Fireproof: Realism and Christian Characters

This is my second post on the 2008 Christian movie, Fireproof, which starred Kirk Cameron.  This movie is about a firefighter named Caleb, whose marriage is on the rocks.  Caleb’s father, John, a Christian, advises Caleb to practice the 40-Day “Love Dare”, in which Caleb refrains from saying a negative word to his spouse and does kind things for her.  It was amusing to watch Caleb sincerely try to do these things, only to be rebuffed continually by his wife.

This raises a question: Are Christian movies unrealistic in their depiction of people?  A while back, I watched the E! True Hollywood Story about Growing Pains, and it went into Kirk Cameron’s conversion to evangelical Christianity.  The way that some on the documentary were portraying it, Cameron continually brought up his problems with the scripts—-he didn’t think that Mike (his character) should lie to his parents or have sex, for example.  One person was saying—-and I’m basing this on my memory of watching this documentary years ago, and that may be flawed—-that Christian movies lacked characters who struggled morally.  In many movies, this guy was explaining, a hero struggled to do the right thing and perhaps grew, but, in Christian movies, the hero was expected to do the right thing automatically.

I think that’s an unfair statement, on some level, because I’ve seen a number of Christian movies in which a character struggles to do the right thing and grows.  That’s just part of storytelling.  Without struggle and growth, you don’t have much of a story, and I believe that even those who write Christian movies realize that.  In the case of Fireproof, Caleb struggles to save his marriage against high odds—-he and his wife are distant from each other, his wife is cold and arguably hateful towards him, and his wife is being pursued by the dashing doctor at the hospital at which she works.

But I will say this: In many Christian movies, it does appear as if the Christian characters usually have their acts together.  There are exceptions—-I think of the movie The Wager, in which Randy Travis plays a Hollywood actor who struggles to follow Christ, in the midst of trials.  But my impression—-and I’m open to correction on this—-is that the Christian characters in Christian movies ordinarily do not struggle a great deal, but they are automatically loving and have inner peace.  Even in The Wager, the Randy Travis-character’s sister comes across as that kind of person—-one who has her act together.  In the case of Fireproof, some of these Christian characters struggled in the past.  Caleb’s Christian co-worker, Michael, failed at his previous marriage, but that was before he became a Christian.  And Caleb’s father was once the object of the 40-Day “Love Dare”, as he wanted to divorce his wife (Caleb’s mother), and she saved their marriage by showing him unconditional love.  But these characters’ struggles were a thing of the past, for now they were Christians and had learned the secret of how to love people successfully (i.e., embrace Jesus’ unconditional love for them, notwithstanding their sins and faults).  Regarding one of the Christian characters in the movie—-a nurse who works at the same hospital as Caleb’s wife—-we don’t know her background, but she is a fountain of love, wisdom, and concern.  She has her act together, in a world where the rest of us struggle.

In my opinion, there is a sense in which these types of Christian characters make Christian movies better.  Regarding Fireproof, Michael and Caleb’s father are like a refuge for Caleb in the midst of his storms, oases in a desert—-they are rocks of wisdom, understanding, patience, and love.  On the other hand, I don’t think that one should conclude that all Christians in the world are like that in real life.  Sure, there are plenty who are, but there are also plenty who are cliquish, cold, self-absorbed, and uncaring.  Speaking for myself, I tended to identify with Caleb in his struggles—-even when he was selfish—-more than I did with the Christian characters.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what the movie is going for: Many of us are like Caleb, but, through Christ, we can become like the Christian characters.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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