Many years ago, I attended the wedding of a Christian friend of mine. We got to a portion of the ceremony where the… I don’t know what he was. Minister? Pastor? I know he was in charge of the local God Squad. Anyway, Jesus’s Pal started yammering on about how the love my friend felt for his wife wasn’t actually for his wife. It was for Jesus. I tried very, very hard not to laugh. Really, I did. I realized at that moment I could never be Christian, because I prefer living girls to dead guys. Noted homophobe Kirk Cameron is all good with that aspect of Christianity, and he made a shitty movie to prove it: 2008’s Fireproof.
Tagline: Never Leave Your Partner Behind
More Accurate Tagline: Women Are People Too, Just a Lesser Version
Guilty Party: Alex Kendrick, former Associate Pastor of Media at Sherwood Baptist Church. That a church even has a position of that name is a red flag, but one that becomes more understandable when you learn Sherwood is a megachurch peddling a slick version of Christianity heavy on the form and light on the substance. Basically, Kendrick thinks that the only reason to be nice to girls is because God says so. Sex doesn’t even enter into it. It’s never even mentioned. Not once. Nor is it mentioned why a man in his late thirties is still childless. I like to think Cameron’s character’s obsession with internet porn is more because he’s still unclear about what vaginas are for.
Synopsis: Caleb Holt (Cameron) has two lives. At work, he is a firefighter; at home, he is a douchebag. Seriously, the guy treats his wife Catherine with open contempt and acts like she’s supposed to serve him or something. She’s upset that he hoards a good portion of his money to buy a boat when they should spend it on landscaping. She actually says this. And this is in spite of a previous scene where it’s revealed that she doesn’t have the cash to care for her bedridden mother crippled by a recent stroke. Meanwhile, all he wants to do is look at internet porn (although the Christian filmmakers can’t actually bring themselves to say the word “porn,” so for the bulk of the movie you can pretend he’s looking at lolcats which causes his ashamed wife to sob, “Am I not enough for him?”)
After Catherine demands a divorce, Caleb faces a crisis of identity. He is a deist, acknowledging the existence of God (because, come on, a world without God is as realistic as one without unicorns), but doesn’t think God has much to do with day to day existence. Caleb’s work friend disagrees, crediting God for fixing his marriage. Caleb’s dad is also on Team Jesus, telling Caleb to give it forty days because it’s important to take Bronze Age poetic devices literally. Armed with a book called The Love Dare Caleb sets about to fix his marriage using the groundbreaking technique of not being an asshole all the time. The book gives non-advice like “don’t say mean things to your wife” and “do something nice for her.” My favorite bit of advice points out that it’s hard to be emotionally invested in something if you’re not financially invested in it. Yep. It’s not love unless there’s a price tag.
Caleb doesn’t really commit to not being a douchebag until halfway through when he learns he has no chance of being a good person without God. So he converts. Which, along with a couple montages set to Christian rock music, more or less solves everything. He chases off his wife’s other suitor (a spectacularly wooden doctor that makes Channing Tatum look like Michael Fassbender), pays for all that home care equipment for Catherine’s mom, and gets his wife to come to Jesus (which is totally different from coming on Jesus, which why I’ve never been invited back to First Presbyterian over on Fremont Street). After the final reconciliation, there’s an extended scene that never ever ends to show us that everything will be all right with these two shrill assholes.
Life-Changing Subtext: Marriage is between a man, a woman, and a dead Jew.
Defining Quote: John Holt (Caleb’s dad): “When I realized who I was and who he was, I realized my need for him.” I don’t care if he is talking about Jesus or his college roommate. That is the agonized declaration of a man who needs cock in some part of his body, but can’t bring himself to head over to the bathhouse and start wrestling. Christians, do yourself a favor. Stop sublimating your desire for David Beckham in weird Jesus talk.
Standout Performance: It would be tempting to give this to noted banana enthusiast Kirk Cameron, since he’s the only actor in the bunch. But I find that his performance here pales against the one he does every day where he pretends to not be dead inside. The rest of the cast is made up of amateurs, probably recruited from the staff of the megachurch. Stephen Dervan, who plays fireman Wayne, is clearly the church cut up. Always ready with a family friendly quip about Noah’s Ark, or whatever it is people who aren’t allowed to laugh at comedy think is funny. Dervan has several big reactions that are no doubt hilarious to parishioners of Sherwood Baptist. In the commentary, Kendrick refers to Dervan as “one of the funniest men alive.” Dervan couldn’t be less funny if he delivered his jokes while raping one of those kids from that Kony video.
What’s Wrong: I’ve already addressed acting, so let’s get into theology. Like most modern Christians, they hold to Paul’s teaching that acts are meaningless and only faith matters. Now, Paul said this to divorce Christianity from Judaism. Modern Christians take it as license to be a bunch of lazy, intolerant assholes whose unearned sense of superiority is predicated on the wholesale acceptance of fairy tales.
So anyway, when Caleb goes to his dad for the second time to whine about Catherine not respecting him, dad points out that Caleb is in fact going to hell. This is where the film’s ass backwards priorities take place. He’s not a good guy because he doesn’t believe in Jesus. So a guy whose professional life consists of rushing into mortal peril to save complete strangers is a bad person.
Dad helpfully explains that God’s morality is so much higher than ours, in that He treats impure thoughts as the same as adultery. This doesn’t seem higher, this seems like someone who doesn’t understand proportion. You know, someone that might… I dunno. Flood the world. Or order the sacrifice of a child.
The true irony is that the film doesn’t even have the stones to run with its faith. Late in the movie, Caleb is trapped in a burning building trying to save a child (that asshole), and calls out to God to help him. Instead of having a wall collapse with a way out, or a realization that the window lacks bars, Caleb hacks through the floor with his fire axe and drags the girl out that way. God could not even be bothered to save a little girl. That was Caleb’s job. You know, the immoral jerk who doesn’t love God’s lazy ass.
Flash of Competence: There’s a pretty good scene where the firemen have to get a wrecked car off the train tracks before a train totally creams the girls inside. So the firemen work together and haul the car off with barely inches to spare. It’s an effectively tense action sequence.
Best Scenes: At regular intervals, Caleb goes outside and hulks out on something. The first two times it’s his garbage cans. The third time stems from some awesome advice by The Love Dare to remove temptation from the house. Because Caleb is a crazy person, he interprets this to mean he should take the computer outside and beat it with a baseball bat. I’d call it a running gag, but Stephen Dervan already shot comedy in the face and buried it in a shallow grave behind the middle school.
Caleb’s friend Michael proves his shaky grasp of metaphor when he explains marriage in terms of table seasoning. See, salt and pepper are different, but they totally go together. (He also says that marriage is a covenant with God, and thus can’t be broken, although there’s no word about when salt and pepper made this covenant.) To prove his point, Michael superglues the salt and pepper shakers together and points out that they can’t be separated without breaking one or the other. That’s correct, Michael! Now that someone has arbitrarily bound them together in a literal interpretation of metaphor, they’re stuck forever! And they no longer function like they’re supposed to either. So, you know, great job.
Transcendent Moment: The opening of the film establishes just how fucked up everyone involved in this is. The screen tells us this is “25 Years Ago.” The camera pans over shelves of pictures while a little girl whines to her mother. The gist of the whining? She misses her father. A fireman. Then things take a turn for the creepy when the little girl asks if she can marry daddy. Or at least have him when mom’s done with him.
The little girl is, of course, Catherine. So yeah… she married Caleb because he’s just like her dad, and the movie wanted you to know this. Just in case you weren’t screaming in horror yet.
In case anyone thinks I’m being hard on a harmless love story with a nice Christian message, this is the quote that closes the film: “But God demonstrated His own love towards us in this: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us — Romans 5:8” In other words, all of humanity sucks and Jesus died for that. Why does humanity suck so bad? Well, that’s easy.
Whose image were we made in again?