriage as her husband is, is never portrayed as anything but the victim.  More offensively, she and the women in the film are depicted as nearly inhuman piles of reaction.  The premise of the film is that a woman will “bloom” if she’s loved selflessly (which is generally true of all human beings regardless of gender), and that whatever choices she makes because of how she feels are entirely justified and understandable, while the evil, selfish, carnal man she’s married to is the one who must fix all their problems.  This isn’t just inaccurate, it is subtly anti-woman.  A man is to be responsible, then, for his own choices and actions, as well as how they effect all around, and the film implies that the poor, perpetually innocent victim women can’t be held equally responsible for their choices on how to react to the same broken relationships.

So, basically, the film has little or nothing to do with the balanced approach to marriage given in scripture.  But it is in lock-step with the narrative of American culture.

Caleb is absolutely wrong to use pornography in his marriage, clear marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 5:27-28).   He takes his wife for granted and sometimes seems to expect her to be his servant (Ephesians 5:25, 28).  Caleb’s open expression of harsh anger with Catherine is also clearly wrong (Colossians 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7).  Caleb’s faults are shown to be wrong, and it is worthwhile to see him learn to love Catherine better, even unconditionally, but even his entrance to the Christian faith in the course of the movie is largely part of a quest for Catherine, so that Jesus is the tool, not the goal, in the pursuit of the Holy Grail of American culture, happy marriage surrounded by financial success.  This subtle idolatry is sad because it is common, but no less wrong because it shows up everywhere outside of this picture as well.

But Catherine does not even deny that she’s cut him off from all other sexual activity (1 Corinthians 7:5) , and throws it back in his face that all of her decisions are because of him (a dangerous false teaching, because we are responsible for how we react to others’ sins, not excused because they sinned against us first, and isn’t there something in the Bible about how to treat people who sin against you?  I missed the part where it says to be bitter, hostile, and cut them off in Christian love…)  She openly admits that they’ve agreed to handle the finances and the bills, but still makes it entirely his fault that he isn’t using his own money the way she would want (um… we’ve left out Proverbs 31:12-31 and all it says about a strong, independent woman’s financial gifts and industry within a married relationship), which is in effect changing the terms of their agreement without warning or guilt.  That falls far short of the standard of honesty in James 5:12, and doesn’t the Bible have a few things to say about honoring agreements even when it hurts to do so?  Then there’s the emotional, unconsummated affair she has, that is also totally Caleb’s fault.  None of her friends or parents encourage her to be faithful, or to love Caleb unconditionally.  (There is a single scene about 2 minutes long where a nurse tells Catherine that she is doing wrong, having an emotional affair but it’s a commentary on the affair, not a repudiation of the same nurse saying in a much longer scene that Catherine is justified leaving Caleb.)  They say that a man’s first duty is to his wife (as opposed to God?) and there is no contrary message given to her.  That is another way that the film is subtly anti-woman, because while Caleb has good men who will stand up to him to challenge and encourage him, there are no godly women present in this film to love God or Catherine enough to do the same for her.

In fact, every passage used to condemn Caleb has a verse right before or after it that should be, and is not, ever applied to bitter, hostile, rejecting Catherine.  She does not submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22, 24; and Colossians 3:18).  Scripture directly contradicts the film’s excuse for Catherine’s despicably excused behavior under an unbelieving husband:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.  -1 Peter 3:1 English Standard Version

So the Biblical approach to this conundrum from Catherine’s point of view would be to deliberately be as loving and Christian is possible, in pursuit of the sinful husband’s salvation first and all of the benefits of having a Christian husband second.

No matter how good our other qualities, and this movie is full of other good qualities, nothing ever gives us license to reverse or ignore God’s Word when it doesn’t fit our emotional states.  And Sherwood Baptist should be ashamed by perpetuating the culture’s man-abusing double-standard for marriage and denying God’s Word to do it.  The Bible has a consistent and balanced message on marriage, and it deserves to be presented.  But every time Caleb is confronted and Catherine excused, I just get angrier that an otherwise faithful Christian group has failed God’s Word once again.

These faults are so egregious that there isn’t time to tackle the proposed concept of a Love Dare, which sort of forgets that even Jesus’ perfect love couldn’t save every relationship or get his beloved (that’s all of humanity, by the way) to love him back, so it isn’t really realistic to believe it would happen here.

Fireproof has all of the elements needed to be a ground-breaking Christian film.  Production, acting, talent, performance, and the Kendrick brothers’ consistently solid screenplays just aren’t enough when they’re going to leave out half of God’s Word on the topic.  Telling half the truth is hiding half the truth, and this film is Anti-Christian in my opinion because of the truth it rejects.  And of course the only single characters in the film are under-achieving rookies or adulterous doctors, because marriage equals Christianity, and St. Paul and Jesus never had anything respectful to say about singles either.

Let the viewer beware that poisoned pills come in pretty packages.  Avoid this film’s dangerous double-standard and fast-and-loose treatment of God’s teachings on marriage at all costs.

One comment

  1. That movie has such a POS message, glad to see someone on the inside giving it its due. As one guy I read says, churches today want to “speak like Jesus but act like Oprah.”

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