2011 is the “Year of the God Film”: “Soul Surfer,” “Tree of Life,” and now “Courageous.”
“Courageous” is the much-anticipated movie on fatherhood by the same people who gave us “Fireproof.” (“Fireproof” is the story of a fireman whose marriage is on the rocks, in part due to his internet porn use, and what happens from there. It was the #1 independent film of 2008. With its tie-in printed resource components like “The Love Dare Book,” the film impacted thousands of real-life marriages.) “Courageous” was well worth the wait, and will doubtless do the same to strengthen fathers in their oh-so-vital vocation.
“Sherwood Pictures” (a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia) is behind these two great films. They are THE most “Theology of the Body” films out there, and I’m sure Blessed John Paul II the Great is smiling on them from glory.
“Courageous” is about four policemen, their families, and what being a father means. “Honor begins at home” is the film’s short, sweet and apt tagline. Cops are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? Guys are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? And there’s lots of wonderful and needed ways they do that outside the home, often for the sake of home, but there’s no place like home to do it. So many things pull men away from home: work, demanding work, overtime work, wars, travel, hobbies, volunteer/charitable work, even church work. So many men are tempted to measure their worth and success by the external benchmarks, accolades, promotions and achievements outside the home, but, really? A man’s home is his castle. Everyone’s first vocation is to love their families. Our greatest bragging rights should always be about our particular vocation to love, our particular way of loving (married, single, priesthood, religious life). When people ask us what we “do,” we should talk about our vocations, our families first, the people in our lives, what we “are,” before what we “do.”
The stories, struggles, tragedies and joys in “Courageous” ring true, and the acting is superb. Sherwood Pictures also has a way with tense action scenes. There’s just enough about and for women in “Courageous” as well. Young single men leaving screenings of “Courageous” have written on their surveys that they never really thought seriously about fatherhood before, but now they are looking forward to being good fathers! Sherwood Pictures doesn’t call their films “message” films (a Hollywood no-no) but “take action” films. Hear, hear!
“Courageous” asks the question: “How DO we do fatherhood? Who are our role models for it?” Here’s another possible tagline for “Courageous”: “Think fathers are important? So does ‘Courageous.’”
--There’s a slow-mo scene where a beautiful little girl is saved from harm’s way by the cops (the word “princess” comes to mind), and it seems like a random thing, but the more you gaze, the more you wordlessly realize: it’s all about us women, it’s all for us women, it’s all for the bride.
I’m not a fan of constant close-ups, but it seems to be the trend in movies these days. There’s a lot of close-ups, especially in the beginning.
--I think the hard thing for men AND women is not to lead a double life. As I watched the lives of these fictitious characters trying to be righteous, I thought: Yes—most of us want to be good, want to be good people, live good lives…BUT we also dissemble. We also want “something on the side.” I had a teenage boy in a youth group (where I was teaching 'em Theology of the Body) tell me only half-jokingly that he wanted to get married, but have “something on the side,” too. I asked him if he wanted to be a hero or a tool all his life. And there’s the rub. Our sins of whatever kind are ALWAYS a double-life, and sometimes we have a very developed double life. It’s so hard not to lead a double life. And then I got to hang out with "Courageous" actor, Ken Bevel—(I don’t mean to namedrop here)—who, I’ll bet, really walks the talk, and really is the strong, peace-filled, humble, Spirit-filled man of God he seems to be.
--The Latino couple who were introduced as sort-of main characters a bit later in the film detracted from the film for me. As soon as I “met” them, I didn’t buy anything about their lives. (And these were professional actors, as opposed to the many non-actors in the film! Their home set-up is very hokey: a cinematic light shines on a cross on the wall. A little blackboard in the kitchen says: “Jesus Loves You.” Nothing feels authentic. Even their accents sounded fake.) I know they were primarily supposed to be the comic relief, but it was rather corny (except for a few truly hilarious scenes where Javier, the husband, is interacting with his cop friends). There is one whole utterly-predictable sequence with the Latino couple toward the end of the film that really needed to be cut right out since he was really a minor character. Almost the exact same plot point was repeated back-to-back with it, involving one of the four policemen we are really invested in. Removing this scene would have really shored up the movie.
--One of the most important scenes in the film is when the policeman/father played by Ken Bevel (my new best Hollywood-South friend) takes his teen daughter out to a swanky restaurant almost as a passage into womanhood. Ken told me that he felt so much spiritual warfare during this scene and he kept on messing up his lines. What he tells her is what every daughter, every young woman needs to hear from her father.
--LADIES! Listen up! “Courageous” is NOT a date movie. Do NOT bring your husband/boyfriend and tell them: “This is what you’re supposed to be!” Uh-uh. Men need to go to this together. They’ll know what to do.
--The gang-actors are fabulous. The point is: gang-father fills in when there’s no father. Gang=family.
--GREAT LINES: Dad to teen daughter: “Any time a boy asks you to go anywhere , it’s a date.”
--“Courageous” is WELL-LIT. Sr. Helena LIKES WELL-LIT SETS. They are hard to find these days.
--Best relationship portrayal: Cop-father and his teenage son. (This is when I cried.)
--Best actor: Ken Bevel. I know him.
--MORE GREAT LINES: “I have to learn to do the hard things [in fathering].” “There is so much in Scripture about being a father.”
--DAUGHTERS NEED DADS, TOO! Thank you, “Courageous”!!!!
--I remember when I was growing up in the 19___’s, and my friend’s mother (a very intelligent woman) shocked me by saying emphatically—as she was watching some soap opera awards on her kitchen TV—“These actors show us how to solve our problems!” So why CAN’T we have some positive Christian films that show us how it’s done? If families aren’t staying together and working things out, why not use art and entertainment to show us how to do it? And millions of people DO live the way portrayed in "Courageous." “Courageous” is no less real than all the hopeless family stories we see constantly. But there is a huge segment of the “tragically hip” youth population who simply will not give films like “Courageous” a chance. It has to be younger, cooler, edgier, harder, or they will not even give it a look-see. Perhaps there is some deep dark truth to their cynicism. Perhaps we don’t know how much they have already suffered in their families in their young lives. Even though there is plenty of familial suffering in “Courageous,” it may not be of their harsher garden variety. And so it will be up to a younger generation of filmmakers to make “their” films. It’s kind of sad, though, to only be open to what one already knows.
WHEN MY FRIENDS AND ME WERE YOUNG (Yessss! I have finally reached old fartdom!) we were open to absolutely everything—old, boring, fresh, shabbily-presented, historical, new, whatever: we didn’t want to feel like we were missing out on ANYTHING, we wanted to know something about everything, we wanted to know everything our parents knew and then some. We prided ourselves on the breadth and depth of our interests. But perhaps there was much, much, much less to process—certainly less pop culture/media artifacts (good grief—3 TV channels, no internet), and perhaps we had more hope or a different kind of hope. It’s time for another generation to find their way. But “Courageous” could help. It really could.
--Yeah, it’s a little slow and Southern like “Fireproof.” So what?
--“As the family goes, so goes society.” –BJP2G
--“If you really want to understand all of reality, understand the rejection of the Fatherhood of God in the Garden of Eden.” –BJP2G
--The “Resolution” ritual: “Every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man.”
--These words blew my mind in the father's "Resolution" ritual: “I will lay down my life, as Jesus did for me.” Usually, in TOB, we say, the husband lays down his life as Jesus laid down His life for His Bride, the Church. But it really starts with and includes what Jesus did for the husband (who is also the Bride, the Church), doesn’t it?
--Since “Courageous” is not Catholic, I did feel the lack of the Mass, sacraments and Catholic prayer-forms to keep the men strong in their “Resolution.” But hey, adapt it to yo’self if you is Catholic!
--“Prisons are full of men and women who were fatherless children. Single mothers are doing a great job, but they were never intended to carry the weight alone.”
--“Courageous” is not a tearjerker, but you WILL cry unless you’re a stone. That goes for you, too, guys—think “Toy Story 3.” We know you cried.
--Men leave “Courageous” convicted.
--Courageous was screened at NASCAR races.
--Ken (Bevel, that is) and I came to great agreement that MOVIEMAKING is one of the most important ministries in the Church today. It’s a VISUAL STORYTELLING WORLD.