A prominent couple married for seven years realize they are heading towards divorce. He is a firefighter who has his eye on an expensive boat, and an addiction to internet smut, she is a PR person for a major hospital with her eye on a charming doctor. They don’t speak, except to argue, neither feels any love for the other. He feels like the whole world values his heroism except his wife. She is humiliated by his pornography addiction and insensitivity to her mother’s needs for a new wheelchair and hospital bed. Her friends say it’s time to get rid of him, and move on. She makes up her mind to file for divorce. Is there any hope for this marriage? Why should the couple try to save their marriage if the love is gone and there are no children to be hurt?
The startling assertion of Fireproof is in its tag line, “never leave your partner behind”. No matter what the conditions of the fire, you bring your partner with you. You may get burned, but you make sure your partner emerges from that fire safely. Caleb, (Kirk Cameron) is the husband who just wants peace. His father however assures him that not all peace is equal, and gives him a book he wrote called, “The Love Dare.” It is a 40-day program of loving acts to do for one’s estranged spouse in order to repair an ailing marriage. Caleb reluctantly puts the book’s suggestions into practice, but assures his father that it’s a hopeless cause, and warns him against talking about Jesus with him: “It’s not for me.”
At first, Catherine (Erin Bethea) is taken aback by her husband’s unusual behavior; he’s buying her flowers, cleaning up around the house, and bringing her coffee. She girlfriends warn her he’s just ‘buttering you up for a divorce’, so she acts to protect herself. Caleb is crushed and wants to give up on “The Love Dare”: “It’s over”, he tells his father, John (Harris Malcom). How could he, as an unbeliever, know how the powerful prayers of his parents and a friend at the firehouse were at work to change hardened hearts?
Fireproof is a powerfully counter-cultural film in an age where Christians have a similar divorce rate to unbelievers and the relevance of marriage is under attack. Caleb’s dogged persistence in performing acts of love without feeling love or receiving any sign of their effectiveness in changing Catherine’s heart, seem unrealistic at best, if not downright irrational. Catherine’s hostile response seems to confirm the common assumption that once the love is gone, the marriage is over. But halfway through the forty days of trial, Caleb meets another Man whose love was rejected. A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He meets Jesus Christ, who, while we were still sinners, died to save us. The powerful use of symbols, 40 days, firefighter partners, the large wooden cross in the woods, make this an intensely personal movie for married couples in the audience, inviting comparisons of one’s own marriage to that of Caleb and Catherine.
Fireproof, written and directed by the Kendrick brothers whose low budget sleeper hit Facing the Giants made an astounding $150 million and find themselves with a larger budget ($250K) and the backing of a major studio (SONY Pictures faith based division, Provident Films) for this film. Their didactic methods are subtler, and more effective than the somewhat predictable “Giants”. Nail-biting action scenes, comic relief characters, a lush natural setting, and a moving score make Fireproof a film which should appeal to an even larger audience.
Many film critics decry the obvious agenda of their films, but the Kendrick brothers view filmmaking as a ministry, not a profession: the book, The Love Dare will be available in the same leather-bound edition used in the film. “Fireproof”, though means of a familiar, engrossing story, teaches this generation, many of whom are the children of divorce, about the covenantal nature of marriage, and about the meaning of sacrificial love.
As a Catholic, the only feature of the story which bothered me was that, after seven years of marriage, the lack of children was never discussed. In Facing the Giants the couple’s infertility was seen as a source of suffering; in Fireproof, children seemed extraneous to the marriage. Catholic teaching that marriage must be faithful and fruitful indicates that this was one of the marriage’s major flaws, and mentioning this would have helped highlight the selfishness of the couple’s lifestyle.
Nothing offensive in this film; even references to indecent content on the internet were subtly handled; the PG rating was for the tense rescue scenes, heated arguments, and mature subject matter (not ‘adult’, just not for young children who might be upset or simply bored). Highly recommended for adults and for adolescents who want to grow up and learn to live for others.