August 19, 2008



"Fireproof" is the story of two strangers living in the same house. And they're married. The metaphor of firefighters "never leaving their partner behind" fits perfectly. Caleb (Kirk Cameron) is a fireman married to Catherine (Erin Bethea) for seven years, and their relationship is in serious trouble. On fire. In a bad way.  

Caleb, although a heroic lifesaver, isn't terribly heroic in his marriage. He and Catherine have separate schedules, separate bank accounts, separate lives, and Caleb has become demanding and selfish. And if that weren't bad enough, he's addicted to internet porn and Catherine knows it. She tells her mother how humiliating it is and asks: "Since when did I stop being good enough for him?" She confronts Caleb more than once about it, to no avail. Although the problem of internet porn doesn't take over the story, it's a huge hurdle for the relationship. We are shown discreetly and effectively how tempting, easy and available internet porn is, and how radical a cure is sometimes called for.

Catherine is first to throw in the towel. Both have a good sense of their self-worth, so neither is going to let the other trample over them.  They are well-matched for the battle that lies ahead, although they continue to live together for practical reasons. The fights, the hurt, the lack of respect--all rings painfully true. There are literally millions of marriages in this very predicament right now. It is truly hopeless, even when Caleb starts to change, because Caleb's heart isn't in his "changes" and Catherine can feel it. Catherine also misinterprets his every out-of-character move (with the "help" of some well-meaning gal pals). Caleb is being coached by his Dad, who sends him a forty-day "Love Dare" book with daily instructions on how to woo his wife back (something that saved his own marriage), but more importantly, these daily instructions are about how to transform himself into the man and husband he needs to be permanently. Is nothing Catherine's fault? Basically, no, except the fact that she takes up with a doctor at the hospital where she works, while still married to Caleb.

"Fireproof" screams that working at a marriage—especially one on the rocks—is very, very hard work that takes lots of time and patience. But the film also provides a roadmap that either a husband or wife can use. And of course, everyone is going to want this book tie-in! Actually, there are two books: "Love Dare" and "Fireproof: the Novel." offers lots of resources for home, school and church. (I'm surprised the classic "His Needs, Her Needs" wasn't listed.)

Theology of the Body (John Paul II) enthusiasts will be delighted by this film. Without explicitly saying it, the film revolves around a key TOB passage, Ephesians 5. Marriage between a man and woman has a direct correlation to Christ and the Church.

When push literally comes to shove, there's no way around God. When Caleb tries to justify himself as a "good person" to his father, his father simply asks him, but do you love God, the God who gave you life? Whoa. Thank God for these fearless filmmaking Christians who are getting better and better at bringing the Good News to the screen. For every ninety-nine scoffers, there will be one who hears the message of salvation loud and clear. And repents.  And the angels shall dance and rejoice.

This scene of Caleb with his Dad is really the crux of the whole film. And it involves a big crux (you'll get it when you see the film). And I just have to quote Dad here: "God's standards are so high that He considers anger to be murder and lust to be adultery." Whoa again. I would put it a different way and say simply that our interior life is as real as our exterior life. It's not so much "God's standards" as "simple reality." To paraphrase Jack Nicholson: "Can you handle reality?" Lots of great advice and wisdom in this film: "You can't just follow your heart. Your heart can be deceived. You have to lead your heart."

"Fireproof" is definitely a "Christian" film—there are lots of portrayals of people of faith, Bible quotes, prayer, giving one's life to God, etc., far beyond what mainstream films show. Corny? Why should faith be corny? But yes, sometimes. A non-believer unfamiliar with Christianspeak might ask: Do people really talk this way? The answer is, um, yes.  Lots of people.  Are they for real? Indeed. The faith depicted is a kind of Southern Evangelicalism.  It seems that one just "confesses Jesus with one's lips" and that's that (no mention is made of baptism). However, there are no pat answers or easy solutions. We can feel the torture of people who believe they are doing everything right, and yet that's still not good enough. Every Christian who seems to have their life together is also one of the walking wounded. The difficulties tearing at this marriage are the same as everyone else's:  the little everyday attitudes, words and run-ins that belie much bigger deficiencies, and that build up over time into an impasse. Omissions are as important as commissions. Curiously and very effectively, we only see the estranged part of this couple's relationships throughout the entire film, but we know only too well what they have lost, or what could have been.

Perhaps we need a "Christian" genre in film, one that will allow for some detailed, in-depth conversations between characters, rather than just quips. We've been trained to not even want to get down to the nitty-gritty of relationships in films. We get nervous when a soundbite develops into a three-dimensional, reasoned-out motivation. "Fireproof" is not a big talkfest, either. The Kendrick Brothers (who created this film) excel at tense, big action moments like a car wreck on train tracks and a little girl trapped in a burning house. The realism was every bit as good as "Ladder 49." In some ways, "Fireproof" is a profounder "Ladder 49," that forces us to look beyond universally-acknowledged heroism (firefighting) to another dimension of heroism—but every bit as important—the heroism of the heart and hearth. (More fire imagery!)

Isn't it enough to save other people's wives and husbands and children? No. Real men dry the dishes (and not just at the firehouse). (Catherine works full time while Caleb has a much more flexible work week). Is this some kind of Promise Keepers "real men serve their wives"? Yes. But Promise Keepers doesn't have a patent on the "servant king" model. It was started by the first Servant King, Jesus, who laid down His life for His Bride, the Church. Wouldn't it be just ducky to see movies like this on "Lifetime"?

"Fireproof" offers a completely different view of marriage than is commonly accepted today: covenant, not contract. If it isn't working, you don't walk away, you try everything to make it work, even if you are "two different people now," even if "I don't love you any more," because you are both part of something bigger than yourselves here. "Fireproof" successfully lays out the theology of marriage, even the fact that marriage is a natural institution recognized by the Church even if between non-Christians.

The jokes and pranks are rather old, flat and predictable. The soundtrack boasts great ambience music as well as that ubiquitous "Third Day" Contemporary Christian Music sound ("Third Day" also contributed to the soundtrack), and there's a poignant and fitting song about waiting that accompanies an important montage/sequence like a Dalmatian on a fire truck. (This song became the answer to a prayer for me, as I found myself applying Caleb and Catherine's marriage covenant to my own vowed covenant with the Lord!) If the cinematography/editing were just a tad fancier, "Fireproof" would have a complete big screen Hollywood feel.

 "Fireproof" is a well-crafted story with plenty of secrets, questions and twists to keep us guessing. And it never looks away from the pain. There's pretty much solid acting all around, especially from the two leads. The dialogue is some of the most honest I've ever witnessed in a movie (it's the same reason I liked "Brideshead Revisited-- the way characters talked and related to each other was intimate, fleshed out and non-oratorical).  Catherine is truly a "modern" woman, right up to the end.  (Sorry, can't be a spoiler.) The ending is slightly long, but has a GREAT closing shot.

"Fireproof" augurs well for the future of Christian films. (And it doesn't hurt that it was distributed through giant Sony Films.)

NB: The cool graphics of the wedding rings in the title! (The use of wedding rings throughout reminded me of Karol Wojtyla's "Jeweller's Shop.")

The pitch-perfect trailer truly represents the movie. You like? You go see. Check it out on the superbulous website:

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