Sunday, April 12, 2009


Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I spent much of last week setting up a computer that I bought for my parents as an anniversary gift.

I could get a story or two from that experience, if I was hard up for material. Suffice it to say that if you're buying a computer from a reseller and it says that it comes with a Windows XP "COA" (that means certificate of authenticity, or in other words a legal XP licence), it may not have Windows preinstalled or an installation disc included. Then, when you ask the reseller about it, they may suggest that you "just go download a Windows CD off the Internet", and act surprised when you tell them that's illegal. They then might get a lot more cooperative when you mention that Microsoft's customer support operators were intrigued by their suggestion.

So, the XP snafu combined with my thinking for some reason that my parents' anniversary was a week later than it actually is led to my spending a few late nights watching installation progress bars creep across the screen.

And speaking of long marriages...

My wife and I recently watched Fireproof. If you've even heard of the movie, then I'm not really spoiling anything by telling you that there's a happy, marriage-affirming ending. Yes, you know how it will end pretty much from the start, but that's true of most stories in any medium. The interesting part is seeing how you get there.

This movie is far, far better than I thought it would be. It's genuinely funny in several spots (not just "for a Christian movie" funny), and not nearly as emotionally manipulative as most movies. It's definitely worth watching.

It stars Kirk Cameron. Move past that. He's actually a talented actor, despite being best known for having starred in one of the worst sitcoms ever. He's completely believable in this role, and it's clear from some of the outtakes, especially the "pranks" reel, that he doesn't bring any ego issues to the set.

Going into this movie I expected that the marital problems of the lead couple would be the man's fault. That's The Law of Modern Relationship Storytelling: if a relationship is unhappy, it's the man's fault. He's insensitive, he's distant, he's aloof, he's a workaholic, he's any of the other seventy or eighty other awful things that used to just be called "a man".

This movie holds true to that, but it's so well written, and Cameron is so good, that I bought it. The state of this marriage at the outset of the movie is his fault. An early scene showing the two bickering seemed at first to show that she was as bad as him, but as the movie progressed I realized that she had only become that way as a result of his behaviour over the years. Since I'm something of an antifeminist male chauvinist pig by the standards of modern society (again, what used to be called "a man" before the Great Castration), it's tough to sell me yet another relationship story wherein the poor set-upon heroine's suffering is entirely the fault of the brutish lout she had the misfortune to love, but this movie did it.

I'm not surprised that this movie wasn't a box office smash, but I'm certainly glad that the filmmakers didn't compromise. The Gospel is explicitly presented more than once, and Scripture is not only quoted, but shown onscreen. The people that made this movie clearly get the principle that if your relationship with God isn't what it should be, then it's easy for the rest of your life to follow into disarray. I studied psychology a couple of lifetimes ago, but abandoned it as a career option when I realized that. It's tough to make a living as a counsellor in the secular world when your first recommended treatment for almost any addiction, relationship problem, or emotional issue is Jesus. That's not always where the treatment ends, but for best results that's where it starts.

The reviews of this movie from the secular world were not kind. It has a 37% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I read several of the reviews and comments. Interestingly, many of the negative reviews weren't really reviewing the movie so much as the worldview it presents and defends.

I especially enjoyed a comment on one site (unfortunately I read it over a week ago now, don't remember which one it was, and am not going trudging through again to find it) that said something to the effect that "the Bible goes on and on about wives being submissive, but doesn't say a single word about how husbands should act."

Really, now, it's in the next freaking paragraph. You probably don't even need to turn the page. How lazy, both physically and intellectually, do you need to be to remain that willfully ignorant?

Here's Ephesians 5:22-33, with some edits to tighten it up but leave the point intact. If you think I may have snipped out bits that talk about Christians wanting to set up theocracies and round homosexuals into work camps, click the link, or better yet crack open a dead-tree Bible, and read the full passage for yourself:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy... husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church... each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Nope, nothing at all about husbands in the whole Bible. Yeesh.

In fact, to really get what that passage is saying, you need to back it up one more verse to include Ephesians 5:21:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Unfortunately, many Bibles have the text divided into thematic sections and leave that verse at the end of the preceding section. My current primary study Bible does, but has a footnote saying that this verse "goes equally well with both the preceding and the following sections, but it is especially basic to the following paragraphs." The editors correctly figured out that this verse should go at the start of the "marital obligations" part. It's an introduction to this new topic, not the conclusion of the previous one. So why didn't they put it there?

Verse 21 states that both the husband and the wife are to submit to one another. The following section, quoted earlier, expands on and clarifies that idea. You may still not agree, or not like it, but at least try to understand it. Husbands are actually called to greater responsibility and greater personal sacrifice. If you're offended by the idea that wives are to submit, with no reciprocal obligations from their husbands, then you're offended by an antibiblical idea and I agree with you.

Back to the movie.

Although this movie deals with deeply personal and mature issues, there's nothing in it that's inappropriate for children. The filmmakers were very careful in choosing the words and images used. I especially like how they handled a discussion of Cameron's character's web-surfing habits. Adults will understand exactly what they're talking about, and the implications of the argument, but it would all sail over the heads of young children.

I also liked the portrayals of the counsel offered by friends of the husband and wife, because they were so realistic. The man's friend advised him to smarten up and start being a better husband. The woman's friends squawk about how she should leave immediately, she'd be better off without him, etc. In my experience, this is how it works in real life. In general (maybe I should put those words in a large, all-caps, bold font for emphasis), the male idea of "supportive" involves urging and assisting people to do what is right even if it's painful, difficult, or not what they want to do. The female idea means, "whatever you say (or want) is right." The male concept is based on honour and duty, the female on emotion.

I said, "in general". The exceptions you know are exactly that.

Hmm. I hadn't expected this discussion of a movie to turn into a treatise on gender differences. Perhaps I should move on before this degenerates further.

The movie is not perfect. I would have cut the scene with the doofus talking to the mirror. On my first viewing, that scene seemed to go on forever. On a second look, it's actually quite short. The theory of relativity in regards to time ("One second with your hand on a hot stove lasts as long as an hour talking to a pretty girl") holds.

I would also have cut two stereotypes. Yes, stereotypes sometimes become stereotypes for a reason, but there's no need to encourage them.

First, early in the movie, one firefighter is dressed down for poor performance. He's later made the butt of a practical joke. He seems a bit slow. And, of course, he's overweight. There seems to be a shorthand in movies. If you want to show that a character is incompetent and probably not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, make them chubby. Too many casting directors think that "fat" equals "stupid".

While we're on the topic of practical jokes, although the mild one played on the slow character is a bit cruel, I have no problem with the harsher one played later on the mirror-talking doofus. It was a targeted attack on his raging ego. I like to see people being taken down a notch when it's called for, and this one was.

The second stereotype I would have avoided came from the two black nurses. I wish all black actresses would instantly reject any script that calls for them to raise an eyebrow and say "Mmmm-HMMM!" For that matter, if the casting sheet describes your character as "sassy", walk out of the audition and fire the agent who sent you.

In conclusion, Fireproof is well worth seeing, even if (maybe especially if) you have doubts about its "religious" content. Yes, it's predictable - you didn't really think they'd be divorced at the end, did you? However, it takes a few interesting twists, foils some expectations, and says several very interesting things along the way. And watch the extras, especially the Pranks section.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of my dilapidated roof. Same board, opposite end.


RebelAngel said...

I enjoyed the movie greatly. The part of the DVD that stuck with me the most was the outtakes, but not for the same reason as you.

Over the years I have become a Bonus Features junkie. Alternate endings, blooper reals, behind the scenes, whatever. I have become accustomed to the sounds of beeping. I was a little shocked and annoyed when watching a recent dvd that did not bother with beeping. It disturbs me to think that might be a new trend. I'd hate to have to start worrying about that.

Anyway, there were no bad words in the Fireproof outtakes. No beeping either. This may seem obvious for people who watched knowing what the movie was about and who made it. It was a refreshing change for me, certainly. but most of all it spoke to the sincerity of the cast and crew in what they were teaching.

Anonymous said...

I watched Quarantine. The only reason I bring it up here is that the words "zombie" and "gore" and "freaky little girl" will bring more hits than "Kirk Cameron." And yes, fellow zombie-philes, if you thought the girl in "Night of the Living Dead" would be a lousy choice to bring on a picnic, or to trowel your garden, this little stinker is even worse. (How it that for attracting hits?) The movie was just pretty good, but was a near shot for shot remake of a Spanish movie named "REC" that apparently is fantastic. How you copy something and make it worse is beyond me.



In all the commercials and trailers, there is a shot of a woman being dragged away into the dark. That turns out to be the final shot of the movie. To make it worse, you are able to figure that out from literally the first shot of the movie. Why are there so many stupid people making decisions?