Fireproof: For Better or for Worse

My wife and I saw Fireproof the other evening. Why? Primarily, so we could have a night out, but also because we were both curious. Fireproof, in case you haven’t heard, is a film produced by Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of a Baptist church in Georgia, and was done with a budget of only about $100,000. Last I looked, it had pulled in about $28 million. Not a bad return on investment. It was able to be made on such a meager budget because most of the crew were volunteers. I’d also guess that it was because they had tremendous support from the local community. We stayed for most of the credits and saw who’d provided what. It was pretty impressive how many local businesses contributed to the film.

But was it a good film? That is really the question, not so much whether it was “Christian” enough but was it done well? One review I saw said something like “made for TV schlock” another praised the film. For me it was somewhere in between. Was it Christian? Unmistakably so. The gospel was clearly presented and the lead was converted to Christ. But, as I’ve intimated, that doesn’t make it a good film. Some of the characters could have been cardboard cut outs they were so predictable and two dimensional. Some of the dialogue was cookie-cutter and not things real people would say. But some of the writing was good. Not great, but good. Most of the cinematography was acceptable. Some of the effects (not special effects) were clumsy and some were good and effective. The story, what ultimately makes or breaks a film, was good and at times engaging. At other times it was soppy and thin. Lisa and I thought Kurt Cameron’s acting was excellent. The directing could have been better but Kurt did a very good job with what he was given. The rest of the actors, no so much.

So was it a good movie? It was okay. It shows promise and growth and that is encouraging. It was not a great film or a great story. There were glimmers of strength here and there but they were sporadic. The greatest weakness for me was that it was preachy. While it is encouraging to see Christians engaging predominant cultural mediums of our day instead of shunning it or vanishing in to it, this group is trying to present a unique Christian presence in it. I think that is a positive thing.

But that raises the issue of what makes a film Christian. Does a film have to have the gospel verbally presented in order to be considered “Christian?” In my estimation it does not. It doesn’t hurt but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary. A film could present a Christian worldview and not mention the gospel. Two films come to mind that do just that: Signs and to a lesser degree Master and Commander. Signs presented a Christian worldview (or at least a theistic worldview) not so much because Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) recovered his faith and returned to the ministry, but because it presented a situation that argued that God exists and is involved. Some of the first words uttered in the film are “I think God did it” and they reverberate throughout. At the end, Graham embraces his son and says “It can’t be luck” that he was delivered.  Morgan asks “Did someone save me?” and Graham says someone did, meaning God. This presented providence at work. Master and Commander was a bit more subtle but it did show God at work also. When the crew decides that Mr. Hollom is “the Jonah” and Hollom comes to believe it, he commits suicide. At his memorial Captain Aubrey (Russell Crowe) rejects reading from the Book of Jonah and instead offers a public confession of the crew’s sin and asks for God’s and Hollom’s forgiveness.  A moment later the sails begin to fill with wind after weeks of doldrums and Aubrey says “God be praised.” The wind didn’t come when Hollom jumped overboard, that would have been superstition, it came when the crew confessed and asked the Lord for forgiveness for poorly treating a shipmate. That is a much more Christian event than not.

In this sense, was Fireproof Christian; that is, did it present a Christian worldview? Was God active in Fireproof’s world? That’s the rub here. The lead character, Caleb, is seen praying. He is told how much God cares and what God has done in Caleb’s father’s life. And at one of the most important moments of the film, Caleb prays for deliverance and is delivered. How? Well, I don’t want to give away an important moment in the film, but let me just say that Caleb is delivered more by his training than God’s direct involvement. Again, in Signs, when Morgan is delivered by an inexplicable string of circumstances Graham acknowledges that they weren’t coincidences. Unfortunately, Caleb never does that. God is not so strongly credited with Caleb’s deliverance as he is for Morgan’s in Signs or the HMS Surprise’s in Master and Commander.

An important thing to add here: I am discussing storytelling and film making here, not the idea that God operates like that always and in ever circumstance. Stories are exaggerations and focus on special events. They can be devices to make a point and so tend to focus uncommon events. There is no guarantee that God will always deliver your son or fill your sails with wind based upon your response.

In the end, this lack of God’s activity in Fireproof might be because of how the American church largely perceives God. He’s there but not involved. Since we can’t count on him to turn every situation to match our expectations, perhaps he isn’t involved at all in that way. In Fireproof, God was involved in Caleb’s salvation on as one to be reconciled to. He could have been a proposition not a Person. What makes this missed opportunity sad is that storytelling is an excellent place to demonstrate this very thing. But again, Sherwood Pictures is growing and learning their craft. Perhaps in their future outings they’ll learn a lighter hand and include God’s action in the films.

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  • “not things real people would say”

    What about an M. Night movie like “Signs?” Is that how people really talk? A certain deadly attack on a film critic by a Grass Wolf comes to mind. :)

  • Please. First, Lady in the Water was a fairy talk, a bedtime story. Second, it should have stayed there and not been made. Third, the dialogue in Signs wasn’t bad.

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