Last week I had a discussion with two Christian women on another blog about my criticism of the movie Fireproof in my post The endless courtship fantasy. The women took issue with my characterizing the wife in the movie as whorish. They felt that since the husband had viewed porn on the internet this was grounds for the woman to divorce him. They didn’t see the wife’s pursuit of a doctor she worked with while still married as a real problem, because she had already decided to divorce and it was really the husband’s fault after all. They were also adamant that the wife planned on waiting until she had divorced the first man and married the second one before consummating the affair with sex, even though I could find no mention of this in the movie.
I should acknowledge that I run the risk of creating a straw man of their argument, but these points were made by them. I’ve decided to not link directly to the blog, and directly quoting them would with the help of google create a de-facto link*. I don’t want to send an angry mob their way, but I do want to address what I see as glaring problems with the movie. Since I will ask them to read the post, I will also ask as a courtesy to me that you avoid any personal attacks on them in the discussion. However, feel free to take issue with their arguments as I have presented them, the Christian fawning over this movie in general, and the incredibly weak Christian support for the concept of marriage vows.
The women challenged me to actually watch the movie, so I took their challenge and added it to our netflix queue. We watched it last night in fast forward with subtitles turned on, and I stopped it periodically to repeat the dialog so I could take what ended up being 7 pages of notes. Since I’m dissecting the movie it should go without saying that it will pretty much spoil the whole plot. If you want to watch the movie without it being spoiled first, stop reading now. For those of you who are like my wife and I and would rather snack on broken glass than watch a gussied up chick flick, read on and I’ll spare you the need.
The movie starts 25 years ago when the wife (Catherine) is a young girl. She wants to marry her daddy when she gets older (we see in a picture that he is a fireman). Her mother says that she can’t marry her daddy, and has to find her own husband. The girl asks Will we live happily ever after?, and the mother replies:
If you marry someone who really, really loves you.
Fast forward 25 years, and the little girl turned wife of a fire captain isn’t haaaaapy. Whenever her husband Caleb comes home, he is walking on eggshells for fear of setting her off. She has a laundry list of standard issue complaints. He doesn’t do the housework, and she is too busy to do it now that she has a high status job as head of PR for the local hospital. She has a list of needs which he isn’t spending money on, which he points out are actually wants. He is very clear that his primary complaint is that he is respected everywhere but in his own house. In the marital fight which stages the fundamental conflict for the movie, we learn that she has been denying him sex because he isn’t doing what she wants, and that he has been viewing online pornography (direct quote from the subtitles):
Catherine: If looking at that trash is how you get fulfilled, then that is fine. But I will not compete with it.
Caleb: Well, I sure don’t get it from you!
Catherine: And you won’t. Because you care more about saving for your stupid boat and pleasing yourself than you ever did about me.
When she taunts him with her manipulation of him through withheld sex, he flies into a rage and calls her a “disrespectful, ungrateful, and selfish woman”:
Catherine: I’m not selfish. How dare you say that!
Caleb: If you can’t give me the respect I deserve, then what is the point of this marriage?
Catherine (bursts into tears): I want out. I just want out.
Caleb replies that if that is what she wants, then it is fine with him. Immediately after the fight she takes off her wedding ring, and begins actively flirting with a doctor at the hospital which other women have already noted seems interested in her.
Her objection to him saving for the boat is that she has other plans for the money. Her mother had a stroke a year prior, and Catherine has gone to a medical supply store and picked out a sort of stroke bridal registry of things she wants to give her mother. She specifically mentions a new wheelchair and a “hospital bed”. By pure coincidence, this totals to the exact twenty four thousand dollars the husband has set aside to buy a boat. Interestingly the movie authors clearly expect us to see this as a “need”, but we never hear this from a medical professional. Her mother has already moved back home, and is sitting up fine in a normal chair when we see her. There is never a discussion about why top of the line equipment is the only way to help her parents, or how any of this will help her mother be able to speak again. The flimsy nature of this is important, because it sets the tone for the movie. Even if the wife’s demands are suspect, the right choice for the husband is to give her whatever she demands.
Money is fundamental to the plot, and the movie makes repeated reference to the husband’s need to spend money on his wife. Him spending money on her is so important it is one of the first parts of the Love Dare. Caleb makes the mistake of sending her flowers which aren’t expensive enough, and the movie grinds in the point that this makes him a bad husband. When the flowers arrive, they are actually fairly nice (but nothing extravagant). His unhaaaapy wife rolls her eyes and walks away. Later a more expensive bouquet of red roses arrives with a note which says “I love you more”. She appears to think this is from the doctor at the hospital she is trying to start an affair with, and instead of rolling her eyes lights up. Her very next move is to put an envelope marked “Caleb” on the table, which turns out to have divorce papers in it.
But none of this deters our husbandly hero in his pursuit of ever greater feats of betatized groveling. After she gives him the divorce papers, the Love Dare tells him he needs to give her an all out romantic dinner. He learns his lesson from the flowers incident and it is made clear that he spared no effort or expense. Catherine comes home and sees the dinner he prepared for her, candles and all. She treats him with her standard contempt, and asks what this is all about. He answers pleadingly “Maybe I want to have dinner with my wife”. She goes into her bedroom for a minute to get what she came for, and before she walks out the door tells him:
Let me be real clear with you about something.
I do not love you.
But our hero is still undeterred. He knows from his wise father (who sent him the love dare), that he needs to love his wife unconditionally. Even when she is starting an affair with another man and tells him she doesn’t love him and gives him divorce papers, it is his job to try harder to please her.
Around day 20 Caleb is trapped in a burning house while trying to rescue a young girl. He uses his axe to chop through the floor of the house and pulls the unconscious girl into the crawl space. Here he very nearly ends up trapped again, and is forced to remove some of his protective gear. The scene ends with other firefighters dragging both Caleb and the girl out of the crawl space, and both appear to be unconscious.
This puts Caleb in the very hospital Catherine works at, being treated by the doctor she is starting an affair with. Catherine briefly stops by to check on him, but is extremely cold and walks away after the nurse tells her she is welcome to stay with her “hero” husband. Her specific words to him are “You look terrible. You gonna be ok?” This scene contrasts with a later scene where Catherine is in bed with a fever. Caleb runs out and buys her food from Chick-fil-A to nurse her back to health. It turns out that men who were nearly killed with first degree burns don’t deserve the same level of caring a woman who has a fever does.
Later in the movie Caleb finds a greeting card/love letter from the doctor who treated him which Catherine is keeping on her dresser (he finds this while doing the housework he has taken over). This sets up the ultimate frivolous divorcée fantasy, where two alphas (in status at least) compete directly for her heart. Caleb tells the doctor that he will “compete for her heart”. As Caleb leaves the Dr. opens a drawer with his own wedding ring in it, but we aren’t told whether he is divorced or currently married.
The concept of two high status men fighting over the would be divorcée’s heart is at the core of the movie. Even the plot device, the Love Dare, is all about him convincing her to love him. It isn’t about him convincing her to honor her wedding vows. This is standard issue divorce porn, and tells women that divorce gives them power to get what they want. No woman who watched the movie would fail to get this overriding message. If you aren’t haaaapy, threaten divorce and let high status men compete for your heart!
The core reason the Christian women thought the wife’s actions were morally justified is the husband’s ostensible addiction to pornography. Interestingly the first time we hear the word addiction in this context is from the instructions from his father. His wife never uses this term, and we aren’t shown him being obsessed with it. At one point he is on the web looking at something else, and he gets a popup for porn. With his new faith in God and his desire to prove himself to his wife he resists the urge to click on the popup. From here he smashes the PC with a sledgehammer and says “no more addictions”.
The conflict is finally resolved when Catherine is talking to the woman who runs the medical supply store. She wants to pick out some more odds and ends for her mother. She mentions the Dr. and when she does she lights up and starts playing with her hair the same way she has been doing while flirting with him (the whole hospital knows she is after him). The woman corrects her, explaining that the Dr. only gave $300, and her husband gave $24,000. Suddenly Catherine realizes she misunderstood who was the winner of the bidding war for her heart. She races home and puts her ring on and tarts herself up before going see Caleb at the fire station.
At this point I was expecting her to apologize not only for being a ball busting harpy, but more than a little whorish as well. But all she says is:
If I haven’t told you that you are a good man, you are.
If I haven’t told you that I have forgiven you, I have.
If I haven’t told you that I love you, I do.
With those magic words, all of her awful behavior is forgotten. Shortly thereafter she is treated to a second wedding ceremony, but this time they stress that she actually means it for life.
*Update: The Christian blogger (Sheila Gregoire) later made the same argument on another post on this blog, and I responded with this post. Here is the link to her blog post where we had the exchange I referenced in this post.