Quite a few readers have asked that I share my thoughts on the movie Courageous. This is the latest movie by the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church. It is the movie that does for fathers what Fireproof did for husbands. Below are my thoughts after watching the movie twice (I scanned through and took notes on key scenes the second time).
Plot Spoiler Alert: Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want the plot spoiled.
At its core the movie is about a failing father, a police officer named Adam Mitchell played (well) by co creator Alex Kendrick. We know Adam is a failing father because the movie grinds this in. Without the help of the authors we would be tempted to see him as an excellent father who at times fails in minor ways and is struggling with a somewhat rebellious teenage son and a harridan wife. Adam is a faithful husband, works hard as a provider and dotes on his children. When he is interacting with his daughter it is clear that she knows she is loved and she dotes on him as well.
But the authors of the film know better. Adam is a failing father, and they set out to convince the viewer of this. Early in the movie Adam returns home after a long day of work in a scene eerily similar to the opening fight scene of Fireproof (right down to the shot of the pickup truck pulling into the driveway). As soon as he walks through the door his belligerent wife lays into him:
Wife: Where have you been? (irritated tone)
Adam: Working on reports. Trying not to miss another deadline.
Wife: You missed Emily’s piano recital.
Adam: (exhales ashamedly) Totally forgot about that.
After this she starts about their teenage son who wants Adam to run with him in a father/son cross country race. The son appears and pleads his case. Adam has other priorities, and when the son leaves the room he suggests instead that they spend time together building the new shed. His wife shoots the idea down because that would be the father leading the son, and not the other way around (emphasis mine):
Wife: Can I suggest that you spend a little more time with him?
Adam: Victoria all he wants to do is play video games and go run five miles.
Wife: (look of exasperation) Well then go run with him.
Adam: I’m 40 years old. There’s gotta be a better way to spend time with him than torturing myself.
Wife: Well you have got to do something.
Adam: He can help me build the shed in the backyard.
Wife: Yeah he’s gonna see that as your project. besides, he’s at school most of the time anyway.
This failing husband/failing father theme is common in TV and movies, so it all has a sickening ring of familiarity to it. The Kendrick brothers have followed the popular directive to tear down the father/husband quite well; Spielberg would be proud to feature this scene in one of his movies. Since this scene sets up the central conflict in the plot, part of it is featured in the trailer. Click here to get a sense of the way this is handled.
Sandwiched in the middle of this scene we have a brief respite from the bad father routine. The daughter comes in and the wife suddenly changes her attitude. Instead of running the show and scowling, all of a sudden she is smiling, pleasant, and deferential. She says the daughter wants to go to a birthday party and that she told the daughter it was up to her father. This sudden switching of gears isn’t an effort by the Kendricks to model the proper behavior of a wife and mother however. This is a setup; later in the movie the little girl is killed while riding either to or from the birthday party her father said she could go to. It is specifically pointed out that had he not allowed her to go she would not have been killed.
The next key scene is roll call at Adam’s job as a sheriff’s deputy. They use a pretty clunky plot device to point to the very real crisis of absent fathers. The sheriff reads an email he received with a list of compelling statistics on the negative outcomes associated with children raised without a father. But the Kendrick brothers have a problem; these stats show the value of fatherhood, and they are trying to tear fathers down. Specifically, they have to tear Adam down as a father for the movie to be a story of redemption. He has to be seen as a failing father in order to repent. I’ll cover how they handle this challenge a bit later.
The elephant in the middle of the room of course is why fathers are absent. In the US 40% of children are now being born out of wedlock. This can only occur when the mother decides to have children without first securing a proper father for them in marriage. A very large number of the children fortunate enough to be born in wedlock later have the father ejected from the home as a result of divorce. Academics have found that the ability to kick the father out of the home is the reason women initiate divorce much more often than men. In short, the problem of fatherless children isn’t due to a lack of men willing to be fathers. It is a result of the sexual revolution and the direct incentives we have created for women to expel the father from the home.
The Kendrick brothers seem aware of the issue of women not securing fathers for their children via marriage or kicking the husband/father out later, but instead of addressing it choose multiple times to gloss over it. Adam’s partner tells him that a third of his paycheck goes to alimony and complains about being kicked out of his son’s life:
I only get him every other weekend, and even then it’s only after Mia’s filled his head with her toxic opinions of me.
Adam shuts him down without any compassion, presumably because he doesn’t want his daughter to hear the conversation. Nothing further is mentioned on the topic, but later we learn that his partner is the villain. The message is clear; only men who deserve it have this happen to them.
One of the other officers has a 15 year old daughter with a penchant for gang bangers. We learn early in the movie that he moved his family from Atlanta to avoid the bad influences there. Almost immediately his daughter Jade locates the up and coming gangster in the area. Her mother tells her father: Another saggy pants boy interested in Jade. This was a perfect opportunity to address the issue; young women acting like Jade is a huge part of the problem. It would be cruel not to call her on what she is doing. Instead of reprimanding her, he tells her:
I know how young men think. They want to win your heart, but they don’t know how to treasure it.
The same father (Nathan Hayes) tells us in another scene that his own father had six children by three different women, and that he was the fifth child. Here is another opportunity to point out the role that women are playing in creating fatherless children; his mother had a child by a man who already had four illegitimate children. She had to know what he was like, but she did it anyway. But again, this is presented as solely the failing of the irresponsible man his mother chose to father him.
Another character/officer explains part way through the movie that he has an illegitimate child as the result of a hookup with a cheerleader in college (he was an athlete). Just as with the rest of the movie, there is only judgment for the man, none for the woman.
Now getting back to the Kendrick brothers’ problem. They’ve framed the problem as absent fathers, but they really need to hang this on the average father for their story to work. Specifically they need to show Adam, a truly excellent father, as a failure. They do so with a convoluted path of logic, which while they don’t spell it out looks roughly like this:
About mid way through the movie the officers are at a barbecue at Adam’s house. One of the men comments that the steaks reminded him of his father barbecuing. This brief comment quickly turns to all of the men bitching about their fathers:
Nathan Hayes: I wonder where all the good fathers went.
Shane Fuller (the villain): Aint that the truth.
Adam is surprised, because he had heard Shane’s father was a good man:
Adam: What? I remember you talking about your dad. Wasn’t he like an usher or something at your church?
Shane: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything. Soon as the church service started he’d step out back for a smoke. You know one time he says to me “I better not catch you drinking. Had a beer in his hand when he said it. My mom used to nag him. That is until they got divorced. Look it’s not like I don’t love the guy, but it’s hard to respect a hypocrite.
The other two officers present eagerly chime in with negative stories of their own fathers.
Shortly after this Adam’s daughter is killed. Adam is crushed with grief, but his wife offers little consolation:
Adam: I should have been a better father.
Wife: No. You’re still a father.
I had to rewind that scene several times to believe what I was hearing. She very specifically doesn’t say he was a good father (which he clearly was). All she says is he is still a father, with the point being that he still has the chance to change and become a good father to their son. This is the completion of the morphing sins of fatherhood. Shortly after this scene Adam pronounces:
I’ve been doing about half of what I should’ve been doing as a dad.
With the crushing of the average good father (represented by Adam) complete, the path is now cleared for the resolution to be a better father. At first Adam proposes to handle it man-style, by asking the other men to witness his resolution and hold him accountable. The men like the idea and consider making the resolution as well. Then Nathan’s wife decides they are doing it all wrong; they need to dress up and make the pledge formally. It thereby goes from man-style to wife-style, and they make the pledge in front of a pastor. It makes for a very strange ceremony, something which seems like a wedding ceremony except without any vows from the wife. It opens with:
I do solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.
This sudden belief in the headship of the father goes against most of the rest of the movie. It certainly isn’t consistent with their cutting good fathers off at the knees. Not surprisingly, the women and children make no corresponding vow to follow his leadership. There is no talk of wives submitting to their husbands or children honoring their father and mother. While the Kendricks didn’t write a resolution for women, they had a woman write one and have released it in association with the movie (it isn’t mentioned in the film itself though). You can read the resolution for men here, and the one for women here. You can also buy your own certificate suitable for framing here.
The movie closes with Adam giving a speech in a packed auditorium. The speech is laden with language about fathers abandoning their children:
I’ve seen first hand the deep hurt and devastation that fatherlessness brings in a child’s life. Our prisons are full of men and women who have lived recklessly after being abandoned by their fathers, wounded by the men who should have loved them the most.
You may be thinking, what about the mothers who didn’t marry first, or married only to expel the father from the home? He addresses them as well:
While so many mothers have sacrificed to help their children survive, they were never intended to carry the weight alone. We thank God for them.
Not all of the speech is bad, which you can read here. However, even when it is supposed to be inspirational it is littered with accusations against fathers, such as:
But there are some men, who regardless of the mistakes we’ve made in the past, regardless of what our fathers did not do for us, will give the strength of our arms and the rest of our days to loving God with all that we are, and to teach our children to do the same.
It ends with a rousing series of questions on who will lead his family, with the response each time being “I will.”
There are action and comedy scenes in the movie which I haven’t described, along with subplots for each of the fathers. At times the men act heroic, although following one such scene Adam and his partner question if it is worth it to risk your life for your child. But what I’ve shared in this post shows the main plot and point of the movie.
I’ve titled my review craven because the approach to entirely ignore the actions of grossly irresponsible women and instead pile on to good fathers along with the rest of the culture takes absolutely no courage. They witnessed millions of hurting children and cowardly decided to take the easy way out. If the Kendrick brothers wanted to show courage they would have dealt with the difficult issues of women choosing to have children out of wedlock, as well as those not honoring their marriage vows. Perhaps in their next movie they will find the courage to do so.