Saturday, September 27, 2008
Fireproof (your marriage)
Recently Dr. Phil aired a program on saving marriages, and introduced actor Kirk Cameron, himself a married father of six children, to promote the film “Fireproof” in which he plays Caleb Holt, a firefighter in Albany GA, facing the breakdown of his marriage to Catherine (Erin Bethea).
First, for the specifics. The film is distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, and also by a new brand, Sony Affinity (which seems like another brand like Sony Pictures Classics, perhaps for specialized content). Sherwood Films was given as the production company in the credits. The film is directed by Alex Kendrick and written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The website is here. The film is marketed as a Christian film, and resembles some made in the 1980s, then often for paid exhibition.
The film is also, shall we say, a bit studious. Caleb and Catherine have no children after seven years of marriage, and that may be necessary to keep the plot focused. Or it could because they are too “selfish.” Now, it’s not unreasonable for Caleb to want to buy a boat or to spend time on his computer. But Catherine is already stressed by eldercare; her own mother has had a stroke and cannot speak. Catherine has taken a job as a hospital administrator to help her mother, and she may well be making more than him. They seem to live pretty well.
Caleb’s parents (played by Harris and Phyllis Malcom) give Caleb a handwritten book called “The Love Dare,” a 40-step program of getting Caleb out of himself and into his marriage.
Here we get into the existentialism and then Christian faith, and the introduction of the faith issue marks the midpoint of the film. Caleb’s father talks about how rational self-interest isn’t enough; marriage needs unconditional love. In particular, Caleb can be a “good person” and still be judged by God for sins of the heart, such as lust (as with his secret Internet life). “Adultery of the heart” is as sinful as actual divorce because it conveys the idea to other people that if they are less than perfect, they will become unworthy of marriage themselves. Interesting point. There is a scene where Caleb, giving up Internet surfing to find fantasy material, smashes his PC in a manner reminding one of "The Terminal Man" (1974, Warner Brothers), based on Michael Chricton's novel.
But the “40 pages” involve a lot of pampering of his wife, a lot of revisiting the courtship that would have preceded the marriage in the first place. It may not be for everybody, but if so, then the film suggests the logical question: how much of this applies to people who don't elect marriage? The indulgences, as well as the faith elements, and her rejections mark the screenplay with well-defined crisis and recognition points. The film certainly promotes “marriage culture” the way Maggie Gallagher and Jennifer Roback Morse argue for it.(In fact, the couple’s fights in the film do indeed show the problems with the “laissez-faire family”; both Caleb and Catherine have to give up some of their ideas of personal sovereignty to be prepared to raise children who themselves can attach to others socially. At the end, the couple has a public "covenant marriage" ceremony. The script specifically says that marriage is not a contract, but a convenant instead.
The film has two daring fire rescue scenes, including one with an approaching train (shown on Dr. Phil) and another from a burning house, reminiscent of Ron Howard’s “Backdraft” (1991, Universal). The film also shows the quasi-military "forced intimacy" of life in the fire station, where firefighters (which today can include women) sleep in a dorm-like setting, even having to make their cots in military-style with hospital corners. (In the 1970s, in New York City fire departments objected to proposed discrimination ordinances protecting gays with "reasoning" similar to that for the military today; it turned out to be a red herring).
Today (Sept 27), the Lifetime Channel showed, early in the evening, “Gracie’s Choice” (the title reminds one of “Sophie’s Choice" but the movie really doesn’t), a Columbia release from 2004 (Stephanie Germain productions), directed by Peter Werner, based on a Reader’s Digest story by Joyce Eliason. A 17 year old girl Gracie (Kristen Bell) takes custody and eventually adopts her half-sister and three half-brothers when her drug-addicted mother (Anne Heche) winds up on jail and is forbidden to have contact with her children. Here is another case of family responsibility created by the acts of others.
(Post Script: The Samuel Goldwyn Company and trademark are no longer connected to MGM; see comments.)